Learn English – Do synonyms have exactly the same meanings as each other in all contexts


I have a question about synonyms:
I'm wondering for quite a while if synonyms always stand exactly for the same thing. Is there sometimes a little difference in meaning?
Let's use clumsy and clunky for example. Can I always replace clunky with clumsy? Since I'm not a native speaker, as you may have noticed, I cannot tell them apart. According to my dictionary, they mean exactly the same. Is it always true?

If the question has already been ask, sorry I couldn't find it.

Edit: Thank you very much! Every answer has helped a lot and thank you so much for it. I really appreciate it. I've voted all your answer because every answer helped me in a different way. I've accepted Barrie England's answer because it was the best one in my case. But all of yours were really good and helpful 🙂

Best Answer

Oxford Dictionaries Online has two definitions for clunky. They are:

solid, heavy and old-fashioned


making a clunking sound

These two are clearly quite different from the following definitions of clumsy, from the same dictionary:

awkward in movement or in handling things

done awkwardly or without skill

difficult to handle or use; unwieldy

lacking social skills; tactless

On the broader question of synonyms, even where two words do seem to have more or less identical meanings, they will often be used in different contexts.