Words to Know -- Important Infrequently Used Words To Know

Learning vocabulary is a very important part of learning a language. 

The more words you know, the more you will be able to understand what you hear and read; and the better you will be able to say what you want to when speaking or writing.

Build and expand your vocabulary through learning a new word daily

Which words to learn

Every day you hear or read many new English words.

 You also find them in your dictionary when you are translating from your own language. 

You can’t possibly learn all these new words, so your first problem is to decide which ones to concentrate on. 

Here are some suggestions:
  • learn the words that are important to the subjects you are studying
  • learn the words that you read or hear again and again
  • learn the words that you know you will often want to use yourself
  • do not learn words that are rare or not useful (your teacher can help you with this)
How to learn words
Once you have chosen which words to learn, you next have to decide how you are going to learn them. Here are a few ideas:
  • write the words in a notebook (with their translations or definitions)
  • write the words and definitions on small cards
    (advice on how to do this)
  • say the words many times (if you have an electronic dictionary you can hear how the word is pronounced)
  • put the words into different groups (you could use a graphic organiser)
  • write them in a file for use with a computer program (such as Quizletor the one on this site)
  • make associations (in pictures or with other words)
  • ask someone to test you
  • use the words in your own speaking or writing
Some students put a tick or cross in their dictionary next to every word they look up. 

The next time they turn to a page with a marked word, they quickly check to see if they remember the meaning of that word.

The Capitalized syllable gets the emphasis.


alacrity       a-LACK-ra-tee      cheerful willingness and promptness
anathema       a-NATH-a-ma      a thing or person cursed, banned, or reviled
anodyne        AN-a-dine      not likely to cause offence or disagreement and somewhat dull//anything that sooths or comforts
aphorism       AFF-oar-ism      a short, witty saying or concise principle
apostate       ah-POSS-tate       (also:  apostasy)      person who has left the fold or deserted the faith.
arrogate       ARROW-gate      to make an unreasonable claim
atavistic      at-a-VIS-tic      reverting to a primitive type
avuncular      a-VUNC-you-lar      “like an uncle”; benevolent


bathos         BATH-ose      an anticlimax
bereft         ba-REFT      to be deprived of something valuable      “He was bereft of reason.”


calumny        KAL-um-knee      a slander or false accusation
canard         kan-ARD      a fabricated story (French=”duck”; morte canard=dead duck)
cant      kant      insincerity
chimera        ki-MEER-ah   (not: chim-er-ah)      Originally: a mythical beast; any unreal thing; foolish fancy      (adj=chimerical     ki-MEER-a-cal)
cloy      to grow sick from an abundance of something
comitatus      com-a-TAY-tus      loyalty to one’s band or group
concatenation       con-CAT-a-nation      things linked together or joined in a chain
copacetic      “going just right”
cosseted       KOS-a-ted     pampered
cupidity       que-PID-a-tee      greed; avarice
cynosure  SIGH-na-shore      (from the Greek: “dog’s tail”)      center of attention; point to which all eyes are drawn.
 (Really? From “dog’s tail”? Yes. The “dog’s tail” appears in a constellation, locating the North star, which rivets the attention of sailors at sea. Thus:     center of attention.) (see also: sinecure)


dilettante          DILL-ah-tent 
1. having superficial/amateurish interest in a branch of knowledge;
2. a connoisseur or lover of the fine arts
discursive          dis-KUR-seive      covering a wide field of subjects
docent         DOE-cent      a teacher, but not regular faculty; a museum tour guide


egregious      a-GREE-jous      conspicuously bad; flagrant; shocking
epigone        EP-a-goan      a second rate imitator or follower


fatuous        FAT-chew-us      foolish; stupid; silly
felicity       fa-LISS-a-tee      bliss; a pleasing aptness in speech and deportment; grace
furtive        FURR-tive      sly; shifty; secretive


gratuitous          gra-TOO-a-tus      given freely


haik           HIKE      a large piece of cloth worn as an outer garment by Arabs.
heuristic      HYOUR-is-tik   (noun)      an idea or speculation acting as a guide to an investigation
hubris         HUE-bris      arrogance from excessive pride or passion  (hubristic)


ignominy       IG-na-min-ee     (noun)       (also: ignoble)      signifying disgrace or dishonor        (ignominious)
incisive       in-SI-seive      displaying sharp mental perception; direct and effective
inimical       in-IM-a-cal      unfriendly; hostile
insipid        in-SIP-id      (adj.)      Lacking flavor, zest, or interest; dull
insuperable         in-SUPER-a-bul      not able to be overcome
inveigh        in-VAY      attack verbally
iterative      IT-ter-a-tive      something recurring or repeating      (“An iterative process”)
jeremiad       jer-a-MY-add      a series of doleful, dismal complaints


lagniappe      lan-yap        (noun) (a Creole word)      something given away as a gift for buying something else (such as an ashtray given for buying a full tank of gas)
leitmotif      LIGHT-moe-teef      a dominant or recurring theme or pattern
luddite        LUD-ite      a person who tries to halt progress by smashing machines


manque         mon-KAY      unfulfilled; frustrated (literally: maimed)      “He was an artist manque.”
maudlin        MAUDE-lin      easily emotional
mendacious          men-DAY-shous      (adj.)      untruthful.          (the noun is mendacity)
meretricious        mer-a-TRISH-ous      deceitful; tawdry  (Note that the two words above are pejorative, but if the meaning is not known, they “sound” meritorious.)
misanthrope         MISS-an-throwp     a person who dislikes the human race


nugatory       NEW-ga-tory      trifling; worthless; ineffective


obloquy        OB-la-key      a public reproach
opprobrium          ah-PROBE-re-um      disgrace arising from shameful conduct;  a reproach mingled with contempt “That word – a term of opprobrium – cut him like a knife.”


paradigm       PEAR-ah-dime      “side by side”; a pattern or example. A “paradigm shift” is      usually used to signify a major change in thinking or acting, in the sense of employing new examples.
parvenue       PAR-ven-oou     an upstart; someone trying to rise above their proper place
pejorative     pa-JOUR-a-tive      tending to be worse; downgrading; disparaging
penury         PEN-your-ee      extreme poverty
peremptory     per-EM-tory      a command which may not be refused
perdition      per-DISH-un      future misery, such as in going to Hell
perfidy        PUR-fa-dee      treachery; falsehood     (perfidious is the adjective)
perfunctory         pur-FUNK-tory      done routinely, with little interest or care
peripatetic         PER-ee-pa-TET-ick      walking about; itinerant  (Often used to describe Aristotle)
philistine     PHIL-a-stine      a person lacking culture; narrow minded with common tastes
poignant       POIN-yent  An adjective with multiple flavors:
1: appealing to emotion 2: physically painful 3: sharp, pungent
4: piercing, incisive   5: astute, pertinent  6: neat, skillful
poltroon       pole-troon      a thoroughly cowardly person
polymath       polly-math      a person of great or (more usually) varied learning.     (poly=much          math=learning)
presentiment        pre-SENT-a-ment      a foreboding of misfortune
propitiate          pro-PISH-ee-ate      pacify
puerile        PURE-ill   (Fr.: “puer” – child)      juvenile, immature, childish
punctilio      punk-TILL-ee-oh    (noun)      a fine point of etiquette; precise observance of formalities or ceremony; precise to the letter


rancor         RANG-kur      vindictive malice
rapacity       ra-PASS-a-tee      act of seizing that which is coveted; greed
recondite      REK-in-dite      hard to understand; profound; obscure; concealed
regnant        REG-nant      reigning; predominant; widespread


samizdat       SAM-iz-dot      an underground newspaper
sanguine       SANG-win      cheerful, confident
sanguinary     SANG-win-airy      bloody     (note the huge difference in meaning between the above two  similarly sounding words)
saturnine      SAT-ter-nine      morose; gloomy
scurrilous          SKER-a-less      grossly offensive and vulgar
seriatim       sir-ee-AT-um      occurring one after another; in serial fashion
sinecure       SIN-a-cure      a job (usually politically appointed) requiring little or no work.   (See also: cynosure)
sobriquet      so-bric-KAY      a nickname or an assumed name (“Minnesota Fats”)
solecism       SOL-a-sys-um      an ungrammatical combination of words
specious       SPEE-shous      appearing to be right; deceptively good looking
spurious       SPYOUR-ee-ous      false
sycophant      SIGH-ko-phant      a flattering parasite


terse      short and to the point; pithy
turpitude      TUR-pa-toode      depravity
unctuous        UNK-shus      oily and persuasive


venal          VEE-nal      a sacrifice of honor for profit
veracity     ver-ASS-a-tee      truthfulness
voracity     vor-ASS-a-tee      greed  (the above two words are very close in spelling and pronunciation, but mean quite different things.)
verisimilitude      ver-ah-SIM-ah-la-tude      the quality of appearing to be true or real
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