I've read countless blogs as a writer, and I reckoned the best ones are always easier to understand and extract information from. And one thing that always stands out is how exceptional writers can explain the most complex topics in a simple way. The secret—their expansive vocabulary.
You might think expanding your vocabulary is an easy hack job, but it's the opposite. It's not just reading a new word, registering it in the far corners of the mind, and putting a lock on it. It's about your attention toward the roots of the words and their association with a sentence.
Most of your online readers are scanners. And your words have to make an impact in split seconds to enhance comprehension.
But how, exactly?
I've compiled a list of my personal favorite strategies with examples, and I'll walk you through each step as you read ahead.
Active Vocabulary And Passive Vocabulary
An average person can read 7,500 words in a day. This means you have multiple chances to learn new words. But it's not just about new words, it's about their correct usage. To write well is to know the nuances of English.
The correct spelling and the use of abbreviations, contractions, initialisms, and acronyms are also a part of usage. The correct recognition helps express vivid emotions, be more descriptive, and bring the vision to life (experts call it "painting with words").
Vocabulary has two types.
These words fuel your Semantic Information Retrieval, which means digging out words from the large repository in your head. Active vocabulary refers to the words you use in everyday life whose meaning and usage are very clear to you.
Your active vocabulary progressively grows through application and using the same word in different sentences to add more pragmatic meaning. If I ask you to create a sentence using the word "derelict," and you can do it easily, it's a part of your active vocabulary.
To further modify my active vocabulary, I rely on Wordtune because it rewrites my sentences with new words in an engaging way. Here’s an example of how.
Ways to Develop Active Vocabulary
Your mental lexicon (the active word storage in your mind) needs very little stimulus to activate these words. But if you feel your store needs more new words, here are some ways to broaden it.
- When creating common sentences like "I was very sick," try to frame the sentence with better adjectives like "critically ill," or "I was indisposed”.
- Batia Laufer, in "Quantitative Evaluation of Vocabulary" said that Educationalists suggest using vocabulary in communicative tasks that require you to memorize isolated words.
Translation: use new words when you talk so they fit into your everyday vocabulary.
- You need to decipher the context, connotation, and denotation of every word. Context is the meaning behind the use of the word, the connotation is the association of the word with multiple settings (blue color, blue mood), and denotation is the literal meaning of the word in the dictionary.
- Last, reading every day (even ten pages) is beneficial to expand the active vocab. You see new sentences and words. This helps learn words contextually.
Native speakers have a defined knowledge of their language (their active vocabulary). In contrast, visitors who listen and recognize those words but cannot use them as frequently use passive vocabulary.
Passive vocabulary is the words you can understand while reading or hearing the text but not in speech or writing. This vocabulary is powered by curiosity; the more words you come across, the more it expands. Passive vocabulary is more extensive than active vocabulary because the intent to learn drives you.
The main goal here is to transfer words from your passive storage to the active one to ensure you ace written, spoken, and verbal use of the words.
Example of Passive vocabulary
The Lord help us!' he soliloquized in an undertone of peevish displeasure while relieving me of my horse: looking, meantime, in my face so sourly that I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid to digest his dinner and his pious ejaculation had no reference to my unexpected advent. - An excerpt from the book "Wuthering Heights."
As you read this paragraph in the actual novel, you're able to soak in the crux of an exchange between the characters post-dinner. Words like "soliloquised" or "peevish" might not be the words you use daily, but their meaning in this particular paragraph is clear to you. If such is the case, they're a part of your passive vocabulary.
Ways To Improve Your Vocabulary To Write Well
To be an exceptional writer is to learn constantly. Vocabulary expansion is not just knowing words—but using them actively and correctly.
Here are some ways I prefer to use to enhance my vocabulary to a professional level.
1. Read The Dictionary
This sounds too simple to be effective, no? But it has worked for me multiple times.
And not just me, the legendary rapper Eminem used this method to build vocabulary and it certainly helped him with his career.
In an interview, he said, "I wanna be able to have all these words at my disposal, in my vocabulary, at all times, whenever I need to pull them out, somewhere they'll be stored and locked away."
But just reading is not enough. Here's how I read and expand my vocabulary through the dictionary.
The general format of words explanation in any dictionary:
This description explains the meaning, usage, and delivery of the word. Which is satisfactory for reading comprehension, but for writing comprehension, I like to use Wordtune and create multiple sentences to practice the word used in speech and content.
I especially like the "shorten" feature of the tool. It generates a crisp, concise, and vocabulary-rich sentence.
Tip: I like to carry a pocket dictionary at all times to make notes about new word encounters.
Some offline dictionary favorites:
- Martin Manser's Oxford Guide: 1001 Words You Need To Know And Use
- The New Oxford American Dictionary
- The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus
Online dictionary favorites:
2. Learn about the word's root
Roots tell you about the history and the relation of the word with others in a similar category. To learn roots, you must understand the prefix and suffix pattern of words and their impact when added to different words.
To understand this, let's break down the word.
If we add "ion" to the root, it becomes a noun. So, construction becomes the process of creating something. While if you add "ing" to the root, it becomes a verb. Constructing means the action of construction.
On the other hand, if we add "ive" to the original word, it becomes "destructive," which is an adjective.
Knowing the root can help you create more new words. With "struct," some words are, construct, structure, obstruct, instruct, etc.
Over 60% of English words have Greek or Latin roots. It's essential to know the common ones to recognize the words with their roots and distinguish them from the ones with English roots.
The roots help you understand the meaning better. "Bio" has a Greek root that means "Life," so when we say biology, biochemistry, or symbiosis—it means something related to life.
3. Word Associations
Word association is a fun and engaging way to learn more words and also enjoy the process. You can include more than one person in this game and play it for hours without getting bored.
To play alone, you take a word like "ice cream." Ice cream is related to ice. It's cold. So you try to create a chain or sentence with a related word. For instance: The cold ice cream was chocolate flavored.
Another way to play this game is to include a friend and say a word like "Gullible." The next person has to again say a word that starts with the letter 'e.' This cycle repeats until all the players have no word left to contribute.
This game adds more words to your mental store as you might encounter unheard words from the other participants in the game.
4. Create a personal dictionary
A good habit is to create a personal written dictionary. When you see a new word, enter it into the diary with the meaning and make a habit of reading it once a day at least.
Create alphabetical sections, and jot down a new word whenever you encounter it. Reach home and find the meaning of it and its usage. The constant recollection of words and writing them down helps you memorize better. When the time comes, and you write a blog post, you can open your dictionary and incorporate those words into your content.
5. Use The KISS Technique
"Keep It Simple, Stupid." Don’t use five words to say something you could've said in one. Readers have a very simple motive. They have a search intent and need the answer to it.
Your audience wants you to make a complex subject simpler. If they're bombarded with words that are non-existent in their dictionary, they'll get more questions instead of answers. The U.S. Navy coined the term KISS to overcome this complication in 1960. Avoid complex erudition, and to make your writing more appealing, replace the overused buzzwords with unique ones.
Some alternatives to common words are:
Captious: Nitpicking, finding faults
Luculent: Clear in thought or expression
Aghast: Alternative for shocked
Agitated: Worried or irritated
Redolent: Reminiscent, like a scent
Agoraphobic: Extreme fear of crowded places
These words are different and not very complex, and most readers are aware of these. Most systems work in better harmony and with minimum complication if they're simple.
Again, I use Wordtune very frequently to find new words for long, common phrases.
Socializing at interesting places, exhibitions, writing events, and technical meetups will help you both learn and practice new words.
And other than just learning the meanings of new words, you also learn new ways of forming a sentence, the context of the word, and varied use cases.
Although she was considered smart, she failed all her exams.
Using Wordtune you can modify the above sentence with Wordtune. I prefer the 2nd alternative because it feels more casual, adds a pinch of emotion, and uses a coordinating conjunction to join the two clauses.
7. Use Flashcards
Flashcards are other instruments that help add more words on the go. In today's age, you can create virtual flashcards and avoid the hassle of keeping physical cards.
You can add one flashcard in a day. You can do more than one, but ensure you retain what you write. Use your flashcard for planning, observation, and reflection on each word.
You can also play a word game where your friend can hide the flashcard, and you'll get the point of telling the meaning of the word you find.
8. Make Your Words Dance
"Rhythm" is as important for writing as it is for music. Your music can jazz, strut, or waltz if used in the right tone. And most writers forget to add this rhythm to their content.
Your readers can sense when the content is offbeat, and you haven't followed the sentence structure. The mind works in strange ways, and even when you're not reading something out loud, your mind is doing it through an inner speech by projecting outer speech.
Let's understand through an example:
The best way to understand rhythm is through poetry. It condenses the meaning into a repeated cadence for each line.
The pattern in this:
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
To find the rhythm of your content, see where you use the words, how long your sentences are, and the silence in between.
You can change the structure and some words of this sentence to make it flow better,
You see how varying length and a bit of emotion can make your reader feel the same as you. To add rhythm to your writing, you should read the work of others and understand how their tone varies.
Books and Series To Read For Improving Vocabulary
Books are an indispensable tool to be at the top of the latest vocabulary trends and know how to do justice to your content.
Here are seven books and series that have contributed greatly to my vocabulary (as an adult.)
I've read "The Merchant Of Venice" and "Hamlet," and phrases like "caress the shores," "Manna" "Argosies," "Beshrewd" "dirge," "mirth," and "weary" are some of my favorite words that I've learned from the book.
Shakespeare contributed a lot to the English language with his flavorful plays and use of idioms in them. Reading his book renders emotions and makes you resonate with each character, making you a part of the story. His books are great for an understanding of rhythm as well.
Game Of Thrones
This series is one of the most famous and highly watched television adaptations. However, reading the "Game of Thrones" written volumes is an experience you cannot miss. The unmatched middle English and language of George R.R. Martin is replete with brilliant words used in interesting ways.
The action scenes with wholesome interpretations and explanations of Westeros in deep detail are also something to learn from if you use a lot of adverbs and adjectives.
Emily Bronte described "Passion is fleeting" with her vivid display of the glum Wuthering Heights estate and the intriguing relationships within the family. If you want to write well and add more color, read this book to learn about more feelings and synonyms for it.
Wednesday is the latest series about the Addams Family featuring "Jenna Ortega." The movie is about a grim girl who unearths mysteries and has a love for all things morbid. The vocabulary used in this series is exceptionally commendable. I loved the use of the words " intrepid," "woe," "foreboding," "macabre," "menagerie," and many more.
The Count Of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Duma takes us through a journey of betrayal and revenge and how it impacts life. It's a great novel for exploring classic conversational words and reading more about expressing betrayal in your writing.
A beautiful story about a mother and a daughter's journey through life and studies. Rory, the lead character, is an avid reader and an aspiring journalist. As a result, her extensive vocabulary is a supporting character in the show. I've rewatched it seven times now, and each time I find a new word to look for. (P.S.: It's perfect for the fall time.)
Content related blogs
These are the most underrated but the most effective ways to improve your vocabulary. You'll notice if you read new blogs every day, you'll learn the jargon about your most written topics. You'll also learn how to talk in the experts' tone and to be up to date about the new trends in the industry.
Weak Words To Remove From Your Written Content
Human attention is short and unique words are the key to it. But some words are monotonous, and you should dump them for good writing. So, try to avoid these words whenever you can.
Some more words to edit out:
- Excessive Passive voice
Be The Word Wizard
Lastly, you have to be aware of the tone, audience, and funnel stage you're writing for. Novices need to start from the basics, while experts need more deep-dive research. Use the correct mix of words and keep your eyes open for new ones.
Be mindful of what you write and how it frames in a sentence. And to subscribe to word-of-the-day feeds to know what the world loves to hear about. What you write should be helpful and give your reader insight into their question, fulfilling their intent to come online.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.