7 great tips to boost your vocabulary

DSC02004My vocabulary is the result of a life-long love affair with words. It didn’t hurt that I was raised by a former proofreader for Merriam-Webster and a New York Times crossword puzzler.

I keep a vocabulary notebook. Next to this notebook I keep my dictionary (an old-fashioned printed dictionary, a Merriam-Webster of course). Whenever I encounter a word I don’t know, I put it in my notebook and look it up.

I learn a lot of new words; I probably forget a lot more. I have found the best way to retain new words is to use my new words. Also, I –

Read – This is by far the best way to learn new words. Books, magazines, blogs, websites. If you carry a book around and read while waiting at the doctor or Motor V, keep an index card and pen in your pocket or purse for new words you encounter on the go.DSC02014

Google – Try Googling WOTD (word of the day) and you’ll be amazed at what happens! You will find a long list of WOTD sites to help you increase your vocabulary. Subscribe to a word-a-day site and get new words sent to your inbox.

Learn in chunks – Dictionary.com has great theme-related decks to study words under subject headings like culinary, performing arts, and sports. There are currently 76 decks of cards under the sports heading, so you can see where this can lead!

Pick up the thesaurus – When you discover a new word, pick up (or click) the thesaurus and find its synonyms, antonyms, etc.

DSC02008Flex the word muscles – Play words games like Scrabble or do word puzzles or crosswords. Learn Q words – they help a lot in Scrabble! Did you know Qi is an alternative for Chi?

Write sentences – Some time ago I read “carmine” in a book. I wasn’t sure what it meant, so I looked it up. It means vivid red. So I wrote it in a few simple sentences. That lava is carmine. New Mexico sunsets are often carmine. I am angry, and I am seeing carmine!

Use your new words – And look smarter! Use new words in correspondence, emails, Facebook posts, on your blog. Your friends will be impressed.

Here are a few entries in my vocabulary notebook – conciliate, plinth, carapace, fecund, susurration, portending, erudite, and farcical. How many do you know?


“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.” – Evelyn Waugh


You might also like What is a portmanteau?  and What do a madam, a racecar, and a kayak have in common?



Filed under Special Events, Words & Vocabulary

13 responses to “7 great tips to boost your vocabulary

  1. Great as always, Karen. Dictionaries are a cornerstone of my work as a X-word puzzle editor and I still manage to take buswoman’s holidays through them on occasion. Particularly love the OED to just read at leisure.

    • Do you mean that you read them? I thought I was the only one that did that! I don’t have an Oxford…I should get one. Can’t wait to post your take on Words on Thursday! 🙂

      • Oh, I read the best of them, yes. OED is a trip–such wonderful references and passages. And American Heritage is fun, too. Websters New World is my X-waord editing standard, though.

  2. Great post, Karen, and I have a word list too! I knew all the words you mentioned except for plinth — I thought it was relating to architectural structure, but I couldn’t remember how. I think you’re 100% correct that the best way to gain ownership of a word is to use it often.

  3. “One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.” – Evelyn Waugh
    Love the quote and I think its so true. I realise I don’t use some of the words I used 20 years ago….

    Thanks for tip on WOTD.

    Here’s something interesting I found out. My computer seems to be set to American English, I have the Concise Oxford Dictionary on file…sometimes they differ on words. When the computer seems lost and the thesaurus sleeping I the COD comes to the rescue and vice versa.

    When I was in school ( a looong time ago) I decided to learn a new word a day. I picked up Webster and started with aardvark, but sadly never proceeded beyond the first page. 🙂

  4. I see and learn a few new words every day (I’m subscribed to three WOTD), and the reason I forget is I don’t use them. I should work harder at that. It is never too late – and you have a hand up, you already know aardvark!

  5. I love words. After all, how can we writers without exploring, researching, learning more about words every day? One of my favorite creative writing exercises is to find four or five ‘unusual’ or infrequently used words (say, plethora, carmine, carapace, and portending), and then say “GO” and we all write a 5-minute story using all of these words. So much fun!!

  6. I used to ‘read’ the dictionary when I was around 2nd grade. (We didn’t have a library and I was desparate for books!)
    Your tips are really great, Karen!
    PS: Have you played banana-grams? It’s like a speed version of Scrabble. We are addicted!

  7. Pingback: Still Searching for Spring | At Home...On the Road

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