How to Build Your Vocabulary

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When you leave school or college, someone will inevitably point out that it is not the end but only the beginning of learning. The speaker is right, of course. No educational process is the end. It is always the beginning of more learning and more living. And that is the case here. What has happened to you as a result of your reaction to the material and suggestion in this site is only the beginning of your development. To stop increasing your vocabulary is to stunt your intellectual growth. But to continue to grow intellectually as long as you remain alive with the momentum that your weeks of hard work have provided will not be at all difficult.

You can maintain a clever, astute and erudite persona whether you're adolescent or octogenarian. This article will spell out how to find, learn, and use, ostentatious words so other people will kick up their estimates of the level of your intelligence. And here is a little secret: If you can learn to utilize words of this ilk, you doubtless are pretty sharp to begin with.

Become actively receptive to new words. Every time you read, there are opportunities to increase your vocabulary. Don't ignore these opportunities. Many of us tend to skip unknown words and gain general understandings of phrases or paragraphs from their overall context. If you're used to doing this, it may require additional effort to remember to note down the unknown words. Train yourself to be invariably aware when reading and listening to others, and remember the words that are not known to you. Look them up later in a dictionary.

  • Consider keeping a small notebook with you and quickly jot down unknown words as you come across them for checking later. If you hear or see a word you don't know, be sure to look it up.
  • Let new words percolate in your mind. Learn the meanings and then add them into everyday speech as regularly as possible. Provided you're using each new word accurately and in context, it will begin to become second nature and you won't worry about forgetting the definitions.

Read more. Once you leave school, you won't get new word drills and reading will become a cornerstone of building your vocabulary repertoire. As well as aiming to read well written magazines, essays, and online material, read as many books as you have time and inclination for. Seek out the tomes of Dickens, Austen, and Hawthorne. Deliberately find books that are hard to read such as William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and James Joyce's Ulysses.

  • Try nonfiction and technical books: these will rapidly teach you not only new ways to speak, but also new ways to think.
  • There are many erudite books to ponder at Project Gutenberg, or auditorily at LibriVox.
  • If your reading today is largely restricted only to the quick perusal of daily newspapers, then change your habits. Try the long, difficult stories in national, international and business newspapers and magazines, especially the columnists' blogs. A magazine such as the Economist or Time is a great option where few newspapers are available because a subscription can be mailed anywhere...economically. Also try to read at least one book and several magazines every week. Not just this week and the next week, but every week for a long time. As well as improving your vocabulary, you'll also keep updated and backdated, your general knowledge will increase, and you'll be a well-rounded person who knows a lot more than many other people do.

Add the new words you meet in your reading to your own vocabulary. When you see an unfamiliar word in a book, magazine, manual, etc., do not skip over it impatiently. Instead, pause for a moment and say it to yourself. Get used to its sound and its appearance. At first, try to puzzle out its possible meaning in the context of the sentence. Whether you come to the right conclusion or not, whether indeed you're even able to come to any intelligent conclusion at all is of no importance. What is important is that, by that process, you're becoming super conscious of the new word. As a result, you will suddenly notice that this very word pops up unexpectedly again and again in all sorts of places. For now your mind has been alerted to notice it. Once you've tried this exercise, look it up in the dictionary and confirm its meaning. After you've seen each newly learned word a few times, you will know fairly accurately not only what it means but the many ways in which it can be used; best of all, it'll now form a part of your natural vocabulary.

Write more. The more you write, the more your vocabulary increases as you're forced into a position of expanding your word usage to convey precisely what it is that you wish to get across to the reader. When writing, aim to replace commonly used words with less used and more descriptive and interesting words; get out the thesaurus and use more challenging words. Doing this can improve your fiction, biographical, and some forms of work writing a great deal.

  • Most material written for public dissemination aims to avoid the use of words that the average reader would not know. Keep this in mind when flexing your new vocabulary; you'll still need to keep your plain English in good usage for everyday writing, especially in most work environments.
  • Try to avoid falling back on buzzwords. You can still say what you mean without resorting to them and people will probably have a far clearer understanding of your point.

Read the dictionary. Expanding your vocabulary will always be improved by regularly diving into the dictionary and reading entries for words you aren't yet familiar with. This requires the ownership of a quality dictionary to make it more interesting, so look for a dictionary that has lengthy explanations on the origins and uses of words, as these will go a long way to helping you remember the word and enjoy using your dictionary.

  • Sign up to be emailed a "Word of the Day" using one of the many online dictionaries. You can also procure for yourself a Word of the Day calendar; be sure to read the word on the page each day and aim to remember each day's word and even use it somewhere in your day.
  • Visit word building sites such as and construct an expansive vocabulary while nourishing the hungry or doing something else useful.
  • There are many online sites devoted to compiling alphabetical lists of unusual, weird, old-fashioned, and difficult words. Avail yourself of the search engine to find these sites and to learn from them. This is a great way to while away time waiting for a bus or in the bank queue.

Do word puzzles and play word games. Word puzzles are an excellent source of increasing your word knowledge because the puzzle creators will often need to resort to an array of unusual words to ensure that the words fit into their puzzles and that they are interesting for the puzzle doer. There are many varieties of vocabulary puzzles, including crosswords, find-a-word and hidden word puzzles. As well as strengthening your word knowledge, puzzles are also good for improving your critical thinking skills. For word games, try such games as Scrabble, Boggle, and Cranium to extend your vocabulary.

Learn a little Latin. Although it might seem like a dead and done language, knowing a bit of Latin is an excellent way to learn the roots of many words in the English language and can help you figure out the meaning of a wide range of words that you don't yet know without having to resort to the dictionary. There are online Latin learning resources, as well as plenty of texts (check out your favorite used books bookstore).

Open your mind to new ideas. Every word you see is the translation of new idea. Think for few minutes of the areas of human knowledge that may possibly be unknown to you - psychology, semantics, anthropology, science, art, music, management, etc. Then, attack one of these areas methodically, by reading books on that particular subject. In every field, from the simplest to the most abstruse, there are several books for the average, untrained lay reader, right through to those for experts in the field. Push yourself with the reading as far as you can, to expose yourself to new ways of using the vocabulary and forming ideas; doing this will give you both a good grasp of the subject and, at the same time, add new vocabularies to your existing knowledge.

Set a goal. If you do nothing about your vocabulary, you will learn, at most, twenty-five to fifty new words in the next twelve months. With a conscious effort, you can learn several thousands of new words. Set your self a goal of finding and remembering several new words every day. While this may sound ambitious, you will discover as soon as you start actively looking for new words in your reading, and actively doing reading of a more challenging type, that new words are all around you and that this is an exciting goal to fulfill. And understand this – vocabulary building snowballs. The results of each new day search will be greater and greater. Once you provide the necessary initial push, once you gain momentum, once you become addicted to looking for new words, for finding new words and for taking possession of new words, you'll find you can't stop.


  • The more obscure the words you employ, the better; fewer people will discern the odd malaprop you may happen to launch.
  • Use flash cards for new words. These can aid with meaning and pronunciation. Also, you can purchase pre-attached, small, blank vocabulary cards which you can place into your bag or pocket and carry anywhere. Write the new words you're learning on them and pull out the flashcards while you're on the bus, in a queue, waiting to collect someone, etc., and brush up your learning.
  • There are many websites devoted to improving vocabulary. Find your favorites and make the most of them.
  • One of the most commonly used word websites,, has a small section at the bottom of their homepage showing popular searches of the day. They also have a small blurb near the top of the page when you search a word, saying things like "There's actually a word for each individual prong of a fork." or "Do you know what emotions the color purple signifies?", which you can click on and learn the answer.
  • Actively seek out better descriptives. A word is a useful addition to your vocabulary if it reduces the number of words in a sentence. For instance, the phrase "dolphins and whales" can be replaced with the word "cetaceans", making "cetaceans" a useful word. A word is also useful if it is more descriptive than the word or phrase it replaces. For example, many people's voice could be described as "pleasant". But someone with a very pleasant voice could be said to have a "mellifluous" voice.
  • Conversely, try to avoid "spelling bee" words. These are words that serve no practical purpose other than sounding pompous. For example, you could say that "Iron Mike" is Mike Tyson's "sobriquet". But you could replace "sobriquet" with "nickname" without affecting the meaning or effectiveness. Therefore, "sobriquet" may be an undesirable addition to your vocabulary.