Building TOEFL Vocabulary

Welcome to your Building TOEFL Vocabulary Practice Activity One

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Building TOEFL Vocabulary

Definitions of Important Terms and Practice

In this TOEFL study guide, a number of important vocabulary-related terms are used that you need to understand. By becoming familiar with these terms, you will also develop important word building strategies for the TOEFL, GRE and other standardized tests.

Basic Definition of terms used in this study guide


  1. Vocabulary size – The number of words that you can understand or use.
  2. Word denotation – The literal meaning of a word.
  3. Word connotation – the interpretive denotation of words. Some words have multiple denotations.

For example does the word “run” always mean to move rapidly? Can you guess the meaning of run in the following sentences?

A.) Dana will run for president of the student union.

B.) This paper towel runs long.

C.) The teenager always runs to his parents when he gets in trouble.

D.) Don often runs over to see his girlfriend after lunch.

E.)  The candidate will run for president.

  1. Basic vocabulary – This concept varies, but it usually refers to the number of words that people can read and write. According to some authorities, the basic English vocabulary of a college student born and raised in America is approximately 20,000 words.
  2. Total vocabulary – One’s basic vocabulary, compound words and derivatives (words formed from other words, such as electricity- formed from electric)
  3. Prefix – a part added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning, such as pre in preview.
  4. Root - The base of a word, such as view in preview
  5. Suffix – A part added to the end of a word to change its meaning, such as –ion in invention
  6.  Affix – A prefixes or suffix; a part added to a root to change its meaning (Examples: pre and ion).
  7. Combining forms – word parts that may be used as roots or affixes  (photo in photograph and telephoto)
  8. Morpheme – A group of letters which have meanings. Combining forms include prefixes, roots, suffixes and combining forms.
  9. Variant forms – Morphemes that have similar origins according to their spelling and       meaning.

Examples:  prefixes –in and –im ; roots: scribe and script and; suffixes -ion and – sion and the roots  thermos and therm are all variant forms.


Building TOEFL Vocabulary                                                 

Chapter 2: Definition of Terms


  1. Etymology – The study of word origins or word history. For example the words “royal” and “regal” both come from the Latin word “regalis”, which means “kingly”. Further, the word

“student” is derived from the old French term estudiant, “one who studies” and  influenced by the Latin term studere, “to study”.


  1. Context clues – Signal words, devices, or sentences that give clues to the meaning of an unknown word. The context of words, or how they are used in sentences, will determine their word  meaning.


  Study the following examples which use the word “light”:


A.) The books are light. I can carry them easily. (light in this sentence means “not heavy”)

B.)  Donna saw the light and, therefore, was able to solve the algebra problem. (“to understand”).

C.)  To dispel the darkness, Min turned on the light in the living room. ( “device used to illuminate”)

D.)  The pigeons lighted on the sidewalk to eat the bird seeds scattered by the bird-watcher. (landed)

Practice Activity One – Definition of Terms

Based on the information above, complete the following items:

1. The terms upset and angry have the same word _______________ but different ________________.

2. The number of words that we speak and read refers to our __________________________________.

3.  The parts scribe in subscribe and script in subscription are examples of ________________________.

4. Pre in predict is a _____________ while -dict in predict is a ___________________.

5.  Polygamy and monopoly contain the _________________ poly.