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

Honestly, there’s not much BTS could do that wouldn't please us, from enriching our vocabulary to making music history. Sara Delgado, Teen Vogue, "Watch BTS Sing Their Favorite Songs from Shawn Mendes, Ariana Grande, and Dua Lipa," 17 Oct. 2018 At 28 months, Alexa was intelligent and engaging, but her vocabulary was limited to Spanish words for colors, some numbers and her favorite foods. Garance Burke And Martha Mendoza, The Seattle Times, "Deported parents may lose their kids to adoption," 9 Oct. 2018 This is how new, cool vocabulary gets created and spreads. Ashley Carman, The Verge, "The way we text says a lot about our personality," 7 Nov. 2018 Here are some tips for coming out to friends, featuring suggestions from the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ rights organization that has a comprehensive guide for coming out, including information on important vocabulary. Josephine Yurcaba, Teen Vogue, ""Orange Is the New Black" Actor Samira Wiley Said She Was Outed as Gay by a Costar," 10 Oct. 2018 Wine Awesomeness delivers the stories behind the bottles, a wine vocabulary lesson, and the right types of food to pair them with via theblacklabel, the brand's monthly magazine. Michaela Bechler, Vogue, "5 Wine Subscription Services that Will Make You Feel like a Sommelier," 10 Oct. 2018 To what extent are some of our difficulties figuring out how to conceptualize repentance, as a society, the result of lacking a cohesive, shared vocabulary within which to contextualize what forgiveness and repentance mean? Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, "A scholar of forgiveness explains what makes a good public apology for sexual misconduct," 24 Sep. 2018 In the meantime, readers less interested in mastering new vocabulary words can pick up a December release, The French Art of Not Giving a Sh*t. Lucy Feldman, Time, "Death Cleaning to Hygge: These Books Want to Be the Next Marie Kondo," 18 Jan. 2018 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

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

28 Nov 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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