Academic Vocabulary: For English learners

This page has information for learners on the resources is this General Academic Vocabulary section of the website.


There are various ways to classify the words of a language. A useful way for ESL students is to divide words in the following three broad categories:

  • everyday words - for talking with friends and family about everyday things
  • subject-specific words - the words of science, history, mathematics, etc.
  • academic words - the words used in textbooks and by the subject teacher, which are not so common in everyday spoken language and not subject-specific words.

The academic words on this website

This part of the ESL vocabulary website contains 1000+ words that belong to the third category above: academic words. If you want to do well in school, it is very important that you know these words and can use them yourself in writing and class discussions.

Word definitions

It is often difficult to give a short, simple definition that conveys a clear understanding of the word in question. For example, words such as interrupt, interfere, intervene have similar meanings.

Therefore, you should regard the short definitions in these pages as starting points in understanding a word. You are recommended to find a more accurate definition in a good monolingual English learners dictionary such as the Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, or on the internet. A good web dictionary is TheFreeDictionary.

You are also recommended to use your bilingual dictionary to find the equivalent word in your own language.

Learning the words

You will eventually learn the words if you do the quizzes containing them several times. However, there are other vocabulary learning methods you can use. In particular, you are recommended to make your own sublist of new words, either using vocabulary cards or by making your own vocabulary quiz.

Word usage

Learning the meanings of individual words is an essential starting point, but it is also very useful to learn the typical ways a word is used. You can do this by looking at the word in its various example sentences in the quizzes here.

You will discover, for example, that the verb adapt is typically followed by the preposition to: The company could not adapt to changing circumstances. and that the verb accuse is often used with of and the gerund: He was accused of lying to the committee.

The next step

Once you know the 1000+ words on this website, you should aim to learn all the new words on the Academic Word List. This will give you an excellent basis for understanding the English texts you will need to read for school and university.

More information

Here is more information (for teachers) about the academic words on this website, together with further details about their definitions and exemplifying sentences.