I recently started focusing on my English writing skills. For past few weeks, I've been noticing that learning vocabulary by building up the dictionary, as and when we encounter a word, is not an efficient way.

Most of these words can be grouped by the actions or emotions they are describing and more importantly can be ordered by degree or magnitude of that action or emotion. I feel that its the quickest and easiest way to learn, at least in my case.

Is there a book which, unlike dictionary, groups and orders words based on what they are describing?

  • 1
    Do you mean a thesaurus? Aug 29 '15 at 17:07
  • @StoneyB: No, thesaurus shows similar words only when you look for a word and also it doesn't order those words by degree. I'm looking for a more categorized book which cateogrizes. For example: words to express disappointment and under that different words ordered by degree of disappointment. Am I expecting too much?
    – claws
    Aug 29 '15 at 17:21
  • 1
    I think you are. Categorization itself would be subjective, and ranking would be highly subjective. Moreover, it would have to negotiate a very twisty path between words which differed largely by register or field of reference. Aug 29 '15 at 17:32
  • What is the book which gets closest to what I'm looking for?
    – claws
    Aug 29 '15 at 17:34
  • 2
    The older style Roget's Thesaurus has words grouped by category in the front and an index for finding the category from a particular word in the back. It isn't ordered by degree though. (I think this would be nearly impossible because not everyone agrees on the relative degrees of severity of words)
    – Jim
    Aug 29 '15 at 20:33

I wouldn't know of any such book and I'd even suggest that such a book probably doesn't exist in any real objective form. As noted in one of the comments, it would be very difficult to get people to come to a consensus on these things. I'd argue that it's simply not possible.

Further, it's pretty common in English to simply pair up words to increase the magnitude or "degree" as you call it. For example:

A) That was stupid.

B) That was pretty stupid.

C) That was very stupid.

D) That was incredibly stupid.

E) That was positively the most stupid thing I've ever had the excruciating displeasure of causing my eyes to witness and I hold no hope of my mind ever making a full recovery from the onslaught of stupidity it just endured.

So you can see that the functional word remains the same, but we can abuse many combinations of words to attempt to intensify the overall meaning. However, note that there is no technical, objective rule or rules by which I could ever assert:

Example A implies a greater level of stupidity than B, C, D, or E.
Example B implies a greater level of stupidity than A, C, D, or E.
Example C implies a greater level of stupidity than A, B, D, or E.
... so on and so forth.

Everything past A, where I start piling on junk to intensify, can all still be held as equal to the expressed meaning of A. There is definitely an extreme degree implied in the last example, but that's not a single, different word we can order as holding greater meaning than just "stupid."

Another example:

A) Courtney was sad.

B) Courtney was crushed.

C) Courtney was an emotional wreck.

All of these are describing the depressed emotional state of Courtney, but all could be stated to be equal to A, therefore none are objectively greater or of a higher degree than the other. There may be an implied greater intensity in "crushed" than "sad", but it is only implied and interpretation is subjective. You can only increase the clarity of the implied degree by writing out more on the subject.

Therefore, we can't ever line these words up in an order where a reader can say "Oh, Courtney is the 5th degree of sad." or "Well she's sad, but I know for sure she isn't crushed." It just doesn't work that way.

On a side note, thesaurus.com offers some nifty tools where you can sort results by relevance, complexity and how common they are. This may be the closest thing there is to what you're after. Not terribly efficient either, though.

  • Ahh! Well explained. In that case, is there a book which atleast categorizes words? May be 'sad, crushed, emotional wreck' can be put under single head. Pls don't say thesaurus, I need something better than that.
    – claws
    Aug 30 '15 at 10:18
  • @claws I know what you mean that you're looking for, but I'm trying to find a good search term for it.
    – user20827
    Aug 30 '15 at 10:34

From the comments, the book Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged So As to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition (on archive.org) attempts to categorize words into groups

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