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

Koko, who was 46, developed a sign language vocabulary of more than 170 words by age 4 and more than 2,000 at the time of her passing. Philip Potempa, Post-Tribune, "Mr. Rogers still a trusted name and neighbor to Northwest Indiana public TV," 27 June 2018 These scholars are concerned that Sperry’s study might lead people to believe that family income doesn’t have any bearing on a kid’s exposure to vocabulary, or that a language-rich home life isn’t important. Laura Mckenna, The Atlantic, "The Long, Contentious History of the ‘Word Gap’ Study," 15 June 2018 Most agree that the icons are not quite a language—the emoji vocabulary is made up almost entirely of nouns, and there’s no real grammar or syntax to govern their use—but their influence on internet communication is massive. Arielle Pardes, WIRED, "Academics Gathered to Share Emoji Research, and It Was 🔥," 27 June 2018 Just a day after using ‘‘separate but equal,’’ Trump branched out to using shameful episodes in other countries’ recent histories to supply the vocabulary for his spur-of-the-moment public statements. Christine Emba, BostonGlobe.com, "President Trump’s ‘Space Force’ brings back ‘separate but equal’," 20 June 2018 Some lack the courage, others the right vocabulary. Rebecca Lurye, courant.com, "Connecticut Elder Care Agencies Coming Out As LGBT Allies," 11 Apr. 2018 Twyla had an entirely different movement vocabulary. Marcia Manna, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Malashock looks to the future as it celebrates 30 years of dance-making," 15 Mar. 2018 Content and style merge as Trump makes a nod toward the more diplomatic vocabulary that his predecessors considered the everyday language of the office. Marc Fisher, Washington Post, "Best behavior: How Trump alters his tone to suit the occasion," 30 Jan. 2018 Everyday objects and beginning vocabulary are elevated with gorgeous illustrations; this set makes an affordable, stylish gift. Megan Barber, Curbed, "The 17 best kids’ books about design and cities," 12 Dec. 2018

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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Last Updated

7 Mar 2019

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Time Traveler for vocabulary

The first known use of vocabulary was in 1532

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More Definitions for vocabulary

vocabulary

noun

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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