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The Macquarie Thesaurus is divided into 809 keywords. A keyword denotes a broad area of meaning, within which related words are grouped.

Each keyword is divided into a number of sections, firstly by part of speech using the following abbreviations:

  • N = noun
  • ADJ = adjective
  • V = verb
  • ADV = adverb
  • PREP = preposition
  • CONJ = conjunction
  • INTERJ = interjection
  • PHR = phrase

Within each part of speech there are paragraphs and subparagraphs, arranged to reflect levels of meaning within the main concept. Usually, words with a general or abstract meaning are grouped before words with a more specific meaning. Each subparagraph has a summary word in bold type which serves as an indication of the area of meaning of the following words. Although the words within each subparagraph are close in meaning, they are not necessarily exact synonyms. They may be similar in meaning but have varying nuances.

The words and phrases following each summary word are in alphabetical order, except for those used in informal language. These informal words appear in alphabetical order after the subheading 'Informal' at the end of the subparagraph. Other labels indicating that a word is restricted in use by reason of region, time or level of language appear in italic type in brackets after the word. These labels include, for example, Archaic, Obsolete, Rare, Poetic, Literary, US (United States), Brit. (Britain), NZ (New Zealand), and those indicating an Australian regional usage. The symbol ‡ after a word indicates that the word may give offence, either because the word itself is taboo or because it has sexist or racist overtones. The use of two such symbols, applied to a small group of words, indicates an extreme degree of this restriction.