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

The folk art of this country has a large vocabulary, yet the processes of science have never been its subject. Bitasta Das, Quartz India, "How I engage students of India’s premier science school in folk arts," 27 June 2019 Maybe there will be some more trades that force Woj to flex his vocabulary a bit more. Khadrice Rollins, SI.com, "What Happened to Woj's Thesaurus That Helped Him Describe Upcoming Draft Picks?," 20 June 2019 But even as fashion has distanced itself from the vocabulary of colonialism, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent remains honest about the inspirations behind his original saharienne. Nancy Macdonell, WSJ, "Why ‘Safari’ Style is No Longer Politically Correct," 23 Jan. 2019 It was made of 211 vocabulary terms, but expanded to 411 over the course of the war. Michelle Lou, CNN, "William Tully Brown is the third Navajo Code Talker to die in the last month. Now, only five remain," 5 June 2019 People and critics were describing the music in terms that were familiar to them, but make no mistake there was something there that preceded the vocabulary to describe it. Billboard, "'Vivid' at 30: Living Colour Reflects on the Rough Road to Their Game-Changing Classic Debut," 3 May 2018 Getting out of an outcome mindset should include a hard look at your vocabulary. Carolyn Hax, Detroit Free Press, "Carolyn Hax: Feeling urge to leave longtime partner, explore," 19 Feb. 2018 The professor was a Parisian woman who had more impact on my grammar, vocabulary, and accent than any of the teachers who attempted to force French on me for nearly a decade. Teen Vogue, "10 Best Places To Study Abroad: Our Favorite Study-Abroad Cities," 25 Mar. 2019 But people who have longevity, who have evolved within their own vocabulary. Joanna Saltz, House Beautiful, "5 Interior Designers Reveal the Risks That Could've Failed Spectacularly—And How They Survived," 11 Mar. 2019

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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Statistics for vocabulary

Last Updated

11 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for vocabulary

The first known use of vocabulary was in 1532

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More Definitions for vocabulary

vocabulary

noun

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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