How to Build Vocabulary Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Sep 20, 2011

Which Dictionary is Best?

Look around your home, and you'll probably find a dictionary sitting on a shelf somewhere. This can be an invaluable tool in building your vocabulary. A dictionary provides a lot of useful information about words: how to pronounce them, their grammatical functions, their history and development, and any multiple meanings of words. Most of the time, you won't use all this information, but its usefulness and overall value will increase with time. There will most likely come a day when you'll find yourself using a dictionary's detailed information more frequently.

Online Dictionaries and Vocabulary Tools

If you spend time online, you should become familiar with all the dictionary help available on the Internet. Use the online resources by typing the word in the search box, or if you want to be more specific, type in definition + the word you want. You'll be offered definitions of that word from several dictionaries and encyclopedias. Typically, along with the definition, you'll find lists of or links to antonyms and synonyms from a thesaurus.

Word of the Day

Build your word power and help feed hungry people of the world at the same time—for free! It's a win-win situation! At, you are given a word and four possible meanings. Click on the right meaning and you donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. (You'll see the rice grains appear in a bowl.) If you get the answer wrong, you are told the right answer and given an easier word to define. After each right answer, you'll have the chance to define more words, including any you got wrong along the way, and watch the rice fill the bowl. You may have so much fun that you'll want to donate a bowl of rice each day!

TIP: Be very careful when searching in online dictionaries. These websites often include advertisements that try to pull you away from the academic definitions. While you may find the additional material interesting, it's not always accurate or true.

Beware of the Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a book that provides synonyms and antonyms for words. Use a thesaurus to look up a word and find many other words that have the same (or the opposite) meaning as that word. But be careful! Thesauruses don't explain the nuances, or subtle differences in meaning, that exist among words that seem to have the same or nearly the same meaning. For example, look at this short list of synonyms that a thesaurus provides for the word adequate:

competent, modest, sufficient, suitable, decent, equal

Now, imagine using any of these words in the following sentence:

Sally, the hardest-working student in our class, has a vocabulary that is ___.

Would each of these words create the same meaning if it were plugged into the sentence? Hardly. To say that Sally's vocabulary is suitable is very different from saying that it is sufficient or adequate. And saying it is equal doesn't make any sense at all.

Avoid using a thesaurus unless you know for sure that the word you've chosen conveys exactly the meaning you want. The thesaurus is a writing tool to use only after you have a very extensive vocabulary of your own. Then, you can choose from the words supplied with a better understanding of all their meanings.

Practice vocabulary problems and answers can be found at:

How to Build Vocabulary Practice Exercises

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