Vocabulary Vs Dictionary Vs Thesaurus

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What is Vocabulary?

Vocabulary is an intangible stock of words of a person or a community in a language.  We often mix up the meaning of ‘dictionary’ with the meaning of ‘vocabulary’. Actually, these two words denote two different meanings. ‘Dictionary’ is a concrete noun and it has a physical existence and  ‘vocabulary’ is an abstract noun and it has no physical existence. ‘Vocabulary’ is the idea which indicates to all the words of a language a person or a community uses in speaking and writing that language. ‘Dictionary’ means the compilation of the words of a language and the definition of those words. A dictionary is usually a book or a website which contains the vocabulary of a certain language in alphabetical order. On the other hand, vocabulary is an intangible and abstract concept of all the words a person knows. A person can have a large vocabulary or a small vocabulary. Vocabulary varies from person to person but the dictionary is a constant compilation of all the words of a language with their definitions and pronunciations.   The relationship of vocabulary with dictionaries is that dictionaries contain words along with their definitions and pronunciations which help a person improve his/her vocabulary.

However, ‘vocabulary’ is more often confused with another word ‘thesaurus’. But dictionaries have more similarity with the thesaurus than with the vocabulary. Dictionaries and thesaurus both are reference books which contain words. A dictionary generally comprises a huge list of words alphabetically with their meaning  (sometimes in another language), etymology and pronunciation, but it does not include the synonyms and the antonyms (not always) of those words. Hence the thesaurus organizes the words which have a similar or opposite sense of meaning.

Read - Vocabulary: A Complete Guide to Improve your Word Memory

What is Dictionary?

A dictionary usually defines a word methodically and demonstrates how it should be spelled, pronounced, and used. A thesaurus compiles words which have the same sense of meaning and can be replaced by each other. But vocabulary offers you something more than a dictionary or a thesaurus. Vocabulary, unlike the dictionary and thesaurus, offers an in-depth analysis of a word and its usage in different contexts.

Suppose, you are looking for the word ‘vocabulary’ in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary  and searched the word; you found the definitions, type, and the pronunciation of that word:


What is Thesaurus?

Now, if you see the thesaurus for this word, you’ll find the synonyms and antonyms (if any) of that word. You’ll see that ‘dictionary’, ‘glossary’, ‘terminology’ are the synonyms of the word ‘vocabulary’. So, you can see that synonyms only present some similar alternatives but do not actually describe the word. None of the synonyms tell us what exactly the word ‘vocabulary’ means. However, the vocabulary of the word ‘vocabulary’ will tell you the exact meaning of the word, its usage in different contexts, and its difference from the synonym of this word.  


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