vo·​cab·​u·​lary vō-ˈka-byə-ˌler-ē How to pronounce vocabulary (audio)
plural vocabularies
: 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.
: 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
: 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
: 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”).

Example Sentences

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web KELLER Giuseppe Frigeni, the one who really honed the movement vocabulary, had created all these different moves for the chorus in Zurich. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, 15 Feb. 2023 His influence in expanding the fashion vocabulary in the 1960s was aided by admirers such as Audrey Hepburn, Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, who all wore his designs. Brian Murphy, Washington Post, 3 Feb. 2023 The essentials of workwear are well established, but 3sixteen is trying to expand the vocabulary. Alexander Freeling, Robb Report, 6 Oct. 2022 Abe, who was killed by an assassin Friday, died knowing that his signature geopolitical vision—and the vocabulary used to describe it—has been thoroughly embraced across much of the region and beyond. Matt Pottinger, WSJ, 10 July 2022 Wheeldon somehow managed to craft a piece that felt entirely in the Michael Jackson vocabulary while also remaining entirely original. Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune, 12 June 2022 These tools analyze the vocabulary and grammar content of lessons and help create a range of possible translations (so the app will accept learners’ responses when there are multiple correct ways to say something). IEEE Spectrum, 5 Feb. 2023 Then a 28-year-old graduate of Duke University in the Harvard-MIT MD/PhD program, Knouse projected a deep interest in science, and possessed a salty vocabulary. BostonGlobe.com, 28 Jan. 2023 Again, patients do not necessarily need to know all the nuances of medical pain vocabulary. Paul Hsieh, Forbes, 27 Jan. 2023 See More

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.

Word History


Middle French vocabulaire, probably from Medieval Latin vocabularium, from neuter of vocabularius verbal, from Latin vocabulum

First Known Use

1532, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vocabulary was in 1532

Dictionary Entries Near vocabulary

Cite this Entry

“Vocabulary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocabulary. Accessed 26 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


vo·​cab·​u·​lary vō-ˈkab-yə-ˌler-ē How to pronounce vocabulary (audio)
plural vocabularies
: a list or collection of words defined or explained
: a stock of words used in a language, by a group or individual, or in relation to a subject

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