I'd like to expand my vocabulary and already do several of the things recommended in the Tips for expanding my vocabulary question. In addition to that, I've been spending some time with a flashcard-like program I wrote and am looking for good lists of vocabulary words.

Here's what constitutes a "good vocabulary list" in my eyes:

  1. The words are actually used and useful (you might run across them if you read much)
  2. It preferably does not include words that any high school graduate should know

I've been using the 1062 Vocabulary Words list, which is the best I've found looking around online. However, I often run across words that aren't in it (e.g. asperity, cavil, debonair, frock, limpid, maudlin, persiflage, ribald, vitriolic, etc). Where else can I find good lists?

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    Why would anyone want to add to their vocab words like asperity and cavil? Why would you punish your readers by pushing them to learn rare words like that? Aren't there good-enough and more common alternatives?
    – tshepang
    Commented Feb 10, 2011 at 1:02
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    ....Some of us LIKE words like asperity and cavil. :) Although, actually, "asperity" isn't that unusual. I've also come across "cavil" a few times. "Pusillanimous" or "adumbration," however...I cackle delightedly when I come across one like that. And why settle for "good enough" when you can have perfect, or at least extraordinary?:)
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented Feb 10, 2011 at 2:30
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    @Tshepang @kitukwfyer Ditto to what kitukwfyer said. All the words I listed as examples are ones I've run across in my reading, and most of them more than once. Personally, I don't consider it punishment when I run across such words and have to look them up; I actually rather enjoy it. I usually just write them down and look them up later so the flow of the story isn't interrupted. Of course, my enjoyment is conditioned on the assumption that they're used well and in moderation. It's less enjoyable when I have to fish for a dictionary every other sentence.
    – Brandon
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 1:03

3 Answers 3


The Phrontistery (another good word) is a good site for vocabulary. The fellow who keeps it claims to have come across all of these words in his own reading, but omits ones that he considers needlessly obscure, specialised, etc.. He lays out his criteria on the first page. Notice that you have to click at the letters at the top or bottom to go to a list. It took me a few minutes to find where the words were the first time I was there for some reason...The rest of the site is just as interesting, and if you ever need to know something about numerical prefixes...Look no further is all I'll say. O.o

I can also say that I've come across a fair number of these myself, more than once. Some of them I haven't, but I wish I had.

Link! http://phrontistery.info/ihlstart.html


Ok, you might say that my answer is a wee bit off-topic because I'm not recommending a list--well, I SORT OF am, but my first and best recommendation is that reading news articles of interest by paid journalists (not bloggers!) along with fiction by highly literary writers (ex, Nabokov, Fowles, etc) will do more to help you gain vocabulary than messing with flash cards. Reading words in context will help your vocabulary much more than flash cards and learning things by rote.

I like to recommend two favorite fantasy/sci fi writers Stephen Donaldson (Thomas Covenant books) and Jack Vance (The Demon Princes) to those who wish to develop vocabulary; both these fiction writers, though their writing is very clear and direct, use tons of complex and unusual words in rigorously technical style.

I do have a list to recommend, however, before you dismiss my advice as unhelpful: The "worthless word of the day" list: http://home.comcast.net/~wwftd/disclaim.htm These words are not "worthless" by any means (although some are quite archaic), but quite unusual. You can subscribe and they send you a new "worthless word" every day.

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    I agree with almost everything here, but why no bloggers? I agree their standards can be low, but so can anyone's. I've learned a few words from the news posts at penny-arcade.com. I've learned more from various blogs, although I admit, I don't follow them as closely. My main point is that it's irrelevant what you read so much as the quality thereof, and there are some extremely intelligent, well-written bloggers, web-cartoonists, you-name-its out there. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented Feb 10, 2011 at 2:49

Not exactly a word list, but Vocabulary.com can handle word lists (which its users create and share) and its dictionary is quite good.

Its approach to word lists isn't the conventional flash-cards type but I liked it, have had success using it for several month now, and can recommend it if for nothing but the fact that they always present the words in context before telling you the definition(asking you about it, which they often do before resorting to the definition).

  • Also, I've yet to see any online dictionary with pronunciations as clear as theirs. In fact, compared to the next best contender, Macmillan's online English Dictionary, Vocabulary.com's pronunciation recording's are crystal clear. It's only American, though, AFAICT.
    – Mussri
    Commented Apr 27, 2013 at 20:37

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