In this advanced English lesson, you’ll learn words that are used to describe other words. By applying this advanced knowledge to your English, you’ll learn new words more efficiently, and will be able to communicate more precisely.

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Learn Words About Words

Let’s get started on the first word…

synonym

Definition: A word that has the same or similar meaning to another word.

/ˈsɪn.ə.nɪm/

The words ‘big’, ‘large’, and ‘huge’ are all synonyms. They have almost exactly the same meaning and can be used in place of one another in a sentence.

antonym

Definition: A word that means the opposite to another word.

/ˈæn.tə.nɪm/

The words ‘big’ and ‘small’ are antonyms because their meaning is opposite.

collocation

Definition: Two or more words that are normally found together in a group, which sound natural and correct to the ears of native speakers. E.g. ‘pleasantly surprised’ is a collcoation.

/ˌkɒl.əˈkeɪ.ʃən/

For example, imagine you haven’t seen your friend in a long time and you bump into them whilst shopping. In this situation, we would say “I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend.” In contrast, we wouldn’t naturally say, “I was happily surprised to see my friend.”

Although the meaning of ‘pleasantly surprised’ and ‘happily surprised’ is similar, only the former is a collocation which native speakers would use in their everyday speech.

High-frequency words

Definition: Words that appear often in everyday speech. These are the most useful words for non-native speakers to learn.

High-frequency words can be split into two different categories – function words and vocabulary.

high-frequency function words
The highest frequency English words all have a grammatical function in sentences. These are words such as ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘that’, ‘to’, etc. A list of the most common English words can be viewed here.

high-frequency vocabulary
High-frequency vocabulary consists of the most commonly used nouns and verbs. These words are very useful to English language learners because they help you to construct sentences and get your meaning across.

low-frequency words

Definition: Words that are rarely used in ordinary conversation. These words usually have specialist meanings.

A good example of a low-frequency word is ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, which interestingly, is also the longest word in the English language. I’ve never naturally used it in a conversation because it has such a specific and complicated meaning (related to religion and politics).

English learners should not spend valuable time learning low-frequency vocabulary, as it is an inefficient way of learning. The only exception to this should be low-frequency vocabulary that is related to the field that you work in. For example, if you work in the legal profession, then learning low-frequency words related to that profession would be useful for you.

neologism

Definition: A newly coined (created) word.

For example – ‘cheugy’ (n) is a newly created, low-frequency word. It is used to describe Millennial fashion trends that have become dated.

etymology

Definition: The origin and development of a word.

A word’s etymology tells us useful information that helps us to understand its meaning more deeply. For example, we may learn…

  • How and when the word entered the English language
  • Which language the word entered English from
  • The relationship the word has to words in other languages

Example: psyche (n), from the Latin word psychē, via Ancient Greek psukhḗ, which means “soul” or “breath”.

loanword / borrowing

Definition: A word that entered English from a foreign language, without being translated.

Newer loanwords tend to retain the pronunciation and/or spelling of the source language. Older loanwords get absorbed into the language and no longer sound or appear ‘foreign’.

English contains many words that originate from other languages. Some examples of French loanwords are ‘ballet’, ‘café’, ‘menu’, and, ‘deja vu’ (when something feels like it’s happening again). In the list below, you can see loanwords from other languages:

loanwordLanguage of Origin
imagineLatin
chaosAncient Greek
cookieDutch
caféFrench
potatoSpanish via Taíno
karateJapanese
ketchupMalay
yoghurtTurkish
alcoholArabic

homophone

Definition: A word that has the same sound as another word, but the meaning or spelling is different.

Homophone Example: Three homophone words that cause a lot of confusion and grammatical mistakes are ‘there’, ‘their’, ‘they’re’. Note that all of these words sound the same.

homograph

Definition: A word that has the same spelling as another word, but a different meaning and/or pronunciation.

Homograph Example: Consider the confusing word ‘bow’, which has a number of meanings…

  • Bow tie (worn instead of a tie)
  • Hair bow
  • You should always bow when you meet the queen
  • Archers fire bows as a weapons
  • The tip of a ship is called a bow

homonym

Definition: A word that has the same spelling AND sound as another word.

Homonym Example: Consider the word ‘book’… You can read a good book (noun) and you can also book (verb) a hotel room. Both words sound the same but they have a different meaning.

word register

Definition: The style of a word, which is associated with a particular situation / context.

Some word choices are appropriate for some situations, but wrong for others. For example, you would never walk into a job interview and greet the interviewer by saying “Yo!”. That word choice is informal slang, which means it is only appropriate to use in very relaxed and informal social situations. Word register is all about using the right choice of word that is appropriate for the situation.

Examples of Word Register

formal words These words are appropriate for formal situations, like job interviews or formal business emails. For example, ‘Kind regards’ is a formal phrase that is used for ending emails.

Informal Words – Colloquial (everyday language) These words are used in everyday language, such as when you’re relaxing with friends or texting family members. Colloquial language includes a lot of phrasal verbs and contractions.

Swear Word An impolite, rude, or offensive word. Sometimes written with an asterisk, e.g. f***.

Slang Word: A mainly spoken, non-standard, regional variety of a word that is used in informal speech. These words are usually restricted to a specific group of people, and limited geographically to a particular country or city. Slang tends to change very quickly, meaning different generations have their own slang words that are considered cool. For example, in modern British street slang, the word ‘sick’ (adj) means ‘impressive’.

Standard English The grammatically correct form of the language that creates an ‘educated’ impression. Used in the media / academia / government. When the language that is being used is described as being standard, it’s the grammatically correct form of the language. Due to regional language differences and social class differences, not all people use this form of the English language.

Literary Words These words are mainly used in creative writing; classic literature, novels, plays etc. Some examples are:

‘poesy’ is used instead of ‘poetry’

‘isle’ is used instead of ‘island’

‘steed’ is used instead of ‘horse’

archaic These words are old-fashioned / historical; no longer in ordinary use. When reading classic English literature, you encounter lots of archaic (old-fashioned) vocabulary. If many years have passed since a book was written, some of the language won’t be used anymore or the meaning will have changed. For example, in Shakespeare’s plays, the archaic word ‘hark’ is used as a command to tell people to listen.

Thanks for joining

Thank you for reading and/or listening to today’s advanced English lesson. Now, you know some words about words. Hopefully, this resource can help you to learn vocabulary more efficiently and to use words more precisely.


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Jade Joddle grows your confidence and skill to shine when speaking English.

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