Getting to Know Words

Getting to really “know” words is more than just a matter of memorising how to spell them and a vague idea when to use them. Like friendship, we need time to fully understand a word. The following are ten tips on how to form a long-lasting relationship to a word.

  1. The Meaning – Try to work out the meaning of a word from its context or from its root. For instance “dis-ease” comes from “not being at ease”, thus “sickness”.
  2. The Form – Knowing if the word a noun, adjective, verb or adverb helps us greatly to understand its meaning within a sentence. Is it a noun with a regular or irregular plural, like “ox” which has the plural “oxen”?
  3. The Pronunciation – Use the phonetic alphabet to help you pronounce the word correctly and to know which syllable is stressed. Recording ourselves saying the word helps us memorise it. See how the stress changes in; “phótograph”, “photográphic” and “photógraphy”.
  4. The Spelling – This can be different from how the word is actually pronounced. Certain rules, e.g., for adjectives and word endings can be studied and learnt. “OU” has several different pronunciations; “soup”, “mountain”, “cousin” – practising the pronunciation helps us memorise the spelling.
  5. The Grammatical Pattern the Word Follows – See the word in context; is it countable or uncountable, or is it dependent upon a preposition? Does it take a gerund, as in “I look forward to seeing you”?
  6. The Connotation of a Word – Does the word have a positive or negative sense? For example, the word “influx” is often used in a negative sense when used in the media. Google search engine or a good dictionary can help us discover this.
  7. Situation in Which the Word is Used – Is the word usually used in formal or informal contexts? “But” is less formal than “nevertheless”. Is the word used more in speech than in writing? “Nevertheless” is found more in written than in spoken English.
  8. How the Word Relates to Other Words – What are the synonyms and antonyms of the word? The synonyms of “sad” include “unhappy” or “miserable”, while its antonyms are “content”, “happy” and “joyful”.
  9. What are the Word’s Collocations? – What words usually go before or after the word? For instance; “highly” frequently attaches to “recommended” as in “highly recommended”. Google or a dictionary may help here.
  10. What Affixes can be Attached to the Word – Does the word have a prefix or suffix? “Satisfy” takes several – “satisfactory, satisfaction, unsatisfactory, dissatisfaction”. Prefixes or suffixes tell us much about the possible meaning of the word. Get to know your affixes!

Knowing this much about a word, helps us use words correctly and also helps us expand our vocabulary because knowing one word leads us on to finding out about other words.

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