Kind, Considerate, Thoughtful: A Semantic Analysis

Catherine Travis


This paper presents a semantic analysis of three English words denoting positive character traits, namely <i>kind</i>, <i>considerate</i> and <i>thoughtful</i>. These three words are closely related, and the differences (and similarities) in their meanings can be very difficult to pinpoint. It shall be shown that modern dictionaries demonstrate a great deal of circularity in their definitions of these words, reflecting the closeness of their meanings. An analysis of usage examples provides evidence on the basis of which their differences can be understood. Some of the differences that shall be noted are the following: <i>kind</i> and <i>thoughtful</i> necessarily involve doing something for another person, while <i>considerate</i> does not; <i>kind</i> involves not wanting anyone to feel bad, <i>considerate</i> involves not wanting anyone to feel bad as a result of one's actions, and <i>thoughtful</i> focuses on a specific situation another is in, and not wanting them to feel bad in that situation; <i>kind</i> involves wanting to do something for another's good, while <i>considerate</i> involves wanting to avoid something that may harm another; and both <i>considerate</i> and <i>thoughtful</i> imply some kind of thinking about another before one acts, as reflected in their morphology. The Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach, as developed by Wierzbicka (1972, 1980, 1996) and colleagues, is used to propose definitions for these words, with the aim of exhaustively capturing their meaning, and clearly delineating their range of use. Such definitions can be particularly valuable to second language learners, and can provide a basis for cross-linguistic, and cross-cultural, comparisons of related concepts.


kind; considerate; thoughtful,</i> semantics; lexicography; natural semantic metalanguage; definitions; character traits; personality; dictionary; wierzbicka; circularity; cross-cultural studies

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ISSN 2224-0039 (online); ISSN 1684-4904 (print)

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