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10 Easy Ways to Effortlessly Extend Your Vocabulary

Some simple and effective techniques to help you build your vocabulary. Use these tips to quickly enhance your word power.

There are more than 600,000 words in the English dictionary. But, as Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” The benefits from a well rounded vocabulary will show up in your career accomplishments, academic success and personal relationships. A long term study of college graduates found that those who scored best on a vocabulary test given in college inevitably earned the most, whilst those scoring the lowest were in the bottom income group.

If you want to extend your word power and impress those who know you, a few simple techniques will help.

  1. Keep a pocket dictionary to hand in your daily routine (available in your purse, pocket or car) so that you can look up new or unfamiliar words. Make a note of any which interest you, for later use.
  2. As well as a dictionary have a thesaurus. When you write any kind of text, look at a word you use a lot and find at least one synonym you wouldn’t normally use. However, beware that the meaning of a word offered as a synonym can be subtly different, or that the word may also have other meanings. The best way to use a thesaurus in pursuit of new words is to combine it with a dictionary.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation if someone uses an unfamiliar word. Obviously there will be some circumstances in which this isn’t appropriate, but mostly people will be quite happy to pass on the meaning. And this will be your first opportunity to use the new word in conversation.
  4. Whenever you find a new word you want to make part of your vocabulary, make a point of using your new word three times on the day you learnt it. For the next two weeks try and use it most days and preferably every day. Use it when you write and when you speak. After two weeks, try to use it at least once every few days.
  5. Use your imagination to construct mental scenarios which involve one or more of your chosen new words; perhaps because you need to speak the words as part of the scenario, or to describe something or someone within it.
  6. Do crossword puzzles. Many Internet sites offer free daily crosswords. Play other word games such as Scrabble or Boggle.
  7. Trying to memorise lists of words from a dictionary, aka rote memorisation, is a very ineffective and unenjoyable learning technique. You will soon get bored with trying to do this. On the other hand using a simple rhyming mnemonic device can help you remember even the most obscure facts.
  8. Pick words to learn that are going to be at least somewhat relevant to your everyday life. Any word with a limited and specific use, for example describing an obscure animal species, is probably not worth trying to learn. Unless of course you hope to be in a situation where knowing that word will pay dividends.
  9. The best way to increase your vocabulary is to read. A lot. You probably won’t take in a word the first time you read or hear it, it has been claimed that an average person has to be exposed to a new word at least eight times to properly remember it. Whenever you are reading with the goal of an expanded vocabulary in mind, make sure you choose a varied diet of reading sources (whether magazines, newspapers, other forms of print, or articles on the Internet). From time to time pick something to read which you wouldn’t normally look at. If you are willing to mark your books or magazines, circling or underlining a word will help fix it in your mind.
  10. Consider investing in a good quality computerised vocabulary building tool. You may not need to if other techniques are delivering results you’re happy with. But some people will find this a good way to incorporate vocabulary building into the time they have to spend sitting in front of a computer screen anyway.

Above all mix and match any of the techniques above in a way which is enjoyable to you. The more you relish the search for fresh ways to express yourself, the better your chances of success.

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User Comments
  1. anonymous.

    On November 5, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    awesome, i need a boost in my vocabulary skills. :

  2. Liane Schmidt

    On September 17, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Great, practical ideas. I love vocabulary – one word, if it’s the right word can be like capturing the perfect sentiment, picture, etc.



    -Liane Schmidt.

  3. farouq

    On November 23, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    easiest way to learn vocabulary

  4. Adam Henry Sears

    On December 10, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Hi, Nigel, how are you?
    I follow a lot of these practices already, but I just don’t have the money to invest in a computer program like that. Thanks for the read

  5. shalin

    On March 14, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    itzz gud helped me in boostin…

  6. Cashmere Lashkari

    On May 10, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Of late I have been doing a lot of Word Twist on facebook. That helps too.

  7. Lilyyan

    On July 2, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Ah, vocabulary. One of the few things I pride myself on. Along with stupid sarcastic comments…It’s fun confusing people with your words and I just find it fun when people ask me to explain a word. To answer your unspoken question, yes, I most likely am insane. Seriously though, being smarter than most of my friends is fun. What’s even better is that most of them are a year older than me.

  8. EasyLSP

    On December 2, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I really should do more crosswords. Scratch that, I really should start buying newspapers again to read more and do more crosswords!

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