Vocabulary Building Tips

To be an effective writer, a person must have a strong vocabulary to make his or her ideas clear to the reader. Students often try to fake a strong vocabulary and end up making fools of themselves by misusing a word. You don't need to fake it. Below are some tips to build your vocabulary.

Read, read, read!
The best way to build a vocabulary is to read as much as possible. It doesn't have to be a 17th century novel, though that kind of reading will effectively build your vocabulary. It can be any kind of reading. When you come across a word you don't know, look it up right then and there. To help you remember it, pay attention to how it's used in the sentence and make up a couple sentences of your own using it. Although this may seem troublesome, you won't have to do it forever. Eventually, your vocabulary will be built up and you will know the words when you're reading.

  • dictionary.com should be an app on your cell phone and a favorite on your laptop browser.
  • Use your new words in your daily life as much as possible. Don't worry if you're concerned that your friends will make fun of you; your future employers will be impressed.

Avoid vague language in your writing

  • Instead of using "good," or "bad," ask yourself what is good or bad about the noun you're describing. For example, instead of writing "it was a good book," ask yourself what was good about the book. Perhaps you mean "it was an exciting book" or "it was a funny book." Those are two different meanings. By avoiding vague language, your reader doesn't have to guess what you mean.
  • Instead of using "things," ask yourself what type of things you mean. You very likely don't mean bunny rabbits, but bunny rabbits are things. For example, instead of writing "the group learned many things at the club meeting," consider "the group learned many new strategies to increase membership at the club meeting."

Learn roots, prefixes, and suffixes
Words in English often have a root, a prefix, and/or a suffix. If you know the meanings of these parts, you will know more words when you're reading.  For example words starting with bio- have something to do with life, and words ending with -ology mean the study of something. Therefore, the word biology means the study of life. This is a simple example, but this trick can help you know the meaning of words such as misanthrope, bibliophile, and veracity without having to look them up.
Pages 389-393 of The St. Martin's Handbook - 8th edition provide a list of common roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Stop swearing
If you stop swearing, you'll find that the number of words you use will greatly increase. It's easy to say "&*#$ mad." It takes a strong vocabulary to use words such as furious and enraged. It will be difficult at first, but like anything else, you'll improve with practice. A fifth grader can swear; an adult goes beyond that.  Once you build up your vocabulary, you'll be able to swear better than you thought possible.


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