VocabularyVocabulary represents the building blocks of a language.

Vocabulary, though, is more than lists of solitary words. Isolated words are often merely groups of letters without meaning or sometimes even a definable sound. Vocabulary words derive their form, meaning and pronunciation when arranged with other words using the rules of grammar. Vocabulary and grammar are so intertwined that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. In the following pages, that marriage, so to speak, will become more clear.

When presenting vocabulary, this website tries to do so in a contextual manner. This means that vocabulary words are treated as parts of a whole rather than as individuals. In English, very few words have only one meaning. Word lists generally are compilations of single words (out of context) with one, two or even three definitions possible but no explanation as to why the meanings may be different or when they are evoked. The reason for the different meanings lies in the context within which the words are used. The words, host, brand and barrel have different grammatical functions in English but even within the same function may have different meanings. The surrounding context indicates the sense of the words. Rather than create a word list that includes each context within which a word may be found (that would be an impossible task!), it is more productive for the language learner to discover the contexts while actually using the language. There are many examples of phrases whose meanings differ from the definitions of the individual words within the phrase. In this context, the expression, "Conventional wisdom" comes to mind.

After the initial lists of words (see links below) are learned (mastering them is rarely done, even by native speakers) it is important to familiarize yourself with the actual uses of the words and members of their families (ie. educate, educates, educating, education, educator, educational and educated). A Vocabulary Log, which can be copied and used as an analytic tool is included below. Once a certain critical mass (?) of vocabulary has been reached (at least two to three thousand words) many educators feel that further learning can take place incidentally while the learner reads authentic texts. Often, when you encounter an unknown word in a passage, its meaning can be deduced (guessed) by considering how it might contribute to the overall message that is being conveyed. This saves a trip to the dictionary and the search for meaning itself can be enlightening.

Magazines, newspapers, books (both fiction and non-fiction), the Internet and even TV are all rich sources of the written and spoken English language. Each has its own context within which the language is used. The vocabulary that you read (or hear) in the sports section of the newspaper (or on radio or TV) is not the same as you will experience reading a novel. Each register of the English language has its own unique place. This role that the registers play is defined by the context within which they exist. This all-important context will be discussed further in the attached Corpus Linguistics section.

Remember to read, read, read! In addition, when you have the opportunity (or can create the opportunity), speak, speak, speak! Having conversations with other English speakers gives all participants a quick way to work on each other's vocabulary skills. If you don't understand a word or phrase, ask the one you're with.

This author has tried, as best as possible, to provide links which stress vocabulary issues rather than grammar topics. This is not always possible. That said, links below are primarily devoted to English vocabulary. An aside: Given the format of this discussion, it's likely that language learners from many parts of the world will be exposed to the author's points of view. That perspective is influenced by the particular (some would say, provincial) vernacular and customs of the United States' midwest.

Word Lists
Multi-word Verbs
Collective Nouns
Word Choices
Guessing Meaning
Idiomatic Expressions

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Last Updated: July 11, 2017