Every good mechanic has a toolbox full of tools. Some tools are used more than others, but every one has a specific purpose. In much the same way, writers have a “toolbox.” This “toolbox” is constantly growing and is filled with items like grammar, punctuation, and capitalization rules; figurative language; rhyme; rhythm; and vocabulary. Just as really good mechanics can pull out the right tools to make a good engine even more powerful, good writers can pull out the right tools at the right time to make good writing even more powerful. One tool that can “power up” your writing is a strong vocabulary.
Why is a Strong Vocabulary Important?
We use spoken and written words every single day to communicate ideas, thoughts, and emotions to those around us. Sometimes we communicate successfully, and sometimes we’re not quite so successful. “That’s not what I meant!” becomes our mantra (an often repeated word or phrase). However, a good vocabulary can help us say what we mean.
For example, let’s say that you are outside in your yard and see a large black car stop in the road. You can see four tinted windows on one side of the car, and you assume there are four tinted windows on the other side, too. Just then, the driver’s door opens, and a man wearing white gloves steps out. He walks to the back of the car and looks underneath. He shrugs his shoulders, climbs back into the car, and drives away. After you remember to close your mouth, which has been hanging open, you run next door to tell your friend what you saw. What do you say? If you know a couple of key words, you can quickly explain to this person what you saw. Instead of describing the number of windows and the length of the car, you could simply say that you saw a black limousine (a long, luxurious car). Then, instead of describing the man with the white gloves, you could say you saw the chauffeur (someone paid to drive a car or limousine) walk to the back of the car. Knowing these key words can help you quickly and effectively communicate your meaning.
When you’re faced with a writing assignment, a good vocabulary is an indispensable (very important or necessary) tool. If you have several synonyms (words with similar meanings) in your repertoire (“toolbox”), you’ll be able to choose the best word for the job. Avoid vague words like “stuff” or “things” when you write. These words do not give the reader a good sense of your meaning. Also, use strong verbs that give the reader good information.
Here’s an example:
Work on building your vocabulary so that you can choose the stronger, more descriptive words in your writing.
You may also want to vary your vocabulary depending on your audience. Are you writing for children? Then stick with simpler words. Are you writing for college students? Then pull the more difficult words out of your “toolbox” to avoid talking down to them. It’s important to consider your audience when writing.
You may also find it difficult to choose the best word for a sentence when you’re writing. If you have a strong vocabulary, these choices will be easier!
How can one Develop a Stronger Vocabulary?
If you don’t have a strong vocabulary yet, the first way you can develop one is with a couple of tools: a thesaurus and a dictionary. A thesaurus (a book that lists synonyms and antonyms) is a helpful tool, but it is essential (very important and necessary) that you use a dictionary along with it. For example, imagine that I want to say that putting an engine together is difficult. However, I want a more descriptive word than “difficult.” What other word could I use? A thesaurus might give me choices like these: complex, intricate, tricky, and thorny. It’s important to have a good sense of the meanings of each word. The next step, then, is for me to look the words up in a dictionary to be certain of their meanings.
The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary gives these definitions (among others):
Notice that each word has a slightly different meaning. Which meaning seems to work best when talking about an engine? Since an engine has many complexly interrelating (connected together like a puzzle) parts, the word “intricate” seems to be a great choice. Putting an engine together can definitely be intricate work. My choice is made. The thesaurus and dictionary have saved the day and have helped me develop my vocabulary!
Another way to develop a strong vocabulary is to read books with rich vocabulary. These books will help you see the words in context (in their natural settings). The context can help you guess the meanings of the words and can give you a good sense of how they’re used.
Be sure to pay attention to vocabulary words as you read. Write down words that you don’t know and look them up. Try to find them elsewhere, and write down the sentences you find. Listen for them in the world around you. Write down the sentences that you hear. Study these words when you can, and try to use them in your speaking and writing.
Another good idea is to keep a journal. Try to incorporate interesting words into your journal entry for the day (or week). If you’re not sure if you’re using the word correctly, ask a parent, a teacher, or a brainy friend.
Vocabulary games are another great way to develop your vocabulary. You can find hundreds of ways to build your vocabulary. Who doesn’t love playing games? And these games have the added benefit of helping you add to your writer’s “toolbox.” Do you have difficulty with homophones (words that sound alike)? Then try these homophone games. You can even bone up on synonyms (words with similar meanings). Learning the meanings of root words is another way you can strengthen your vocabulary skills, so try these games and see what you know. Strengthening your vocabulary doesn’t have to be boring!
Time4Writing can Help
Online courses like Time4Writing’s mechanics and writing courses have interactive games like the vocabulary ones in the above links. These games will help you practice new concepts in a fun and lasting way. And working one-on-one with a Time4Writing teacher is a great way to get feedback on your writing, including your vocabulary. Work on developing and strengthening your vocabulary, and keep your writer’s “toolbox” full!