A good vocabulary is valuable for many reasons. First, it adds richness and texture to your writing because you have a deeper pool of words from which to select le mot juste–the perfect word. A good vocabulary is also important if you are planning to take the SATs at some point, and it is also beneficial in situations such as job interviews when you want to sound educated and intelligent. It also increases your reading speed and comprehension.
You may be thinking that all this sounds wonderful, but it does you no good because you don’t have an extensive vocabulary to draw from. Fear not! There are ways to improve it.
1. Read. This is the best advice I can give you. Read widely and read often. Read authors who are known for their use of wordplay and richness of language, even if it seems difficult. Learn how to use context clues to divine the meaning of an obscure word, and don’t be afraid to check your guesses with a dictionary (whether it be online or a physical book).
2. Write. Look at passages in your writing that seem dull and explore ways to spice them up. However, don’t use a big word just for the sake of using a big word; this won’t improve your writing and will only make you look overly pedantic. Instead, look for the right word to convey the tone and meaning you are seeking to express. Don’t be afraid to play the synonym game–look up possible synonyms in the dictionary to discover the exact meaning of a word you are considering. Often, synonyms will have slightly different meanings, so make sure that you are aware of possible nuances.
3. Learn Greek and Latin roots. This will help you in the long run because you will often be able to look at a word and break it down into more recognizable parts. I had a course on Greek and Latin roots in high school, and it helped my vocabulary immensely.
4. Play with words. There are plenty of online games that are designed to test or improve your vocabulary skills. Check out Merriam Webster’s vocabulary quiz or Freerice.com, which has the added benefit of donating 10 grains of rice to charity when you get a correct answer.