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How many English words do you know ?

This is an unfair question, because it is impossible to answer accurately. It is difficult to count

the number of words a person knows. One difficulty is in the definition of WORD. Should we
consider be, am, is, are, Was,were, six different words, or persuade, persuasive,
persuasion three different words ?

If a student knows that spring is the name of a season, but he doesnt know that it also
means the place where water comes out of the earth, or to leap, or a part of a
watch, does he know the meaning of spring, or only one of several different meanings of the
word ?

Another difficulty is in the definition of the word to know ? A person may recognize the
meaning of a particular word when he reads it, but he may never use it in his daily speech or
writing . Can he be said to know the word ?

The size of ones native language vocabulary reflects his education, reading and range of
interests. There is a very clear relationship between vocabulary size and professional
success. To a certain extent, the same is probably true for foreign students of English. A
students vocabulary will reflect his experience of the language.

If he has no contact with English except through his school books, he will know only the
words in his books. But if he has the chance to meet English-speaking people, or to read
English magazines, or to see English motion pictures without subtitles, he will be able to
extend his vocabulary into areas that are not included in his books. Obviously, the more
students hears, speaks, reads, and writes English, the more opportunity he has to increase
his vocabulary.
Learning the use and meaning of words in English can be made
easier, and even enjoyable, if you understand something
about one way in which many English words are formed.

The stem of a word is its basic form, the fundamental element

which is common to all the other forms of the word. A prefix
is a form which is fixed to the beginning of a stem ; a suffix is
a form which is fixed to the end of a stem. For example :
stem = measure
suffix = measurable
prefix = immeasurable
Prefix usually changes the meaning of a word, while a suffix
usually changes its part of speech. For example, the suffix -
able changes verbs into adjectives (breakable, enjloyable).
The prefix im- changes the meaning to the opposite :
measurable - immeasurable. (capable of being measured
not capable of being measured).
The English language makes frequent use of this method of word
formation. Notice the numerous words formed on the stem act.

prefix + act act + suffix prefix + act + suffix

react action reaction

enact active enactment
reenact actively reenactment
interact actionless reactor
transact actable reactive
activity reactivate
activate reactivation
activation interaction
actor transaction
actress inactive

By learning only a few prefixes and suffixes, you will be able to

recognize or guess the meaning of hundreds of English words.
The following are some of the most
common prefixes listed alphabetically. The
meaning of each prefix is given in an area of
meaning because most often there is no one
single specific meaning.

You have to try your best to record other

examples of words which use the prefix.

Your dictionary will provide examples, and

choose those which are familiar or
potentially useful to you.

ante- before, in front of ante-room, antedate, antenatal

anti- against, apposite anti-tank, antisocial, anticlimax
auto- of or by yourself autobiography
auto- by itself automatic
bi- two, twice bilingual, bicentenary, biannual
co- together with co-produced, cooperative, co-author
de- the apposite of decentralization
de- removing defrost
e- connected to electronic e-commerce, e-business, e-book
ex- former, ex-wife, ex-president
in- in income, inside, indoor
in- not infinite, incorrect, incomplete
il- not illogical
im- not immorally
ir- not irrelevance, irregular
inter- between, from one to . intercity, interface, international
macro- large
micro- small microchip, micro-organism
mis- wrong misinterpret, misbehaviour
mono one, alone monorail, monogamy
post- after, behind postgraduate, post-impressionist
pre- before, pre-war, precaution, preheat
pro- in favour of pro-democracy

re- again reapply, reincarnation,reassuring

sub- below, less than sub-zero, sub-standard
sub- under submarine, subway
trans- across transatlantic, transcontinental
tri- three tricycle, triangular
uni- one uniform, unilaterally
un- not unable, untruth
ultra- beyond, excessive ultra-modern, ultraviolet
In the chart below some of the most common suffixes are listed alphabetically. The meaning of each suffix is
given as an area of meaning because most often there is no single specific meaning.


-able capable of being

-ible capable of being
-ance state,condition or quality
-ence state,condition or quality
-ation condition, or the act of
-tion condition,or the act of
-dom state,condition,dignity,office
-ee the object or receiver of action
-en pertaining to, of the nature of
-er the one who
-ful full of, or
-ic / -ical pertaining to
-ious / -ous full of, of the nature of
-ize / -ise to make like
-ish to form adj
-ism / -ist action, state
-less without
-ly like
-ness state,condition
-ship condition,skill
In the preceding subjects you have learned a number of
suffixes in English. Notice that a suffix usually changes a word
from one part of speech to another. You can frequently tell
the part of speech by its form, in contrast to another form of
the same word. For example, imagine (verb), imagination
(noun),imaginative (adjective), and imaginatively (adverb).
We do not have to know the meaning of this word in order to
recognize these parts of speech. In the nonsense sentence,
Tashism vipped prodoption bortly, we can be fairly sure what
part of speech each word is.
We do not know this because the nouns are the names of
person, places, or things, or because the verb describes the
action or state of being. We have no idea of the meaning of
these words. But we do the characteristic forms : n-ism, and
tion as noun endings, -ed as a verb ending, ly as an adverb
You can improve your vocabulary by learning some of these
common suffixes and how they change words from one part
of speech to another
Here some common suffixes that change verbs into nouns.
-al to arrive = the arrival
to deny = the denial
to refuse = the refusal
to propose = the proposal
-ure to depart = the departure
to fail = the failure
to enclose = the enclosure
-y to deliver = the delivery
to arm = the army
to discover = the discovery
-ment to agree = the agreement
to pay = the payment
to govern = the government
-ance / -ence to annoy = the annoyance
to refer = the reference
-ation to consider = the consideration
to inform = the information
to combine = the combination
-sion to confuse = the confusion
to decide = the decision
-er / -or to teach = the teacher
to act = the actor
- To direct = the director
Here are some common suffixes that change adjectives
into nouns

-ness kind = the kindness

quiet = the quietness

-ity active = the activity

curious = the curiousity

-ism ideal = the idealism

colonial = the colonialism
Here are some common suffixes that change nouns into adjectives
-ish the fool = foolish
the self = selfish
-y the cloud = cloudy
the dirt = dirty
-ly the friend = friendly
the cost = costly
-al the person = personal
the universe = universal
-ous the danger = dangerous
the mystery = mysterious
-ary the moment = momentary
the custom = customary
-like the life = lifelike
the child = childlike
-ic the history = historic
the artist = artistic
-less the power = powerless
the home = homeless
-ful the power = powerful
the skill = skillful
Here are some common suffixes that change verbs into

-ive to create = creative

to attract = attractive

-ent / -ant to excel = excellent

to confide = confident

-able / -ible to pay = payable

to perish = perishable
Here is the most common suffix that changes
adjectives into adverbs

-ly noisy = noisily

private = privately
recent = recently
social = socially
Here is a common way of changing nouns and
adjectives into verbs.

-ize real = realize

author = authorize
familiar = familiarize
legal = legalize
There are possible ways to learn the meaning of an unfamiliar
word. One way is to interrupt your reading immediately and look
up the word in a dictionary. This is the safest way. It should
probably be used, however, only if the following two ways are
Using what you know of word stems and word formation, you
can make an intelligent guess at the meaning of a new word.
Frequently this will be sufficient if you are reading fiction and do
not have to understand a precise or technical meaning. For
example, suppose that you read the following passage in a short
story :
It was incomprehensible to Mr. Ahmad why his wife could
never foresee the consequences of her extravagant talk.

There are several words you might not know :

incomprehensible, foresee, consequences, extravagant.
You might stop at the first new word,
incomprehensible, look it up in a
dictionary, write its meaning in your
vocabulary record, then start reading the
sentence again, and stop at
consequence, and so on.
But this would be :
- tiring
- time-consuming
- Seriously interrupt your understanding
- and interrupt the pleasure of story
Instead you might analyze the
new words and guess at their
meaning. For example in guessing
the meaning of
incomprehensible, you
probably know that
comprehension means
understanding , the ible suffix
forms an adjective ; the in-prefix
makes the word negative. So
incomprehensible probably
means not understandable
Of course this analytical approach to the
meaning of words is limited and cannot be
used with all words. Also, it may occasionally
lead you into mistakes.
An invaluable thing, for example, is not
something of no value, it means the thing has
so much value that it cannot be figured ; it is
Very often, however, you can analyze the
meaning of words with a good degree of
Word stems, prefixes and suffixes are like
master keys. A few of them will open the
doors to many meanings.
Practice using what words you already know
to help you learn the words that you do not know.
Another way of guessing the
meaning of a word is by looking
carefully at its context. Words have
meaning in relation to other words
and the situation in which they are
Here are some suggestions for fixing a word and its meaning firmly in your
1. When you look up the a word in your dictionary, then copy it onto a card
or into your notebook, notice the spelling carefully. If the word has an
unusual spelling, write it several times. Underline th e unexpected
2. As you copy the pronunciation of the word, pronounce it aloud. Be sure
you use the correct stress. Compare the pronunciation of the word with
its spelling.
3. Look at other forms of the word that your dictionary lists. If it is a verb, is
the past tense regular ? Does the spelling double any letter when ed is
added ? If it a noun, is the plural form regular ? What is the adjective
form ? Is there an adverb form ?
4. Notice the context in which you have read or heard the word. What part
of speech is the word ? Which definition in your dictionary seems to fit
the context ? Does the sentence make sense with the meaning you have
selected ?
5. copy the one definition that best fit the meaning of the context. Do not
worry about all the other possible meanings ?
6. Make up or copy a defining sentence, either from the book in
which you found the word, or from your dictionary. Repeat
the sentence to your self as you write it. Underline the new
word. Again note its pronunciation and spelling.
7. It may help fix the word in your memory if you look at the
etymology of the word. Take a moment to see if there is a
stem that is familiar to you in other words.
8. Review your vocabulary record . Set aside five minutes of your
study time to go through 25 words. More important try to use
the new when you speak and write. This help you move it
from your passive to your active vocabulary. You will also
learn if you are using it correctly. Do not be afraid to make
mistakes. Correction will help fix the meaning in your
If you are really want to increase your vocabulary, you will need some
system of recording of new words and their meanings. You will also have
to review the new words regularly. There are three ways :
1. Write the new word on any convenient scrap of paper. This is not
recommended. You will either lose the paper or have untidy piles of
paper scattered in various places.
2. The best method is to use file cards. This is also the most difficult
method because it requires continuous neatness and order.
3. Another method to use a notebook. It helps to rule the page into three
column, the widest being at the right.
a. in the left column, print the word neatly. Copy from your dictionary
the pronunciation, including the stress marks. Also copy and label other
parts of speech.
b. in the middle column write the definition(in English)
c. in the right column, write the sentence In which you read or heard
the word.