Don’t read this material!

Instead, work with it. Write in it, talk aloud to it, talk back to it – use your pen and pencil, your voice, not just your eyes and mind.

Learning, real learning, goes on only through active participation.

When a new word occurs, say it aloud.

When you do the matching exercise, use a pen or pencil. Write your response.

When you do the ‘Yes-No’ or ‘Same-Opposite’ exercises, use your pen or pencil to indicate the appropriate response, then check with the key when you have completed the whole exercise.

When you are asked to fill in words that fit definitions, write your answers; then check the key both to see if you have responded with the right word and also to make sure your spelling is correct.

When you do the Review of Etymology exercises, make sure you fill in the English word containing the prefix, root, or suffix required.


Saying words aloud, and saying them right, is half the battle in feeling comfortable and assured with all the new words you are going to learn.

First, master theschwa’

Almost every English word of two or more syllables contains one or several syllables in which the vowel sound is said very quickly.  For example:

‘Linda spoke to her mother about a different idea she had.’

Read that aloud. Listen to how the –a of Linda; the –er of mother; the a– of about; the –ent of different; and the –a of idea sound.

Very quick – very short! Right?

Phonetically respelt, these words are represented as:

Linda               LIN’-dǝ

mother                         MUTH’-ǝ

about              ǝ-BOWT’

different           DIF’-rǝ nt

idea                ī-DI’-ǝ

The symbol ‘ǝ’, called a schwa, represents the quick, short vowel sound in the five words above.

Next, understand accent

One syllable in every word is stressed, and it shown in capital letters with an accent mark after it:

railway                        RAYL’-way

another                       ǝ-NUTH’-ǝ

A long word may also have a secondary stress syllable, shown in lower-case letters with an accent mark:

conversational                         kon’-vǝr-SAY’-shǝn-ǝl

Both syllables are stressed, but the one in capitals (SAY’) sounds stronger or louder than the one in lower-case (kon’).

Say all these words aloud, noticing the way the stressed syllables sound.


All consonants have their normal sounds, except for G (or g), which is always pronounced as in give, get, go:

agree                ǝ-GREE’

pagan              PAY’-gǝ n

TH or th is pronounced as in thing; TH or th is pronounced as in this.

ZH or zh is pronounced as in pleasure.

Be careful of the letter ‘S’ (or ‘s’) in phonetic respellings. S (or s) is always hissed, as in see, some, such.  Do not be tempted to buzz (or ‘voice’) the –s after final –ns:

ambivalence   am-BIV’-ǝ -lǝns


The vowel sounds are as follows:

A, a                  cat (KAT)

E, e                  wet (WET)

I, I                    sit (SIT); ear (I’ǝ ); slowly (SLŌ ‘-li)

Ī, ī                   spy (SPĪ ); civilize (SIV’-i-lī z)

O, o                knot (NOT)

U, u                 nut (NUT)

AH, ah                         car (KAH); laughter (LAHF’-tǝ )

AW, aw           for (FAW); north (NAWTH)

AY, ay                         late (LAYT); magnate (MAG’-nayt)

EE, ee              equal (EE’-kwǝ l); east (EEST)

ai                    air (AIR)

ǝR, ǝr                           her (Hǝ R); earth (ǝRTH)

Ō, ō                toe (TŌ )

OO, oo                         book (BOOK); put (POOT)

ŌŌ, ōō            doom (DŌŌM); muse (MYŌŌ Z)

OOǝ , ooǝ        pure (PYOOǝ )

OW, ow           about (ǝ-BOWT’)

OY, oy                         soil (SOYL)

ING, ing          taking (TAYK’-ing)


Etymology deals with the origin or derivation of words.

When you know the meaning of a root (for example, Latin ego, I or self), you can better understand, and more easily remember, all the words built on this root.

Learn one root and you have the key that will unlock the meanings of up to ten or twenty words in which the root appears.

Learn ego and you can immediately get a grasp on egocentric, egomaniac, egoist, egotist and alter ego.

In the etymological approach to vocabulary building:

  • You will learn about prefixes, roots, and suffixes
  • You will be able to work out unfamiliar words by recognizing the building blocks from which they are constructed
  • You will be able to construct words correctly by learning to put these building blocks together in the proper way.

Learn how to deal with etymology and you will be able to understand thousands of words you hear or read even if you have never heard or seen these words before.*


You probably know. But if you don’t, you can master these parts of speech within the next five minutes.


A noun is a word that can be preceded directly by a, an, the, some, such, or my:

An opportunity (noun)

Such heroism (noun)

The nation (noun)

Nouns you will discover, often end in conventional suffixes: –ity, -ism, -y, -ion, -ness, etc.


A verb is a word describing an action.  It fits into the pattern, ‘Let us …’.  A verb has a past tense.

Let us fraternize (verb) – past tense: fraternized

Let us magnify (verb) – past tense: magnified

Verbs, you will discover, often end in conventional suffixes: –ize, -fy, -ate, etc.


An adjective is a word that fits into the pattern, ‘You are very…’.

You are very egoistic (adjective)

You are very active (adjective)

Adjectives, you will discover, often end in conventional suffixes: -ic, -ed, -ous, -al, -ive, etc.


These, of course, are generally formed by adding –ly to an adjective: accidental – accidentally; famous – famously, etc.

That’s all there is to it! (Did it take more than five minutes?  Maybe ten at the most?)

((Incidentally, Latin scholars will notice that I present a Latin verb in the first person singular, present tense (verto, I turn), but call it an infinitive (verto, to turn).))


Once – as a child – you were an expert, an accomplished virtuoso, at learning new words. Today, by comparison, you are a rank and bumbling amateur.

Does this statement sound insulting? It may be – but if you are the average adult, it is a statement that is, unfortunately, only too true.

Educational testing indicates that children of ten who have grown up in families in which English is the native language have recognition vocabularies of over twenty thousand words –

And that these same ten-year-olds have been learning new words at a rate of many hundreds a year since the age of four.

In astonishing contrast, studies show that adults who are no longer attending school increase their vocabularies at a pace slower than twenty-five to fifty words annually.

How do you assess your own vocabulary?

A test of vocabulary range

Here are thirty brief phrases, each containing one italicized word; it is up to you to find the closest definition of each word. To keep your score valid, refrain from wild guessing.  The key will be found at the end of the test.

  1. parry a blow: (a) ward off, (b) fear, (c) expect, (d) invite, (e) ignore
  2. prevalent disease: (a) dangerous, (b) catching, (c) childhood, (d) fatal, (e) widespread
  3. ominous report: (a) loud, (b) threatening, (c) untrue, (d) serious, (e) unpleasant.
  4. an ophthalmologist: (a) eye doctor, (b) skin doctor, (c) foot doctor, (d) heart doctor, (e) cancer specialist
  5. will supersede the old law: (a) enforce, (b) specify penalties for, (c) take the place of, (d) repeal, (e) continue
  6. an indefatigable worker: (a) well-paid, (b) tired, (c) skilful, (d) tireless, (e) pleasant
  7. endless loquacity: (a) misery, (b) fantasy, (c) repetitiousness, (d) ill health, (e) talkativeness
  8. an incorrigible optimist: (a) happy, (b) beyond correction or reform, (c) foolish, (d) hopeful, (e) unreasonable
  9. a notorious demagogue: (a) rabble-rouser, (b) gambler, (c) perpetrator of financial frauds, (d) liar, (e) spendthrift
  10. living in affluence: (a) difficult circumstances, (b) countrified surroundings, (c) fear, (d) wealth, (e) poverty
  11. a gourmet: (a) seasoned traveler, (b) greedy eater, (c) vegetarian, (d) connoisseur of good food, (e) skilful chef
  12. to simulate interest: (a) pretend, (b) feel, (c) lose, (d) stir up, (e) ask for
  13. a magnanimous action: (a) puzzling, (b) generous, (c) foolish, (d) unnecessary, (e) wise
  14. a clandestine meeting: (a) prearranged, (b) hurried, (c) important, (d) secret, (e) public
  15. to vacillate continually: (a) avoid, (b) act indecisively, (c) inject, (d) treat, (e) scold
  16. be more circumspect: (a) restrained, (b) confident, (c) cautious, (d) honest, (e) intelligent
  17. diaphanous material: (a) strong, (b) sheer and gauzy, (c) colourful, (d) expensive, (e) synthetic
  18. a taciturn host: (a) stingy, (b) generous, (c) disinclined to conversation, (d) charming, (e) gloomy
  19. to malign his friend: (a) accuse, (b) help, (c) disbelieve, (d) slander, (e) introduce
  20. a congenital deformity: (a) hereditary, (b) crippling, (c) slight, (d) incurable, (e) occurring in the womb or during birth
  21. vicarious enjoyment: (a) complete, (b) unspoiled, (c) occurring from a feeling of identification with another, (d) long-continuing, (e) temporary
  22. psychogenic ailment: (a) incurable, (b) contagious, (c) originating in the mind, (d) intestinal, (e) imaginary
  23. her iconoclastic phase: (a) artistic, (b) sneering at tradition, (c) troubled, (d) difficult, (e) religious
  24. a tyro: (a) dominating personality, (b) beginner, (c) accomplished, (d) musician, (d) dabbler, (e) serious student
  25. a laconic reply: (a) immediate, (b) assured, (c) terse and meaningful, (d) unintelligible, (e) angry
  26. an anomalous situation: (a) dangerous, (b) intriguing, (c) unusual, (d) pleasant, (e) unhappy
  27. shows perspicacity: (a) sincerity, (b) mental keenness, (c) love, (d) faithfulness, (e) longing
  28. an unpopular martinet: (a) candidate, (b) supervisor, (c) strict disciplinarian, (d) military leader, (e) discourteous snob
  29. gregarious person: (a) outwardly calm, (b) very sociable, (c) completely untrustworthy, (d) vicious, (e) self-effacing and timid
  30. an inveterate gambler: (a) impoverished, (b) successful, (c) habitual, (d) occasional, (e) superstitious


1-a, 2-e, 3-b, 4-a, 5-c, 6-d, 7-e, 8-b, 9-a, 10-d, 11-d, 12-a, 13-b, 14-d, 15-b, 16-c, 17-b, 18-c, 19-d, 20-e, 21-c, 22-c, 23-b, 24-b, 25-c, 26-c, 27-b, 28-c, 29-b, 30-c

Record your score (one point for each correct choice):

The meaning of your score:

0-5: below average

6-16: average

17-23: above average

24-27: excellent

28-30: superior

Some of this box I’ve not had the power to put here…

A test of verbal speed

Part 1: In no more than two minutes (time yourself, or have someone time you), decide whether the word in column B is the same (or approximately the same) in meaning as the word in column A; opposite (or approximately opposite) in meaning; or whether the two words are merely different.

Part 2: In no more than three minutes (again, time yourself or have someone time you), write down as many different words as you can think of that start with the letter D.

Do not use various forms of a word, such as do, doing, does, done, doer, etc.

A test of verbal responsiveness

Part 1: Write in the blank in column B a word starting with the letter P that is the same, or approximately the same, in meaning as the word given in column A.

Part 2: Write in the blank in column B a word starting with the letter G that is opposite, approximately opposite, or in contrast to the word given in column A.


Score Part 1 and 2 together. Write in the blank the total number of correct responses you gave.

The meaning of your verbal responsiveness score.


Vocabulary and success

Now you know where you stand. If you are in the below average or average groups, you must consider, seriously, whether an inadequate vocabulary may be holding you back.  If you scored above average, excellent, or superior, you have doubtless already discovered the unique and far-reaching value of a rich vocabulary, and you are eager to add still further to your knowledge of words.

You can increase your vocabulary

The more extensive your vocabulary, the better your chances of success, other things being equal – success in attaining your educational goals, success in moving ahead in your business or professional career, success in achieving your intellectual potential.

And you can increase your vocabulary – faster and more easily than you may realize.


If you intend to work with this booklet seriously, that is, if your clear intention is to add a thousand or more new words to your present vocabulary – add them permanently, unforgettably, add them so successfully that you will soon find yourself using them in speech and writing – I suggest that you give yourself every advantage by carefully following the laws of learning:

Space your learning

Every booklet will be divided into ‘sessions’. Each session may take half an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the amount of material and on your own speed of learning.

Do one or two sessions at a time – three if you’re going strong and are very involved – and always decide when you stop exactly when you will return.

Do not rush – go at your own comfortable speed

Everyone learns at a different pace. Fast learners are no better than slow learners – it’s the end result that counts, not the time it takes you to finish.


When you start a new session, go back to the last exercise of the previous session, cover your answers, and test your retention – do you have quick recall after a day or so has elapsed?

Test yourself

You are not aiming for a grade, or putting your worth on the line, when you take the Tests – rather you are discovering your weaknesses, if any; deciding where repairs have to be made; and, especially, experiencing a feeling of success at work well done. (In learning, too, nothing succeeds like success!)

But most important – develop a routine and stick to it!

Places into names

Very many things are called after the place where they were invented, or where they were made.

manila – the brown paper used for making envelopes is called after

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where the hemp that it is made from is grown.

denim – the original full name was serge de Nimes, meaning serge (strongly diagonally woven cloth) from Nimes, in France.  From de Nimes we get denim.

ermine – the white winter coat of the stoat, made into robes for lords and judges, is named after Armenia, where it is supposed to come from.

limousine – the posh kind of motor car is named from the type of cloak with a hood worn by the peasants of the province of Limousin, in central France.

bantam – the miniature hen is called after Bantam, a village in Java in the East Indies.

damask – the beautiful fabric with flowers or arabesque patterns woven in is called after Damascus, capital of Syria.  The same place also given its name to the damson, a dark-red plum.


©Dodgson, 1973.