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How to Improve Vocabulary - 100 Words You Can Actually Use

Improve Vocabulary with reading.

Improve Vocabulary with reading.

Communication Skills

Have you ever really stopped to think how important communication skills are to humans? Among all the species on Earth, we’re the only ones with a written language. Actually, it seems we’re the only species to have a formal oral language, too. Other animals are able to communicate with each other through body language, scents, and such, but they can’t speak. Yes, some animals can use a sort of verbal language, but it’s more in the form of grunts, growls, or whistles. Furthermore, animals aren’t judged on their communication skills like we humans are. We’re always being judged on our command of language, whether it’s done so formally or informally. As a retired language arts teacher, I can often tell a lot about a person by the words he or she uses. That includes the person’s written words as well as his speech. I’m not saying everyone is like me here, but I think most people would admit that communication skills are important in a number of life situations. Besides that, some people simply love words, along with their etymology. I’m one of those people. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of words that have become part of our English language.

How To Improve Communication Skills

If you’re hoping to learn how to improve communication skills, you need to understand the importance of vocabulary. Sometimes how you say something is just as important as what is being said. Many words in the English language carry connotation, and choosing just the right words can make a big difference in what you say. I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about. The words “stubborn” and “determined” mean practically the same thing, but “stubborn” has a more negative connotation. In fact, describing someone as “determined” can be a good thing.

If you want to be a really good conversationalist or you wish to be a better writer, try to choose words with connotation, along with some interesting verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Sprinkle such words here and there in your speech and in your writing to improve your communication skills. Be careful not to use so many examples that your message appears to be “flowery.” In some cases, you might want to sort of create a picture in the mind of a listener or reader with some sensual imagery – words that appeal to the five senses.

Another way to vastly improve communications skills is to improve your vocabulary with some sort of vocabulary builder. Our language includes so many words that you can find some with the exact meaning you need at any given time. With a larger vocabulary, you’ll have a bigger arsenal of choices. And since half of communicating effectively involves listening or reading, increasing your vocabulary will help from that end, too. How can you understand a speaker or a writer if you don’t know the meanings of the words he uses? I’ve included 100 vocabulary words in this article, by the way.

English Language

Many people don’t realize this, but the English language has Germanic roots. European tribes from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands brought their native tongues with them when they invaded what we now know as Britain. The tribes known as the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes had a huge impact on the history of the English language, but that language bears little resemblance to the English we know today. Before the Germanic tribes arrived, Britain had been occupied by Celtic tribes, and we still have some words of Celtic origin. Basically, there were two main types of Celtic language – Gaelic (Goidelic) and Brythonic. Goidelic languages were used in what are now western Scotland and Ireland, while Brythonic was spoken in England. Another type of Celtic language, Pictish, was used in the remainder of Scotland. A few words with Celtic origin are still used in modern English, including basket, plaid, glen, tan, and dun. We got words from Latin, too, as Britain was under Roman control for more than 400 years, up until around the year 410. Some of our Latin-based words include several names of cities in Britain, for example. The Latin word for “camp” was “castra,” and from many of the Roman camps sprang settlements and towns. The evidence can be seen in the names of cities beginning or ending in “chester.” Some other words left behind by the Romans include arbor, belt, wall, coast, criminal, collar, candle, bonus, feud, floral, fort, magistrate, military, army, salary, soldier, wine, and equine.

In a way, it’s hard to believe that Roman occupation didn’t result in more borrowed words from Latin, but you have to remember that for the most part, Latin was used only by the military and by merchants who sold goods to the army. If you take another look at the words I listed, you’ll see that most of them were such words. The inhabitants of Britain continued to speak their Celtic language under Roman rule. Of course, once Christianity and the Catholic Church became powerful in Britain, Latin, along with some Greek, added more words, including many suffixes and prefixes, to the English language.

English also borrowed a few words from what we now often refer to as the “Vikings.” From the ninth century until the Norman Conquest, groups of people from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark came to Britain for various reasons. Some came to loot, some came to trade, and some came to settle and farm. Some of the words the English language borrowed from the Vikings and Old Norse include filly, kick, knife, keel, sister, knot, heathen, egg, crook, fellow, haggle, irk, mistake, oaf, scare, skull, troll, and whisk.

A major change in the English language came about in 1066, with the Norman Conquest. The invaders from France spoke several different French dialects, including Old Norman. Once in Britain, the languages and dialects of the conquerors blended into what we now call Anglo-Norman. It was spoken by the upper class and was used for some law records and trade reports. Latin, however, remained the official language for most official documents. The common people at the time, the Anglo-Saxons, continued to speak Anglo-Saxon (Old English), for the most part. Over the years, Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman melded into the language we now refer to as Middle English. In less than 100 years after the Norman Invasion, the English language was considered to be respectable, and in 1258, the government published a document in English. The first English king to use English for addressing Parliament was King Edward III, in 1362. Just a few years later, Anglo-Norman was considered to be a dead language.

How the heck did the vocabulary of the English language get to be so enormous and varied? Because it was a great borrower. In fact, it still is. We English speakers use words from all over the globe. Some have been left intact, while others have been “anglicized.” If you’re an etymology fan, peruse some words in your dictionary and take a look at their origins. You’ll find that we have plenty of formerly foreign words that are now comfortably residing in our everyday language.


English vocabulary includes over one million words, according to a fairly recent study conducted by Google and Harvard. Even more surprising is the number of words that are added to the English language each year. Some linguists cite that number at around 9,000 per year, while others estimate that the language is expanding by some 25,000 new words annually. If that surprises you, just think about how many new inventions pop up every year. For example, your great-grandparents had probably never heard the words “microwave,” “email,” or a “mouse” that wasn’t capable of raiding their pantries. Heck, before the 2000 presidential election, few of us knew the meaning of the word “chad.”

The wonder and expanse of the English language becomes even more apparent when you consider that many words in English have more than one definition, perhaps along with more than one pronunciation. Take the word “bass,” for example. It can be pronounced with a short a sound or with a long a sound, and each pronunciation has a totally different meaning. Even a simple word like “box” can have several different definitions and can be used as a noun or as a verb. Add a y to box and you get an adjective. And speaking of adjectives, what about the comparative and superlative forms? They can be very confusing. Take the word “fast.” The comparative term is made by adding –er, for “faster.” The superlative is made by adding –est, for “fastest.” Seems simple, right? Of course, if you’re an English language speaker, you know that it doesn’t always work that way. We don’t say “bad,” “badder,” and “baddest.”

Kids learn new vocabulary words through reading and listening.

Kids learn new vocabulary words through reading and listening.

How To Improve Vocabulary

I’ve always believed that one of the best ways to improve vocabulary is through reading. Of course, that somewhat depends on the material being read. If you spend all your reading time on juvenile comic books, you might not learn many new vocabulary words. And even when some people run across unfamiliar words in their reading, they don’t take the time to look up the definitions. They just skim over the words and hope they weren’t integral to the meaning of the story or the material. Learning how to spell and how to pronounce new vocabulary words is pretty useless if you don’t understand how to use the words.

To increase your vocabulary through reading, keep a notebook and pen with you as you read. When you come across a word that’s not familiar, write it down in the notebook. Use contextual clues to try to understand the meaning of the word, and jot down your estimated definition, too. Also, copy the sentence in which the word appears. Leave several lines between each word , sentence, and assumed definition. When you’re done reading for the time being, look up the definitions to the words in a dictionary. Compare the real definition to yours. How’d you do? Now, read the sentence from the book now that you know the definition of the word, then create a different sentence of your own that uses the new vocabulary word. Every few days, review your vocabulary list and try to use the words in conversation.

If you’re not much of a reader, you can still increase your vocabulary by using similar methods. You could purchase a vocabulary builder, or you can create your own. Don’t choose so many new vocabulary words at once – you’ll get overwhelmed. Unfamiliar words are easy to find – just flip through a dictionary! Once you choose a new word to learn, write it down several times. Make up a few sentences with the word. Say the word aloud several times. Have someone else say the word several times as you listen. Doing all these activities will help create new pathways in your brain that are connected to the word.

I suggest choosing words that you’ll actually be able to use. For example, you probably wouldn’t want to choose complicated medical terms, scientific terms, or very specific terminology. Chances are that you’d never get to use the words, unless you force them into your dialogue. I’ve come up with a hundred vocabulary words that you’ll probably have no problems using. I had some help with this from some fellow Hubbers, by the way. Chances are that you already know and use most of these words, but if you don’t, try adding a few of them to your vocabulary.

Do you know the meaning of the word "aglet"?

Do you know the meaning of the word "aglet"?

100 Vocabulary Words

Abate – to lessen

Acrid – sharp or biting to taste or smell

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Aglet – the hard plastic covering on the end of a shoelace

Bellicose – hostile

Bespawl – to spit on

Blandiloquence – flattering or ingratiating speech

Brontide – a distant rumbling noise

Codswallop – gibberish

Corpulent - fat

Churlish - rude

Crepitus –a cracking sound or grating feeling, like in a bad knee joint

Crepuscular – similar to or associated with twilight

Deride – to make fun of

Didactic – intended to teach

Discombobulated – confused or upset

Dearth – scarcity or short supply

Elocution – the art of speaking

Ennui – boredom

Facile – easy

Fanfaron – a braggart and bully

Fell – the “silver skin” found on some cuts of meat

Frenetic – extremely excited

Garrulous – excessive talking, rambling speech

Germane – fitting, significant

Gowk – a foolish person

Hapless – unfortunate, miserable

Hiatus – a break or gap

Hubris – extreme pride

Innocuous – harmless

Intractable – stubborn

Jejune - boring

Jocular – humorous, joking

Kindle – to light or start a fire

Laconic – concise

Loquacious – talkative

Lucid - clear

Macabre – gruesome

Malevolent – evil

Mastication – chewing

Maudlin – overly sentimental

Minion – a favored follower

Mordant – sarcastic, biting

Morose – extremely gloomy

Nadir – lowest point

Nefarious - wicked

Nexus – a connection

Ninnyhammer – an idiot

Noxious - harmful

Obsequious – fawning, dutiful

Obtuse – not sharp

Odoriferous - smelly

Offal – scraps or waste, especially of animal carcasses

Osculation – kissing

Ostensibly – seemingly

Parsimonious - stingy

Pate – the head

Philtrum – the small trench between the upper lip and the nose

Pithy – short and to the point

Plethora – a large amount of something

Prevaricate – to mislead

Prodigious – enormous

Punitive – used as punishment

Quandary – a dilemma

Quell – to calm or soothe

Quiescent – quiet, motionless

Rankle – to irritate or annoy

Rapacious – greedy

Rapscallion – a rascal

Recant – to retract a statement or belief

Recondite – of expert knowledge

Redress – to make right

Riley – angry

Sagacious – wise

Sanguine – healthy, ruddy, optimistic

Schism – division

Spate – a sudden outpouring

Spurious - fake

Stentorian – very loud

Succinct – precise and concise

Sullen – gloomy

Surfeit – overindulgence

Sychophant – a “suckup” or “brown-noser”

Tacit – unspoken but implied

Terse – brief but effective

Timorous – shy, fearful

Turbid – dark, dense, muddy

Turgid – bloated, swollen

Truculent – fierce

Ubiquitous – being everywhere

Unkempt – messy, disorderly

Upbraid – to scold

Vapid – dull

Virulent – destructive, harmful

Vociferous – shrill, noisy

Volatile – easily changeable, especially in a threatening manner

Waggish – funny, witty

Welt – the part of a shoe found between the sole and the upper

Zealot – an extremely committed individual


Mklow1 on October 08, 2013:

Fantastic article. I have been trying to improve my vocabulary, so this should help!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2013:

AJ, I enjoyed your clever comment!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2013:

B.Leekley, that's a great strategy! I do that sometimes, too.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2013:

Mizjo, what a great comment! Thanks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2013:

Arun, very nice of you to stop by for a read!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2013:

Tammy, you're very welcome!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 16, 2013:

Thanks for that, Paul. I'm teaching the grandkids some of these words.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 16, 2013:

Lol, Connie. You're not the first to make that comment about my teaching status.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 16, 2013:

Thanks a bunch, Carol!

Jordan Hake from Southwest Missouri, USA on May 16, 2013:

I adore accumulating numerous supplementary words to expand my collection!

Just kidding, I used

Seriously though, new words are fun!

AJ Long from Pennsylvania on February 12, 2013:

The preponderance of vocabulary words you have enummerated is a tribute to your innate and learned use of idiom and expression in the English vernacular! (Boy, this is fun!) I hope hope I used all the words properly! :0)

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on January 27, 2013:

Up, Useful, Interesting and shared with followers.

My favorite new word is bespawl. No bespawling on the sidewalk!

One technique I use when uncertain of the best word to use is to go to an online thesaurus and write down all the synonyms that might work, and then I research them and by process of elimination choose the best to use in the passage I am writing.

mizjo from New York City, NY on December 31, 2012:

Thank you, Holle, for such an elucidating hub. You took the trouble to turn out a first class hub that is comprehensible and user-friendly.

Have a Happy New Year!

ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE from KOLKATA on December 29, 2012:

Very useful hub. Although it is not very difficult to acquire good vocabulary one should be more concerned about speaking and writing with good felicity.I have tried to choose the words properly in my published hubs.Thank you and wish you a happy new year and more such good hubs.

Tammy Winters from Oregon on December 29, 2012:

Very Interesting. Thanks for sharing with us.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on December 29, 2012:

This is a very interesting article on the history of the English language. I don't think I'll have the occasion of using many of the 100 words in my 5th grade EFL classes, but they certainly are worthwhile knowing for anyone who wants to be a very good writer and express themselves well in speaking. Voted up and sharing with followers.

Connie Smith from Tampa Bay, Florida on December 29, 2012:

I've always taken pride in my vocabulary. Unlike my friend, billybuc, I still have to admit there were a lot more than five words on your list that I've never heard of until today. Thanks for the lesson, teach. The history of the language was very interesting as well. Obviously, you think you are retired. I think you just changed the venue of your classroom.

carol stanley from Arizona on December 29, 2012:

I love the list and I see most that I know. This will have to be bookmarked for future reading.. Voting up and sharing on various social networks.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on December 29, 2012:

You guys are great! Good to know there are so many word lovers here.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on December 29, 2012:

Always fine to learn the definition of new words- thankee habee.

Philip Cooper from Olney on December 29, 2012:

Interesting article....quite useful too. Thanks for that!...:)

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on December 28, 2012:

Useful, well explained hub, thank you for writing it.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on December 28, 2012:

I have long enjoyed a love affair with words, Holle, so you must know how much I appreciate this literate exposition re verbal communication. Thank you, m'dear.

Faith A Mullen on December 28, 2012:

Great article. I love the list of words to add to your vocabulary.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 28, 2012:

I love love using playful ways and of course as they are intended. I wrote about being a verbarian....what fun we can have with words. I will be sure to include these words in my communication with others. Interesting and useful...++

Keely Deuschle from Florida on December 28, 2012:

Great hub and list of vocabulary words! I think we should all challenge ourselves to expand our vocabulary as often as possible! I encourage my children to look up words they do not know rather than guessing. I like the idea about the notebook so it doesn't interrupt the reading!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2012:

Why the hell would a writer want to improve his vocabulary? LOL Great list of words; I have to admit there were five I had not heard of, so thanks for the education.

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