Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 2

24 May 2024

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we continue our answer about the best way to expand your vocabulary.

Last week, we said the best way to improve vocabulary is to really "know a word." We talked about the form of a word -- or how it sounds, is written, and what its parts are.

Today let's talk about the meaning of words.

Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 2
Improve Your Vocabulary: Part 2

Knowing the meaning of a word seems easy: translate it into your native language or look up the definition in a dictionary. But, to fully know the meaning of a word in English, one definition is often not enough.

English words are famous for having more than one definition. For example, look at the word "run" in these sentences.

I'm going to run to the shop.

She runs the local bakery.

Water was running down the table.

All the papers are running the story.

The first definition in Merriam-Webster's dictionary for "run" is to go faster than a walk. That is certainly the meaning of run in the first sentence but not in the others.

When we say, "she runs the local bakery", we mean she is the person who operates, manages or owns the shop.

We could say "Water was running down the table" or "Water was flowing down the table."

And when "all the papers are running the story", they publish it.

We also have to know the ideas or feelings that a word suggests to fully understand the meaning of a word.

Let's look at the first example with the word "run."

I'm going to run to the shop.

This is different than saying:

I'm going to go to the shop.

The second example simply states that we are going to the shop. But the word "run" tells that the trip will be fast.

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

However, we cannot just exchange one word for another without changing the overall meaning of the sentence. So, next week we will take a look at synonyms - or words that have the same or nearly the same meaning.

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 for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

vocabularyn. all the words a person knows