vo·cab·u·lary | \vō-ˈka-byə-ˌler-ē, 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

2a : a sum or stock of words employed by a language, group, individual, or work or in a field of knowledge

b : a list or collection of terms or codes available for use (as in an indexing system)

3 : a supply of expressive techniques or devices (as of an art form)

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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

From hearty sausages to delicate beer radish at Von Trier Options for German plates seem to be decreasing in a city where gemütlichkeit is part of the vocabulary. Carol Deptolla, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "International flavors, down at the corner bar, are an American experience," 3 July 2018 But where the two Stegosaurus brothers speak in Jurassic monosyllables, Stegothesaurus has the gift of a bountiful vocabulary. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Children’s Books: You Know She Should Be Glad," 22 June 2018 Beauty has made diversity, representation, and inclusivity part of its vocabulary in recent years. Sarah Wu, Teen Vogue, "Trump's "Zero Tolerance" Policy Goes Against the Beauty Industry's Promise of Inclusivity," 21 June 2018 What follows is a by-no-means inclusive list of vocabulary. Michael Gold, New York Times, "The ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+," 21 June 2018 To illustrate the power of a bigger vocabulary, Lomas presents the example of a study in which children who were taught new words to describe their emotions showed improvement in behavior and academic performance. Katy Steinmetz, Time, "How Learning New Words Could Make You Happier," 8 May 2018 There are analogues and theatrical vocabulary for a lot of the stuff Baz was doing. Christopher Wallenberg, BostonGlobe.com, "A new ‘Moulin Rouge!’ for a new Colonial," 5 July 2018 Odds are high that this acronym will become part of your vocabulary — and part of your portfolio — in the near future. Robert Powell, USA TODAY, "ESG funds: What you need to know about socially responsible investing," 13 June 2018 Like many famous creoles, including its close relative Gullah, Sranan is English-based, meaning that the bulk of its vocabulary comes from English. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Linguistic time capsule in South America sheds light on human migration," 14 Mar. 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

3 Oct 2018

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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



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


vo·cab·u·lary | \vō-ˈka-byə-ˌler-ē \
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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a state of commotion or excitement

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