How to paraphrase – and how not to!

Paraphrasing means re-writing something in your own words. Many students make the mistake of using a process of substitution: they start with someone else’s text, and then look for words to change, using a thesaurus or a dictionary to give them words that have the same meaning. This is bad. When you take something that is well-written, every word has been carefully chosen. If you substitute another word with the same meaning, it becomes awkward, and nuances are lost. Frequently the meaning is changed.

Consider the following attempt to paraphrase a famous song by substituting words that, supposedly, have the same meaning as the original lyrics:

You consider you have miss-placed your affection.

I witnessed her the day before today.

It is you that she is cogitating of, and she informed me what to speak.

She stated that she likes you, and you are certain that cannot be evil.

She likes you, and you are justified in believing that you ought to be joyful.

She likes you. I agree, I agree, I agree.

With a like like that, you are certain you ought to be joyful.

 You perceive that it is as high as you are. I am of the opinion it is only pretty.

Arrogance can also injure you.

Make reparations to her, because she is amorous towards you, and you are rightfully certain you should be happy.

She is amorous towards you, and you have concluded correctly that you should be in a positive frame of mind.

She likes you. I agree, I agree, I agree.

With a feeling or deep disposition of fondness towards someone typically arising from a recognition of natural qualities like that, you are in a frame of mind that indicates that you should be merry in disposition.

 Some words are irreplaceable. You can probably tell, from the above, which song is being paraphrased. If you have any grasp of English, you will see how the meaning has been altered at various points, to the point of obscurity in certain sections. So, how would I paraphrase the song?

 The singer addresses himself to a friend who believes that his relationship is over. The singer informs his friend that he recently spoke with the friend’s lover, and has been asked by her to pass on the good news that her love is undiminished. He then advises his friend to be pro-active in making amends, and not to let his pride destroy the relationship. Throughout, the singer celebrates the renewal of love with cries of “Yeah”.


You will notice that my preferred version is shorter. It conveys the essentials, and does not shrink from using the two key words of the song – “love” and “yeah”. Wikipedia has a strict rule about not giving lyrics for songs that are still in copyright, and so Wikipedia entries for popular current songs often include this kind of paraphrase.

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