stumbled past them .... They shambled heavily along, not keeping step or attempting to, bent wearily forward under the weight of their equipment, their unseeing eyes turned to the muddy ground."
In this extract the verb to walk is used with its three synonyms, each of which describes the process of walking in its own way. In contrast to walk the other three words do not merely convey the bare idea of going on foot but connote the manner of walking as well. Stagger means "to sway while walking" and, also, implies a considerable, sometimes painful, effort. Stumble, means "to walk tripping over uneven ground and nearly falling." Shamble implies dragging one's feet while walking; a physical effort is also connoted by the word.
The use of all these synonyms in the extract creates a vivid picture of exhausted, broken men marching from the battle-field and enhances the general atmosphere of defeat and hopelessness.
A carefully chosen word from a group of synonyms is a great asset not only on the printed page but also in a speaker's utterance. It was Mark Twain who said that the difference between the right word and just the right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.
The skill to choose the most suitable word in every context and every situation is an essential part of the language learning process. Students should be taught both to discern the various connotations in the meanings of synonyms and to choose the word appropriate to each context.
Criteria of Synonymy
Synonymy is associated with some theoretical problems which at present are still an object of controversy. Probably, the most controversial among these is