The word paronyms came from Greek. These are the words, which are very analogous in sounding, but have quite different meanings. Paronymy is typical foro not only Russian language, but also for many other languages, however, in this article we will review paronyms of modern Russian in particular. Linguists created the classification of paronyms, according to which they were divided into two major groups: root paronyms, affixal, and also etymological.
Those paronyms, which having different roots possess certain formal resemblance, what occasionally bewilders and puzzles us, belong to the first group. Sometimes we start using one word instead of other without noticing, forgetting about the fact that they have completely different meanings. Resemblance of the root paronyms is absolutely occasional. Firstly, paronyms «эскалатор» /escalator/ and «экскаватор» /excavator/ can be reffered to such words. They are a bit resembling extrinsically, though they have completely different roots and, naturally, different meaning. Nevertheless, their formal resemblance makes a lot of people mix them and make mistakes, using one instead of other. An escalator is an embankment of inclined ladder with moving stairs, and an escavator is an earth-moving machine, rigged with a big scoop. Knowing exactly the meaning of these words, you understand that in no case they can be mixed up or used one instead of other, inasmuch as the meaning will be completely changed. Such couple of words as «вибратор» /vibrator/ or «вариатор» /variator/ can be also reffered to paronyms. Today automobilists-newcomers sometimes mix these two words, more truly use one instead of other, forgetting the name of the latter, but thereat always remembering the former well. These words have different meaning and different roots and, essentially, they are united by nothing, except occasional formal sounding resemblance. But we know well that «вибратор» /vibrator/ is a oscillating element or device, and «вариатор» /variator/ is a construction, designed for transmitting motive force and smooth change of gear ratio in the certain diapason of regulation. Today variators are something transitional between manual and automatic transmission. Variator is an infinitely variable transmission, installed on modern cars.
Affixal paronyms possess common motivation, and also well traceable semantic link. Moreover, such words have identical root but different, though a bit resembling, affixes. A fine example of affixal paronyms can be the couple of words «экономный» /economical/ and «экономический» /economic/. These words are really very similar and even have one and the same root, however, their meaning is different, in spite of some semantic link. Adjective «экономный» /economical/ comes from the noun «экономия» /economy/, and «экономический» /economic/ comes from the word «экономика» /economics/. Adjectives «желанный» /desired/ and «желательный» /desirable/ also belong to such paronyms. In the first case, we characterize something we desire, in other words want, and in the second case something preferable for us.
Etymologic paronyms are the most intricate, as far as they derived from borrowings in different languages in various ways and sometimes on multiple occasions. Origin of the word is in particular the main factor here. Etymologic paronyms are the words, which came to Russian from sister languages. They have different meanings in our mother-tongue, despite they could have had similar meanings in languages they derived from. For example «одинарный» /one-piece/ and «ординарный» /ordinary/. Meaning of the former adjective lies in singularity (something in amount of one thing), and meaning of the latter word lies in commonness, prosiness (something ordinary). Words «желе» /jelly/ and «гель» /gel/ belong here, too. These words had practically the same meanings in languages they derived from, and only in Russian they started denoting different concepts under the influence of folk etymology. The same is concerning words «порох» /gunpowder/ and «прах» /ash/, which cannot be replaced one by another in Russian, inasmuch as they have absolutely different meanings, though there is certain resemblance on semantic level.