Spelling it Right I often receive e-mail queries about subjects other than
spelling but which have some connection with the English language.
Sometimes I refer my correspondents to other sources, sometimes I try to
answer them directly, and sometimes I try to produce a new page which
other people may find helpful. |
One of the most frequent enquiries is
"How can I expand my vocabulary?" So I decided to include a page on
What I'm going to suggest is some advice I gave to a
student of mine some years ago. It can't have done her much harm as she
now has a university degree and works as a business consultant.
Your vocabulary can be divided into 3 categories
1. Words with which you are thoroughly
familiar and use confidently in your everyday speech and writing.
Your goal would be :
2. Words that you vaguely understand in
other people's speech and writing, but which you wouldn't feel
comfortable using yourself.
3. Those words
that you don't understand at all.
yourself a target - say 10 words per week. (You can always increase your
target as you get into the swing of things.)
- to become confident enough to use category 2 words yourself
- to gain an understanding of words that are fairly commonly used but
which, for you, would presently be listed under category 3
Keep a notebook in which you jot down category 2 and 3 words that you
come across in your daily life - in newspapers, radio, TV and at school or
When it's convenient,
perhaps when you’ve collected 2 or 3 words:
- Write down just the word itself in the first instance
- When you have time, write down the whole sentence in which it
appeared (as near as you can remember it.)
An example might make this clearer. Suppose you
read the following sentence in your newspaper: "Mr Bigg, president of
Betalanda, was yesterday accused of being a despot by the country's
opposition leader, Mr Aggronom."
- Consult your dictionary to find (or confirm) the meaning. Does the
word make sense in the sentence where it was used?
- Note down other words in the same word family. They should be
listed along with the word you were looking up.
- Look your word up in a Thesaurus to find other words having a
similar meaning. (A Thesaurus is by far the best tool to help expand
THEN you need to practise your
- Your dictionary would tell you that a despot is "an absolute ruler,
a tyrant...." and words to that effect
- Your dictionary would also list:
- despotic - acting like a tyrant, dictatorial ..... etc
- despotism - rule with unlimited power
- Your Thesaurus would take you to "dictator, autocrat, overlord,
oppressor, bully, tyrant ... etc
mentioned, it's important to set yourself a target of a certain number of
words per day or per week.
- Write a new sentence for each of the words in the word family, for
- Since being promoted to office manager, Mrs Brown has behaved in a
rather despotic manner towards the staff.
- Despite appearing to take into consideration the views of his
cabinet colleagues, the Prime Minister is still regarded as a
- Idi Amin promised to introduce democracy to Uganda but what
followed was in fact despotism.
- Practise using the words in speech:
- first thinking up sentences in your head
- saying them out aloud (to avoid embarrassment you need to be alone
while you're doing this!)
- then using them in real conversations
If you’re really interested in improving your vocabulary then perhaps you ought to consider investing in some relevant software. Ultimate Vocabulary is the most popular program and comes highly recommended.
Before starting you can test your current level to make sure that you start at the right point. New words are learned through links to definitions, synonyms, antonyms and flashcards. There are many examples of each word being used in sentences and audio pronunciation allows you to hear how the word is spoken. Finally you are able to test yourself and measure your progress.
To top it all this easy-to-use software comes with a full year’s money-back guarantee! Click here to have a look: Ultimate Vocabulary
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