English has more than 1,000,000 registered words, and that number is growing all the time. It is doubtful there is a person alive who uses all of these given words, and the vast majority of us get by with fewer than 20,000 (that’s about 0.o2% for the mathematicians out there!)
But growing our vocabulary is something that all of us should seek to do. Possessing more words makes us more interesting, more articulate, and less likely to be ‘lost for words’. Have you ever wanted to really say how you feel? Well imagine if you could! It may just be a case of having the right words.
So how do we enlarge the grouping of words we have at our disposal. Fortunately, there are a number of practical tips which can help you do just that. And here they are:
It may come as no surprise that those who have the most impressive range of vocabulary are those who consume the greatest number of books. Reading presents us with interesting vocabulary in context, leaving us free to utilize those very same words for our own purposes should we so feel inclined. Read as much as you can, and read as widely as you can, giving yourself the greatest possible access to new words and ideas.
And when reading online, download the Linguix extension for Chrome and Mozilla in order to get easy-to-access definitions of unknown words. Every time you encounter a new word, and you cannot quite understand it from context, or would like confirmation that your educated definition is correct, just hold down Alt and double click to get that very definition.
Keep a vocabulary book
Yet if we want to move words from our passive vocabulary (words we know) into our active vocabulary (words we use) then we also need a system. A vocabulary book needn’t be a book at all but a simple list of words, perhaps stored on a smartphone app or even as an audio recording, where you keep a record of words that you have discovered that you would really like to use in future. As well as the word or expression, include an example sentence, using that word in a way that is meaningful to you. And say the word. Say it several times. Get used to the way it sounds. All of this helps us remember.
Have a word of the day
Most of us have seen those novelty desk calendars where each day is accompanied by a witticism or funny cartoon. But there are versions which include interesting words as an alternative. Similarly, many online dictionary sites have a word of the day feature too. One a day soon stacks up.
Get interested in words
Have you ever thought about why we use the words we do, not to mention where they come from? In English that is particularly interesting because it is not a ‘pure’ language, but rather one that has evolved through different influences and having borrowed a lot of words along the way. From old French to Latin, from Celtic to Anglo-Saxon, with plenty more besides, etymology is the truth behind the origins of a word. Not only will getting interested in such things open up your mind in terms of where our words come from and why we say what we do, but it will also inspire you to learn more words in the process. Language is something that we use almost every single day, but rarely without even thinking about it. Why not get interested in it?
Play word games
Do you ever do the newspaper crossword? Maybe you should start. Little word games like these are a great way of not only adding new words to our parlance, but also getting us thinking about words and language more in general.
Learn words around a word
With one simple word, we can easily learn a dozen more if we are creative about it. Think of the word ‘use’ for example. You can ‘use’ a word, ‘reuse’ a word, ‘misuse’ a word, or ‘abuse’ someone ‘using’ harsh words. A word can be ‘useful’, or indeed ‘useless’. And that’s just to start. Then there are synonyms, so you could utilize a word, or deploy it. You could even wield it. And all of that is good ‘usage’.
You can see how this works, right?
Fill the gaps
In everything that you say and write, there are gaps, or perhaps empty words. These are the parts of your sentence, or words that you use, that add no value at all to what it is that you are saying. Look back at those gaps, or empty words, and think about what word could have been better deployed. And here’s a thought. Instead of using 50 words, can you say what you really what you want to say by using only ten?
Once again it often comes down to having that word that is just right. The Linguix synonyms feature can again come in handy, but it is also about your desire to find that correct word, and not settle for anything less. Filling the gaps is where your desire to expand your vocabulary really comes to fruition.