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 Pittman had been dealing with toe pain for more than a week before compartment syndrome ever became part of his vocabulary. Jim Ayello, The Indianapolis Star, "Colts rookie WR Michael Pittman on injury: Felt like leg ‘was going to explode’," 7 Nov. 2020 As with everything else since COVID-19 became a part of our daily vocabulary, this upcoming season is skewed by the pandemic. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Red Wings mailbag: How will Steve Yzerman handle all these prospects?," 22 Oct. 2020 It’s like riffling through my entire vocabulary in alphabetical order to find the end of my sentence. Murr Brewster, The Christian Science Monitor, "A jungle has developed in my digital library," 7 Oct. 2020 The vocabulary of the war on terror exploded into domestic life. Stephen Wertheim, The New Yorker, "How Trump Brought Home the Endless War," 1 Oct. 2020 Cleansing our vocabulary of this term will be especially important for those of us on the right. Isaac Schorr, National Review, "Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’," 18 Sep. 2020 His vocabulary and paradigms come from that sphere. Star Tribune, "Seeking justice, leaving a legacy," 15 Sep. 2020 Haeck said that although Biden didn’t use the perfect vocabulary in his response, and went on a bit of an unrelated tangent about driving to a swimming pool with his dad, she was touched by his kindness. Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, "A mother told Biden about her transgender 8-year-old child. Then came the attacks.," 29 Oct. 2020 With your impeccable vocabulary skills and attention to detail, no one can tell someone off quite like you! Tarot Astrologers, chicagotribune.com, "Daily horoscope for October 17, 2020," 17 Oct. 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

15 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vocabulary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocabulary. Accessed 26 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for vocabulary


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


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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