1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Need help expanding concrete vocabulary

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by waitingforzion, Apr 6, 2014.

    I don’t have many concrete words in my vocabulary, and I lack the words needed to write many of my ideas in an elegant manner. I’m not talking about fancy words, but words spanning one or two syllables that describe things and actions. Does anyone know of a good website with a categorized list of such words? Instead of running through the dictionary looking for specific kinds of words, I’d like to see a list of only the kind of words I want to learn. But if no such lists are available, then I guess I will just have to deal with the dictionary.
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think if you Google lists of verbs and lists of nouns some good sites come up. http://www.enchantedlearning.com/wordlist/verbs.shtml

    I wouldn't go the word-a-day route as some of them feature words you couldn't shoehorn into a sentence.

    If you're visually oriented you might find pictures work better than word lists. I tend to be and collect a lot of pictures on the internet. Usually, I get out the dictionary and pick random nouns and start on a site like Ebay. What's good about a picture is that it can spark metaphors because while you're looking at it and you see the colors and the shape, you can start to make immediate comparisons. It can also generate inspirations you'd never think of.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
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  3. Moima
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    Moima Member

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    I use Word Hippo. I know it's very simple but it often points me in right direction. I also carry a little notebook on me where ever I go, and when I read an interesting word, I write it down. Even interesting combination of words, something, that just 'sounds right', I write it down. I'm kind of building my own dictionary.
     
  4. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I'll bet you have a lot more than you think you do. Try some little exercises working your way down "the ladder of abstraction," starting with abstract terms and making them more concrete. Example:

    Kinds of transportation (abstract)

    What are some specific kinds of transportation?
    cars
    planes
    boats

    What are some specific kinds of cars?
    Ford
    Toyota
    Honda

    What are some specific kinds of Fords?
    Focus
    Expedition
    Escape


    ... and so on. Begin with other abstract terms: kinds of jobs, kinds of sports teams, kinds of computers. Practice breaking each one down as I did above.
     
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  5. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    I've expanded my vocabulary by reading a lot, but also with the process you seem to hate. I want a word, so I start flogging the thesaurus, I learn things until I find what I am looking for. Repeat the process for a couple years and I'm still wrangling the reference material but I'm faster about it. (And yes, I am going for the innuendo here.)

    Merriam Webster works, but it is annoying. I'm suggesting my method as "in addition to."
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem with this method of learning is that you learn the raw meaning of the word, but you don't learn the nuances. The only way to really learn the nuances of a word is to see it in sentences and paragraphs, preferably a whole lot of them.

    I'm also puzzled as to what you mean by not having many "concrete words" in your vocabulary. What makes you think that you don't?
     
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  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'concrete'?... as opposed to what?
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    asphalt?


    (I was going to suggest starting with words like silicates, hydration, aggregate, sand, mortar, and rebar)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you forgot 'cement'... ;)
     
  10. James Joyce
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    James Joyce Member

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    You can take those fancy words and use the thesaurus on them to get the simpler ones.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    when using a thesaurus, however, one must be aware that not all words given as synonyms mean exactly the same thing...

    which is why my standard advice re the use of a thesaurus is to lock it away till you don't need one!
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A thesaurus is great if you have a table with one leg that is too short.
     
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  13. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    @Cogito Why are you knocking the thesaurus? As long as you know how to use it, and use it in conjunction with the dictionary, it's a fantastic tool! I've never expanded my vocabulary more quickly than when I stopped telling myself the thesaurus was a sin and learned to use it with care.

    If you're stuck, pop a word into thesaurus.com, find a synonym you like the sound of and then take it to dictionary.com. Make sure it has the exact meaning you're after by reading through the definition and example sentences, possibly researching further if you've never heard the word before to really wrap your mind around it. Because I love words, whenever I encounter a new one I can't help but do this. So I really don't agree with any insinuation that using a thesaurus is lazy or unimaginative. I find, on the contrary, it's highly educational.

    It's not about relying on the thesaurus to come up with fancy words for you. It's just that staring at a half-written chapter for an hour, because I'm having a mental blank and can't think of any other words for 'he jumped', can be easily avoided.
     
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  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know what @Cogito would say, but the reason I knock the thesaurus is actually unfair to the thesaurus. I really want to knock those novice writers who use it improperly. (This is true of any tool - it's never the tool's fault; it's always the user's.) Too many novices think the thesaurus is a quick way out of a fairly simple jam: they've used the same word too many times in too short a space. To use an extremely dumb example, a novice might write, "The big dog ran across the big yard to the big tree by the big shed." Too many bigs! So the novice goes to the thesaurus and revises the sentence: "The big dog ran across the huge yard to the immense tree by the humongous shed." This is not an improvement. What if Huckleberry Finn had spoken of the "humongous shed"? Or the "Gargantuan river?" Huck Finn is an uneducated boy in the pre-Civil-War South of the USA - he doesn't know the word "gargantuan." It's out of character for him.

    Setting the thesaurus aside helps avoid problems like these.

    When you find yourself with the need for a synonym, try to understand why you need the synonym. Try to figure out if there's a way you can recast your sentence or paragraph so that you don't need the synonym. You might find you do need it, in which case, with a healthy dose of distrust, you might approach the thesaurus. Or, in many happy cases, you find you don't need the synonym at all. :)
     
  15. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    @minstrel I understand what you're saying but I think it's worth explaining how to use a potentially valuable tool rather than just advising one against its use entirely.

    I don't think recasting your sentence or paragraph every time you hit a wall and can't express it the way you initially and intuitively intended is always best. To me, it seems a form of stunting oneself in one's literary education to not pursue an elusive expression. I think if you can find that perfect word it will often stay with you, stored away in your own mental thesaurus, and the need for such will wither over time.

    Though I completely agree that there are too many novices who do abuse the thesaurus, I would only suggest that they are taught how to use it properly instead of warned off of a good thing.
     
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  16. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Are you trying to write in a second language?
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Very true, and thanks for making that statement. As I had hoped to make clear, I don't want to blame the tool. I do think it's important for people to learn to use their tools properly. The thesaurus is a tool and it has its place, but writers need to be taught to use it. Sometimes I think @Cogito overstates his position on this. (Please correct me if I'm wrong, Cogito.)
     
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  18. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Some of you have been to college, right? Read assignments from English majors sometime. 8)
     
  19. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The thesaurus comes into it's own when the words you can think of don't quite fit the needs of the sentence and you actually want something similar but slightly different.
    One common piece of writing advice is that it's often better to use a strong verb than to use a weak verb combined with an adverb. E.g "He sprinted down the corridor" tends to work better than "He ran quickly down the corridor".
    If you have an inkling there is an appropriate strong verb, but you are struggling to recall it, that seems a legitimate use of a thesaurus to me.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the problem with a Thesaurus (with the possible exception of Roget's which works differently) is the tendency to encourage the user to substitute one word for another. It's often a mistake. There are very few words in the English language (can't speak for other languages) that are totally interchangeable. So @minstrel is right. What you probably need to do is find another way to say what you're trying to say, not just find another word to mean the same thing. Because you probably won't.

    However, a Thesaurus (especially Roget's) can get you thinking. You read a list of 'related' words and it can generate links in your mind to other concepts, which might be even more useful in certain writing situations.

    I play with my Thesaurus the same way I play with my dictionary. It's a way to learn about words. However, I don't keep it close to hand when writing, and only bring it out when I'm well and truly stuck. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't.

    Like any other tool, it's useful on occasion, but not to fix every problem.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I've done that, actually. Gone to Roget's and picked a series of verbs at random and written them all down. They come alive then, and are ready to use when I need them.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The key to what you're saying is thorough research. Unfortunately, that's also the part to which most thesaurus users give only lip service, if that.

    I've seen the results of a thesaurus vocabulary far too many times. The results are sometimes hilarious, but usually sad and rather exasperating. You know what the wrier is aiming for, bit they are just wide enough of the target that the entire sentence collapses with a slap like liver on linoleum.

    The ones who use a thesaurus responsibly are rarely deterred, but if I can keep one aspiring writer from butchering his or her vocabulary with a carelessly wielded thesaurus, I will be ecstatic.
     
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  23. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn't be comfortable saying a sentence with the word you want in front of an English professor, don't bother.
     
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  24. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    I'm a product of thesarus-flogging. I hope that my writing-style has mostly recovered from that. @Cogito you are talking as purple as I do. That metaphor is pretty wacky, though.
     
  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As much as I agree with this, @Cogito, I do have to emphasize that we can't blame the tool. Any time you see a butchered vocabulary, it's not the fault of the thesaurus, it's the fault of the writer. You'd laugh at a chef who blamed his lousy casserole on his spatula. ;)
     

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