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

Essential Meaning of vocabulary

1 : the words that make up a language the basic vocabulary of English
2 : all of the words known and used by a person She has learned a lot of new vocabulary. He has a large/wide vocabulary. [=he knows and uses many words] See More ExamplesHe has a somewhat limited vocabulary. Reading helped to expand/improve her vocabulary. Our passive vocabulary [=the words we understand] is larger than our active vocabulary. [=the words we use ourselves]Hide
3 : words that are related to a particular subject the vocabulary of the art world The Internet has given us a whole new vocabulary.

Full 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

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 Games develop skills like adding and multiplication, spelling and vocabulary, puzzle-solving and physics, learning to draw, basic coding, and more. Wired, 26 Nov. 2021 The storied organization issues guidance on French grammar and vocabulary, but many in the francophone world consider its non-binding advisories sacrosanct. Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2021 It’s been found that children can take in more complex concepts and vocabulary through listening than through their own reading until about age 13, on average. Natalie Wexler, Forbes, 14 Nov. 2021 Bring Change to Mind has set up groups in schools where adolescents can safely share their feelings and develop a vocabulary to discuss their mental health, Close said. Madeline Holcombe, CNN, 5 Nov. 2021 As a storyteller and poet herself, Frazier believes that vocabulary is key to creating new associations. BostonGlobe.com, 28 Oct. 2021 And a vast vocabulary of everyday words have become off-limits to speakers of Arabic, Facebook’s third-most common language with millions of users worldwide. Isabel Debre And Fares Akram, Anchorage Daily News, 25 Oct. 2021 Since his days on the mixtape circuit, in the early twenty-tens, Young Thug has been a weirdo rapper who relies on an extraterrestrial approach to using Auto-Tune, a cartoonish disposition, and a unique vocabulary of squeals and squawks. Sheldon Pearce, The New Yorker, 20 Oct. 2021 Responding to this shift, Part One of the exhibition will establish a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on the expressive qualities of clothing as well as deeper associations with issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Claire Shaffer, Rolling Stone, 12 Apr. 2021

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

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The first known use of vocabulary was in 1532

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Last Updated

28 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vocabulary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocabulary. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for vocabulary


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

More from Merriam-Webster on vocabulary

Nglish: Translation of vocabulary for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of vocabulary for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about vocabulary


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