What’s real? Well, this widely used adjective has many meanings, including “true” (the real reason for an act), “actual rather than imaginary” (a story taken from real life), and “sincere” (a real friend). Where it overlaps with the synonym authentic is in discussion of things that are genuine, as in not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation (a real diamond). The difference is that authentic carries the connotation of authoritative confirmation that things or people are what they are claimed or appear to be, as in the case of an authentic Rembrandt sketch or an authentic antique. It is also used, a little less formally, to talk about words or actions that represent one’s true nature, or that seem earnest and unaffected, as in the case of a speech that sounds authentic.
Most commonly, the word trial refers to a legal process wherein a person’s guilt or innocence is determined. But it’s also used more generally to talk about particularly trying or distressing experiences that test one’s patience and resolve—and that’s where the synonym ordeal comes into play. An ordeal is any extremely severe or trying test, experience, or trial—or, more generally an unpleasant experience that one is happy to put behind them! However, the origins of ordeal are closer to the legal sense of trial than you might think. When ordeal entered English, it referred to a primitive form of trial to determine guilt or innocence by subjecting the accused person to fire, poison, or other serious danger, the result being regarded as a divine or preternatural judgment. Though nowadays, ordeal is more likely to be used of a harrowing experience at the DMV.
Someone who is gentle is kindly or good-natured. When we describe someone as a gentle soul, for instance, we usually mean they display tenderness and temperance in dealings with others. The synonym compassionate is a little more hands-on, or at least it has a powerful urge to be. This adjective describes someone that shows deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. The sensitivity and humaneness implied by this adjective put it in sharp contrast with words such as indifferent, apathetic, and uncaring, all of which, when describing people, suggest a coldness or a lack of concern for the well-being of others.