Definition of vocabulary in US English:



  • 1The body of words used in a particular language.

    • ‘It involves comparison to reconstruct, if you like, the ancient vocabularies that present-day languages are derived from.’
    • ‘One of the few Russian words to have entered the vocabulary of other languages, dacha originally meant a parcel of land given by the tsar to his aristocratic servitors.’
    • ‘It is often said that the vocabulary of a language is an inventory of the items a culture talks about and has categorized in order to make sense of the world.’
    • ‘Abstract words form the bulk of the vocabulary of major modern languages like English.’
    • ‘First, one must have a firm command over classical Arabic language including its vocabulary, grammar, metaphors, and idioms.’
    • ‘For Lope, proper poetry must be intelligently written and must not deviate from the normative vocabulary of the Spanish language.’
    • ‘Just as the vocabulary of a language changes from age to age, so the vocabularies of different languages are distinct in their systems, uses, and references.’
    • ‘These people absorbed into their language some of the vocabulary of the native populations of the area, but the identity and origin of these earlier peoples is now unknown.’
    • ‘Thanks to foreign influences, particularly Latin and Greek, on the English vocabulary, a large number of foreign words were absorbed in the English language.’
    • ‘While these languages shared phonology and grammar, they had entirely different vocabularies.’
    • ‘There isn't a word in the English vocabulary to describe her.’
    • ‘Soon the young language was not only standing on its own two grammatical feet, it also possessed the largest vocabulary of any language on the planet.’
    lexicon, word stock, lexis
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    1. 1.1 Words used on a particular occasion or in a particular sphere.
      ‘the vocabulary of law’
      ‘the term became part of business vocabulary’
      • ‘These, and similar phrases, form the vocabulary of dictatorship.’
      • ‘We wanted to develop and share a vocabulary about learning, especially in the humanities.’
      • ‘Some poets in Tottel's text did employ religious vocabulary as rhetorical window dressing.’
      • ‘We currently lack a vocabulary for identifying a wide range of abuses that harm public assets and social ecology.’
      • ‘So, I'm learning the vocabulary for a lot of topics like boy-girl problems, but little about finance, which is what I should be learning.’
      • ‘‘Training sessions’ in which the pseudo-science vocabulary can be learned, have become part of the activists' agenda.’
      • ‘But I venture that not even cricket has a vocabulary as wide and arcane as that of sailing.’
      • ‘It has none of the apparatus of a study volume, and its conceptual vocabulary belongs to the sphere of ecumenists and ecclesiologists, not to a general audience.’
      • ‘On some occasions, the vocabulary that she employs in her response to Derrida is recriminatory.’
      • ‘EEC competition law requires its own vocabulary, carefully honed to express its own particular tensions.’
      • ‘His arguments, phrased in the vocabulary of the modern scientist and based upon the latest of neurological studies, are those of nineteenth century liberalism.’
      • ‘For example, anyone who has looked at a flora or fauna knows that the vocabulary can be specialized and complex.’
      • ‘Prior to entering, she studied concepts such as defining her business and its services, learning basic business vocabulary, and marketing and management.’
      • ‘One more thing has changed in headlines, apart from type size and wordiness: the language itself, the vocabulary.’
      • ‘Like wine tasters, coffee tasters have developed a specialized vocabulary to analyze the complex flavors and feel of a cup of coffee.’
      • ‘In any case, from that point onward, ‘homeland defense’ was a stock phrase in the vocabulary of national defense talk.’
      • ‘As an added bonus, I realised, new falconers get to learn a vocabulary of Medieval English for free.’
      • ‘The implication is that the vocabulary of praise is learned in the cult, and then believers apply it in their daily lives.’
      • ‘We try to keep their intensity and power alive as we learn the violent vocabulary of citizenship.’
      • ‘And it was in the second part of his speech that he adopted both a new vocabulary and an old style.’
    2. 1.2 The body of words known to an individual person.
      ‘he had a wide vocabulary’
      • ‘His ornate and difficult vocabulary shows the influence of Irish models.’
      • ‘It's one thing to be able to carry on a simple conversation with a limited vocabulary, and quite another to talk and express oneself knowledgeably in the language.’
      • ‘His English vocabulary as yet does not amount to much more than pitch, ball, and goal.’
      • ‘I eradicated the word ‘pretty’ from my vocabulary, learned how to throw a football, and resented what I had been taught being a girl was all about.’
      • ‘Stephen Lewis used his unmatched vocabulary and stirring oratorical style to take globalization to task.’
      • ‘Even children who have just learnt to spell words can play and sometimes their limited vocabulary becomes an advantage.’
      • ‘When you learn to develop your vocabulary then you won't have to use bad language as often.’
      • ‘I couldn't write good lyrics in English, because my vocabulary is too poor.’
      • ‘His English vocabulary has improved but he prefers Hindi in press conferences so that his friends back home can understand.’
      • ‘‘Both are correct’ isn't a frequent phrase in their vocabularies.’
      • ‘So if you don't hear and process those sounds accurately and quickly, your whole vocabulary and therefore your language system, is undermined.’
      • ‘She kept on trying to talk to me in English even if her vocabulary was pretty limited.’
      • ‘Preschoolers expand their vocabulary and learn sentence structure.’
      • ‘The problem is that my French vocabulary is so poor that I end up having to look up every other word in a dictionary so it takes ages.’
      • ‘Of all writers, he discovers, Shakespeare has the widest vocabulary relating to the varieties of weeds found in rural Warwickshire.’
      • ‘Standards in English could be higher if children used a wider vocabulary and more complex sentences in their oral and written work.’
      • ‘Four years of living in Manchester had taken their toll on his vocabulary and, very occasionally, his accent.’
      • ‘This was the day that the word contemplative entered my vocabulary, giving shape to the way I wanted to live my life.’
      • ‘His vocabulary, in German, was still largely that of a nine-year-old, to which had been added a set of fluent phrases and terms needed to do business.’
      • ‘One can argue that, given equal exposure to words, the size of an individual's vocabulary reflects the individual's cognitive skills.’
      • ‘She shook her head over ‘independent’ girls, it was one of the few English words in her vocabulary.’
    3. 1.3 A list of difficult or unfamiliar words with an explanation of their meanings, accompanying a piece of specialist or foreign-language text.
      • ‘He compiled the vocabulary by taking words from English, French, German and Latin.’
      • ‘It was right there, the third word in the weekly vocabulary list our teacher had just handed out.’
      • ‘It includes sample text, grammar and vocabulary lists and more for 1,445 languages.’
      wordbook, dictionary, word list, wordfinder, glossary, lexicon, concordance, thesaurus
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    4. 1.4 A range of artistic or stylistic forms, techniques, or movements.
      ‘dance companies have their own vocabularies of movement’
      • ‘Like his Judson colleagues, his choreography eschewed an advanced dance technique, and he incorporated everyday movements into his vocabulary.’
      • ‘Martha Graham, in turn, created an elemental movement vocabulary that embodied the extreme passions: desire, fear, jealousy, rage.’
      • ‘The choreography was advanced for its day, drawing on the modern-dance and ballet vocabularies of the concert stage as well as on the usual jazz and tap genres.’
      • ‘Canales is at ease within a flamenco vocabulary, but his choreographic forays into contemporary dance are sadly cliched.’
      • ‘Moreover, even with the borrowings from flamenco, the movement vocabulary was thin, with very little formal choreography.’
      • ‘Each beat has its own language, a vocabulary of terms, a collection of jargon, a way of describing things that you must master but not allow to be limiting.’
      • ‘And though the movement vocabulary was unmistakably balletic, the visual appeal of the work may more often be associated with rock music videos.’
      • ‘But Martins just doesn't have the vocabulary or perhaps the artistic reach to evoke such imagery as dramatically as Adams does.’
      • ‘But the dance also encompasses a vocabulary more referential to modern dance than to ballet: suspensions, falls, skips, and knee work.’
      • ‘He is constantly discovering and adding new movements to the tango vocabulary.’
      • ‘You see a lot of the contemporary people using the ballet vocabulary and the ballet people using the contemporary vocabulary.’
      • ‘The children, however tentative, seem to take joy in participating in the creative process using a movement vocabulary they love.’
      • ‘I try not to be conscious of music philosophy, but to stay tuned to attitude and phraseology and the musical vocabulary of the area that spawned me.’
      • ‘So, I faced the choice of either eliminating grand pliés from my vocabulary of movement, or end up with an early exit from dance.’
      • ‘In an excerpt from Daughters of the Ocean, she demonstrated the interweaving of martial arts movements like tai chi into her dance vocabulary.’
      • ‘A visionary, she developed a new and wholly unique dance technique and vocabulary of steps and movements.’
      • ‘Her mixing of classical dance vocabulary with more obscure movements and vocalising has clear intention and direction.’
      • ‘Learning a vocabulary of dance steps has become as essential for the clued-up traveller as carrying the latest Rough Guide phrase book.’
      • ‘Gossage is a master of framing, his sense of image within image is dramatic, even as his control of the traditional darkroom techniques puts the full range of modern photographic vocabularies at his disposal.’
      • ‘Mixing ballet, modern, and colloquial dance vocabularies, he produces works with a lot of surface appeal.’


Mid 16th century (denoting a list of words with definitions or translations): from medieval Latin vocabularius, from Latin vocabulum (see vocable).