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I wondered, do most native English speakers use the words "quotidian" and "tenebrous"?

I use these words in my writing, but also speak fluent French, so for that reason, I know instantly what they mean and can no longer tell if it's the French helping me, or if these are just words understood by almost everyone.

Can anyone give me their opinion as to whether these words are easily understandable to them.

Example of use:

These quotidian sounds vibrated through me roughly.

He stared at me, his eyes tenebrous and angry.

Thank you.

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  • These words are too abstruse to use in dialogue, except perhaps among intellectuals. Even then, however, I suspect the words would often sound rather pretentious; I would prefer their simple synonyms daily and gloomy, if only to avoid calling attention to trivialities while distracting those listening from the point of why I was making a statement in the first place.
    – Robusto
    Jun 29 at 12:36

2 Answers 2

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Dictionary.com provides a useful, although rough guide to the difficulty of words in English. Aside from the particular words you're asking about now, the general reference may prove useful to you for a quick assessment of the "difficulty index" of other words.

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  • Thanks so much JEL! This is great! A great tool - I didn't know it was there. Can I ask your personal opinion about the TENEBROUS sentence I wrote above. I've already got rid of QUOTIDIAN in my novel, but I still like the TENEBROUS lines I've written. Would you understand it to mean "dark"?
    – MoniqueH
    Mar 5, 2016 at 17:48
  • @MoniqueH, it is entirely up to you. You know your target audience: you know how much they can be challenged and when or by what in context. All I have to make that judgement is one sentence in isolation. As an inveterate reader, though, I can tell you that throughout a life of reading, if ever I encountered a word I was not sure of, I would either pause to look it up or make my best guess and move on without faulting the author for their vocabulary. I doubt I'm typical in the latter regard, however. For your sentence: I read 'tenebrous' there as 'shadowy', rather than 'dark'.
    – JEL
    Mar 5, 2016 at 20:30
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If the words' appearances in books are any indication of their residence in people's vocabularies, which they very well may not be, quotidian is significantly more well-known than tenebrous.

Google Books Ngram Viewer:

Ngram Viewer

Considering its proximity to the 0.0% ground level, I highly doubt "most native English speakers" know the word tenebrous.

Their familiarity with quotidian is more up in the air.

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  • Thank you so much Kyle, this is great. I know it's subjective, but do you mind if I ask your own opinion about the two sentences I mentioned and whether you would understand the words. Thanks.
    – MoniqueH
    Mar 5, 2016 at 6:52
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    Sure! In my view, if I did not know the meaning of quotidian, and I read your example sentence, I would not be able to glean that the word means ordinary. It is a revealing modifier in the sentence; thus, I would fail to absorb the full intent of your portrayal. The tenebrous example is a little easier to deduce, since you have a complementary adjective, angry. If I did not know the meaning of tenebrous, I might assume, based on the context, that it is similar to brooding.
    – Kyle
    Mar 5, 2016 at 7:12
  • Thanks so much! I myself as a native English speaker am less comfortable with "quotidian" but I think my French is making me think it's more common than it is. For some reason, I thought "tenebrous" was much more well known, but again that may be the French throwing me off. Thanks so much for you input though! I don't want to throw readers off and jolt them out of a scene, so i think I may change my vocab a bit.
    – MoniqueH
    Mar 5, 2016 at 7:17

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