vocabulary

noun
vo·​cab·​u·​lary | \ vō-ˈka-byə-ˌler-ē How to pronounce vocabulary (audio) , və- \
plural vocabularies

Definition of vocabulary

1 : a list or collection of words or of words and phrases usually alphabetically arranged and explained or defined : lexicon The vocabulary for the week is posted online every Monday.
2a : a sum or stock of words employed by a language, group, individual, or work or in a field of knowledge a child with a large vocabulary the vocabulary of physicians a writer known for employing a rich vocabulary
b : a list or collection of terms or codes available for use (as in an indexing system) … the oldest Sumerian cuneiform writing could not render normal prose but was a mere telegraphic shorthand, whose vocabulary was restricted to names, numerals, units of measure, words for objects counted, and a few adjectives.— Jared Diamon
3 : a supply of expressive techniques or devices (as of an art form) an impressive musical vocabulary

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The Vocabulary of Vocabulary

For many people, the word vocabulary is primarily associated with the number of words that a person knows; one either has a large or a small vocabulary. But the word has many shades of meaning and is nicely representative of the nuanced and multi-hued nature of so much of the English lexicon.

Vocabulary may indeed refer to the collection of words known by an individual or by a large group of people. It may also signify the body of specialized terms in a field of study or activity (“the vocabulary of science”). It may designate a physical object, such as a book, in which a collection of (usually alphabetized) words is defined or explained. And it may name things other than words, such as “a list or collection of terms or codes available for use,” “a set or list of nonverbal symbols” (such as marine alphabet flag signals), and “a set of expressive forms used in an art” (as in “the vocabulary of dance”).

Examples of vocabulary in a Sentence

the basic vocabulary of English She has learned a lot of new vocabulary. He has a somewhat limited vocabulary. Reading helped to expand her vocabulary. the vocabulary of the art world The Internet has given us a whole new vocabulary.
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Recent Examples on the Web Hong Kongers speak Cantonese, but in school they are taught to write using the vocabulary and the grammar of standard written Chinese. Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, "Hong Kong’s Protest Movement and the Fight for the City’s Soul," 9 Dec. 2019 There are also more traditional modes of learning that should bolster your vocabulary and conjugation skills. Benjamin Levin, CNN Underscored, "Learn a language or two with this lifetime subscription to Mondly," 21 Nov. 2019 And with the rise of the internet, artists were able to access new media, be exposed to an international vocabulary and start making drastically different art, Taylor said. Los Angeles Times, "Vietnam’s blossoming contemporary art scene, on full display in L.A.," 9 Oct. 2019 Ernie was a kind man, with a quick wit, an extraordinary vocabulary, and a scientific mind. orlandosentinel.com, "Deaths in Central Florida: 9/29," 29 Sep. 2019 So now, for me, however the works of Shakespeare were created, the creator had not only extensive book learning, languages, vocabulary, and life experience, but also the greatest understanding of women any playwright has ever displayed. Mark Rylance, The Atlantic, "Keep Questioning Shakespeare’s Identity," 8 June 2019 Something in the retelling of a dream, however haunting and however true, lacks the peculiar verisimilitude of dreams, their unique vocabulary and texture, their singular identity. The New York Review of Books, "Alberto Manguel," 6 Nov. 2018 Until recently, the kids playing pickup games, lending their own vocabulary to a universal grammar, were calling themselves Messi. The New York Review of Books, "Joshua Jelly-Schapiro," 5 Apr. 2018 One solution to this conundrum would be to strike victory from our vocabularies. Cian O'driscoll, Quartz, "The myth of victory in modern warfare," 2 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vocabulary.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of vocabulary

1532, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for vocabulary

Middle French vocabulaire, probably from Medieval Latin vocabularium, from neuter of vocabularius verbal, from Latin vocabulum

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Time Traveler for vocabulary

Time Traveler

The first known use of vocabulary was in 1532

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Statistics for vocabulary

Last Updated

10 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vocabulary.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocabularies. Accessed 20 January 2020.

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More Definitions for vocabulary

vocabulary

noun
How to pronounce vocabulary (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of vocabulary

: the words that make up a language
: all of the words known and used by a person
: words that are related to a particular subject

vocabulary

noun
vo·​cab·​u·​lary | \ vō-ˈka-byə-ˌler-ē How to pronounce vocabulary (audio) \
plural vocabularies

Kids Definition of vocabulary

1 : a list or collection of words and their meanings
2 : the words used in a language, by a group or individual, or in relation to a subject

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