What term, ideally used by linguists, refers to the entire collection of words that a person knows? For example, if someone opened up a dictionary, and created a list of all of the words they know, what term would refer to that list?

  • 10
    There are two very important different types of "personal vocabulary" - Receptive vs. Productive Vocabulary. There's also the concept of "Scrabble vocabulary" (for example, you might know all the 2-letter combinations valid in Scrabble, but have no idea what half of them actually mean). Nov 19, 2014 at 14:11
  • @FumbleFingers My late father had just such a Scrabble Vocabulary. The one item of his possessions that was first to go to the charity shop was his dreadful 'Scrabble Word Book'.
    – WS2
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:25
  • @WS2: I still have four paper copies of OSW (1st - 4th Edition). Plus I'm fairly unique in that I "legitimately" have an electronic copy of OSW1. I used it when writing a crossword generator for a freelance editor/publisher (who was owed a favour by the copyright holder Chambers), and nobody ever told me I couldn't keep a copy afterwards. Nov 19, 2014 at 14:39
  • I am not an English, but we call it word-stock. How fluently you speak English depends on your word-stock
    – MAKZ
    Nov 19, 2014 at 19:47
  • 1
    Receptive vs productive vocabulary is a useful distinction. However the dividing line is not always so clear. It may be useful to represent knowledge of a particular word along a continuum of increasing degrees of familiarity. We each have a large "grey zone" of words that we don't feel 100% confident in using but that we may be with repeated encounters.
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 19, 2014 at 20:58

7 Answers 7


You mean one's (personal) vocabulary?

Merriam-Webster says:

all of the words known and used by a person

  • Is there any confirmation that this is the term used by linguistics?
    – Village
    Nov 20, 2014 at 14:49
  • 3
    Is an article from oxford journals under the heading of applied linguistics good enough? Note that strictly speaking, you asked about the words a person knows, not the words a person uses. Your question refers to passive vocabulary, but that is two words, and the rules for SWRs are strict.
    – oerkelens
    Nov 20, 2014 at 14:56
  • Yes, that is sufficient.
    – Village
    Nov 20, 2014 at 14:57

I would use the word lexicon.

noun the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge.

Quoted from Oxford Dictionaries Online.

  • 2
    Or more specifically, a mental lexicon. Nov 19, 2014 at 14:00
  • there is an academic journal that is called The Mental Lexicon.
    – user31341
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:24
  • This is the word that immediately came to mind, but vocabulary would seem to be just as correct.
    – delliottg
    Nov 19, 2014 at 20:01
  • i like this answer just as much as vocabulary, but i have to recommend vocabulary because you are FAR more likely to be understood.
    – user428517
    Nov 19, 2014 at 22:56

There is also a colloquial word for this: wordrobe. It is like a wardrobe of words.

a person's vocabulary

She reads dictionaries to build up her wordrobe.


  • 2
    sounds like something you'd wear rather than fill or reference.
    – Jodrell
    Nov 21, 2014 at 11:26

Also word-hoard ( from TFD) :

  • (n.) the sum of words one uses or understands; a vocabulary.

  • a person's vocabulary.


Vocabulary, as already posted by @oerkelens, is the stock of words used by or known to a particular person.

  • "He has a somewhat limited vocabulary."
  • "Reading will certainly help you expand your vocabulary."
  • "My wife has a wide vocabulary."
  • 1
    I guess 'vocabulary' is already in the list of the terms suggested!!
    – user66974
    Nov 19, 2014 at 14:30
  • @oerkelens' answer, complete with MW link, was posted as much as half an hour before this one. And you must reference quotes in plain text, not merely via a link.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 20, 2014 at 7:51
  • @AndrewLeach First let me apologize for posting an answer someone had already posted. I've edited and added the credit. As for "And you must reference quotes in plain text", I'm not sure I understand that. Do you mean: "He has a somewhat limited vocabulary". merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocabulary ? or simply "He has a somewhat limited vocabulary." Merriam Webster(in red, with link)? or another way?
    – Centaurus
    Nov 21, 2014 at 15:39
  • He has a somewhat limited [vocabulary](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocabulary) with "[Merriam-Webster]" as plain text will do. Meta post
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 21, 2014 at 15:42
  • @AndrewLeach With a bluish shade on the background? I'm afraid I don't know how to do that.
    – Centaurus
    Nov 21, 2014 at 15:46

idiolect: the variety or form of a language used by an individual http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/idiolect?s=t

  • 4
    This is much wider than just the vocab though, as it includes the person's grammar. Nov 20, 2014 at 3:11

Another interesting word is schema, although that encompasses more than just the words which one knows.

  • 1
    Can you provide a definition and source? Looking through wiktionary and reference.com I don't see anything about words.
    – MrLore
    Nov 19, 2014 at 18:37

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