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Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 3

Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 3
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we finish our answer about the best way to expand your vocabulary.


Many VOA Learning English fans write to us with this question: What is the best way to improve my vocabulary?


We have said the best way to improve vocabulary is to really “know a word.” To fully know a word, we have to know its form: how it sounds, how it is written, and what its parts are. We have to know its meanings and the ideas or feelings it suggests. We also have to know how the word is normally used.

Synonyms are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning. For example, “big” and “large” are used to talk about size. But often, we cannot exchange one for the other. They have different usages.

Both “big” and “large” can be used to describe the size of something. “Big” is usually used in conversation. “Large” is more formal.

John is standing next to the big tree.

The large tree fell on the house.

We use “big” to talk about something or someone that is important.

This is a big decision.

We use “large” when talking about an amount of something.

The company received a large number of complaints.

“Large” is also a clothing size. It is bigger than a small and a medium.

The shirt is a size large.

Collocations are words that go together. Some words go together with other words, but their synonyms might not. For example, we say “big surprise,” but we would not say “large surprise.”

Another example is “unhappy” and “sad.” They are synonyms, but they cannot always be used with the same words. For example, we would say “unhappy childhood.” Saying “sad childhood” instead does not sound as natural.

When we look at English words in this way, we can see that our vocabulary expands by understanding the usage of a word.

VOA fans, the best way to improve your vocabulary is to really know a word: its form, meaning and usage.

Do you have a question about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Gena Bennett

Yaroslav Khrokalo wrote this lesson with Gena Bennett for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

vocabularyn. all the words a person knows

synonymsn. words that have the same or nearly the same meaning

collocationn. a word that is used regularly with another word