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 With a heavy emphasis on pronunciation, speaking and listening skills, users will often correlate photos with vocabulary words. Nicole Briese, USA TODAY, "The 5 best Amazon deals you can get this Friday," 19 June 2020 Thanks to work with the center’s therapists, Nathan, now 2, has flourished, with a vocabulary that includes more than 50 words. Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, ExpressNews.com, "Early childhood intervention experts worry the pandemic has hurt special needs kids," 19 June 2020 Eye contact alone exploits a nonverbal vocabulary as extensive as the Oxford English Dictionary. Steven Levy, Wired, "Videoconferencing Needs to Climb Out of the Uncanny Valley," 18 June 2020 Boris Johnson, who picked up a pair of skimpy shorts and a widened vocabulary on his gap year at Geelong grammar school, holds Australia up as a model of prosperity outside the European Union. The Economist, "Britain and Australia Why the Conservative Party adores Australia," 13 June 2020 There is, after all, no bigger insult in his vocabulary. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, "Trump Hates Losers, So Why Is He Refighting the Civil War—on the Losing Side?," 12 June 2020 Our entire vocabulary for even describing protest actions feels policed at every turn. John Patrick Leary, The New Republic, "Freeing Protest From the Language Police," 10 June 2020 After all, the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself entered the world’s vocabulary about half a year ago. Shari Rudavsky, The Indianapolis Star, "'Look how far you've come': For some COVID patients recovery takes weeks or months," 10 June 2020 In the Russian language today, the entire vocabulary of principles and ideals has, after decades of abuse, been relegated to disuse. Hari Kunzru, The New York Review of Books, "Democracy’s Red Line," 4 June 2020

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

24 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

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