English Vocabulary

Learning English Vocabulary - climbing staircaseVocabulary

The English vocabulary is rich and varied with the language containing over one million words. However, you don’t need to know that many words in order to communicate or to understand what is being communicated to you.

Many English people have poor vocabularies and they manage just fine! It is simply a matter of learning the right kind of words and expressions for different common situations and building up your vocabulary bank slowly.


English Inflections

There are many inflections used in English vocabulary that EFL students need to learn. An inflection in a word means the change in the form of a word in relation to its context. The same word can take different endings depending on the other words surrounding it.

Inflections normally take the form of an affix, such as adding ‘s’ to the end of a noun to make a plural. Inflections are used to make words match their context in terms of number, gender, case and tense.


For example, the possessive case uses the inflection ‘‘s’ at the end of the noun to indicate possession, for example, ‘the cat’s tail’.

Inflections can add letter before or after a word, can serve to negate a verb or indicate possession amongst other things. Inflections can affect nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

English Vocabulary - scrabble

English Word Families

Word families are groups of words that are closely related to each other. This can cause problems for students as they can choose the inappropriate words, so word families need to be learned together along with collocations.

Words can be grouped into families of similar form or similar meanings. An example of a form-based word family are the words:

  • Talk
  • Talking
  • Talker
  • Talkative
  • Talk-show

These words are bonded by sharing a common root word: talk

An example of a meaning-based word family are words which share the meaning of measurement.

For example:

size girth width depth
height inches feet small
short tiny minuscule little
large tall big enormous
Dogs from small to large!

Dogs from small to large!

It is useful for an EFL student to learn these word families, which include many synonyms. This improves general vocabulary and increases the number of ways they can discuss a topic.

The use of a thesaurus is invaluable for the purpose of learning synonyms and word families.

Different meanings of English words

Often single words in English can have different meanings.For example, the following words can all mean different things depending on the context:

‘drive’, ‘pool’, ‘stroke’, ‘rose’, ‘bottom’, ‘fence’, ‘catch’, ‘strike’, ‘leaves’, ‘type’, ‘right’

Idioms and Collocations

In addition, there are lots of common idioms and collocations, such as:

‘putting something off’, ‘coming down with a cold’, ‘feeling under the weather‘, ‘striking up a conversation’ or ‘bumping into someone’; in telephone calls, for example, we talk about ‘being put through’ or ‘cutting someone off’.

More Idioms and fixed phrases.

Read more about how to learn vocabulary and methods of teaching vocabulary, including active and passive vocabulary, lexical phrases, polysemy and homonemy, register in English and more.

Share your thoughts on learning vocabulary

Which areas of English vocabulary do you find the most difficult to learn?

Do you think learning English vocabulary is the most important part of learning the language?

Do you have any vocabulary learning tips?


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