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What does it take to "know" a word in English?

How do you know if you really "know" a word in English? Is it just knowing one definition? Is it spelling it correctly or identifying a part of speech enough? Let's discuss.

One method of increasing your vocabulary is the increase the knowledge you have of words that you already know. For example, you probably think you know the word "run" in English. I'm going to guess, you don't know the 35 definitions of the word run. 35!!

You might not know that you can "run" for president and you can "run" a business, but you can also "run" in a race. These are all commonly used versions of the word. We haven't even talked about idioms or phrasal verbs.

My advice to you is to take the words you already know and expand your knowledge. Make sure you don't have any gaps in your understanding of a word.

What should I know about a word?


All words have a connotation. Connotation means that a word is positive, negative, or neutral. The word “fantastic” has a very positive connotation, but the word “awful” has a negative connotation. If I call my hairdresser and ask for an appointment, they may say they are “booked” or “busy.” Busy has a negative connotation, but booked means that business is good! Booked has a positive connotation.

Spelling and Pronunciation:

If you can not spell or pronounce a word correctly, people will not know what word you are talking about! In English, spelling is very inconsistent and while there are rules, we don’t always follow them.

Part of Speech:

You should know the part of speech for a vocabulary word. Let’s take the word “information.” Information is a noun and inform is a verb. Info is slang for information. These are called word families. If you know the other forms of the word, you multiply your vocabulary! Another example is the word “celebration.” Celebration is a noun, celebrate is a verb, celebratory is an adjective and celebrated is also an adjective. This strategy helps you build your vocabulary.


Collocations are words that usually go together. For example, “for example” is a collocation. We don’t say “at example” or “on example.” We always use “for.” Students should learn tricks like this to increase their use of a word.

Knowing a word is to know all of these parts of a word. This is a helpful learning strategy. You can take the words you currently know and multiply them by adding different parts of information to the word!

Do you want a way to organize your vocabulary knowledge?

Check out my vocabulary organizer!


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