How to improve your vocabulary

There's more than one way to improve your vocabulary. You don't have to spend hours pouring over a dictionary. You don't have to learn all sorts of fancy or unusual words like oneiromancy (divination by means of dreams), dollybird (a pretty young woman) and troposphere (a portion of the atmosphere below the stratosphere). You don't have to return to college and major in English.

You can start by learning the distinction between common words that are often confused. A quick perusal through a nearby Borders or Barnes & Noble (or nearby independent bookstore) will reveal at least one, and probably several books that list pairs of commonly used words that are difficult to keep straight. There'll contain all sorts of other useful English grammar and usage tips too that you can delve into after you mastered the words, pair by pair. There are also some books that are strictly about vocabulary improvement. They'll contain most of the words that are easy to confuse and many more to enjoy after that.

So, let's begin now with six examples that will help you decide if this is where you need to begin to improve your vocabulary.

Do you know the difference between alter and altar?

Alter is a verb, and it means to change. Altar is a noun, and it's a place of worshop.

Which one of these is correct-all right or alright?

If you picked all right, you're right. There is no such word as alright.

What about afterward and afterwards?

I may have tricked you here. Both words are correct.

Here's a trio that confuses many: credulous, credible and creditable. What are their different meanings?

Credulous means ready to believe when the evidence is uncertain. Credible describes something that is worthy of acceptance. Creditable is a synonym for praiseworthy.

What about stationery and stationary? Which one means writing material?

If you said stationery, you're correct. Stationary means fixed or not moving.

Okay, what about talisman and talesman? Which one has something to do with our judicial system?

Right again if you guessed talesman, who is a person summoned to make up the required number of jurors. A talisman is a charm.

Now, if you knew all of these already, you're way beyond the beginner stage. You'll need more advanced guidance to improve your vocabulary. Even the most advanced among us probably have to look up many a word in graduate-level college texts. That's one method of vocabulary improvement, looking up words in difficult texts, but those words are not the sort that will trip you up in everyday communication. For that purpose, the grammar and vocabulary improvement guides at the local bookstore are a great place to begin.

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