I asked a student about his father. He said "He is a usual father." I explained that most Americans say typical in that case.

As I looked at the synonyms for typical and common, I found that it is difficult to explain when to use which one. They are not completely interchangable.

Can you give me any rules to apply for the nuances of these words:

typical, usual, common, average, ordinary, normal, standard, et al

Can they be divided into two (or three) groups?
I agree that it is difficult to pinpoint the differences. I also agree that 'typical' is more proper here.

Typical = one that belongs to a type, one of many of the same sort.

Usual = the ones that are normally 'used' or thought of [think of the film "The Usual Suspects" - those that are often call up as possible criminals]

With the other examples, I cannot perceive a difference from 'typical'. "Normal" could, however, refer to a mental state, which I don't think is intended here.

I'll be interested to see if other native speakers feel more subtleties.
Thanks, Philip.

I was thinking that I normally use typical just as you define it.

I think usual refers to something that is repeated, and often modifies some action or implied action, eg 'my usual breakfast'. (Then again, I might say typical here, too.)
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My English teacher's words come to my mind. He didn't say anything about typical, average, normal and standard - probably because those words aren't difficult for Finns.
As you have said: If a person usually has the same breakfast or drink: He had his usual breakfast. He had his usual drink.
If something isn't rare: The pigeon is a common bird in England. (It's very common in Finland as well.)
If someone has no special extraordinary qualities: I'm an ordinary man. (Not very short, not very tall, not particularly intelligent, not stupid either.)
Average is close to ordinary but we can often think statistics when we use the word: The average Englishman likes tea.

Cheers, CB
It seems to me that usual can't be used with nouns unless the nouns are related to some verbal idea -- to something that "occurs".

So usual father doesn't work, but usual drink (to drink) does.
usual breakfast -- breakfast "occurs" as a meal in the morning -- one may usually have a certain breakfast.

usual suspect -- one who is usually suspected.
To say that something is a usual chair makes no sense, but the idea of someone's usual chair (the one he usually sits in) does.
In short, it seems to me that usual doesn't work unless there is a corresponding paraphrase with the word usually.
Thanks, CJ. I think your definition stands up to testing (at least in my mind).
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So far, so good then.
If there are counterexamples out there, I'm sure we'll hear about them. Such is the charm of the forum format. Emotion: smile
As as aside: I think the adjective frequent has the same (or similar) properties. *frequent father / frequent visitor

CJ said:
>It seems to me that usual can't be used with nouns unless the nouns are related to some verbal idea -- to something that "occurs".
That's probably true:
usual describes that which happens frequently in the normal course of events and lacks any element of strangeness
<it is with the domestic artist as with artists at large -- painters, architects, and others -- the usual error lies in excess prompted by undue desire for admiration -- Herbert Spencer>
<it is usual, when visiting a new mother for the first time, to take a little present for the baby -- Agnes M. Miall>

I appreciate all the above explanations since it was always in my mind a bit of the confusion.
Standard furthermore is a 'common' word used mainly in the technical field: "standard instruments", instruments
held by ISO for example or International Organization for Standardization in certain climate condition, without any
modifications and to be used for all other countries as a model without any further changes ( meter standard
,kilogram standard or etalon etc.);
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