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I have found a way to significantly reduce the difficulty of learning vocabulary words. It involves the concept of words that are defined in terms of other words.

Words belonging to a particular category can be listed under and defined in terms of one main (categorical) word. That way, the appalling number of vocabulary words present in the dictionary may be reduced to a much smaller number and studying becomes much more focused and robust.

Where can I find a list showing categorical words and their members?

Here is an example (definitions are from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary):

Categorical Word: Place

abattoir: a place where animals are killed for their meat
abode: the place where someone lives:
accommodation: a place to live, work, stay, etc. in:
airport: a place where aircraft regularly take off and land, with buildings for passengers to wait in
apiary:a place where people keep bees, especially a collection of hives (= containers in which bees live) kept to provide honey
tannery: the place where leather is made
tavern: a place where alcohol is sold and drunk
tip : a place where especially large pieces of rubbish can be taken and left
.
.
.
As you can see, the words (abattoir, abode, accommodation, airport, and apiary, etc...) can be listed under and defined in terms of the word place.

Now imagine how easy it is to find words relating to place. Wouldn't that make learning vocabulary so much easier and more fun? What if we did the same for other words?

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage. What has your research found? Have you found any lists that are close to what you want, but are somehow lacking? By editing your question to include your research, you will help us to not repeat the same steps and better know what you are looking for.
    – rajah9
    Apr 7, 2020 at 10:37
  • @rajah9: I performed several google queries but have not found anything remotely close to what I want.
    – machine_1
    Apr 7, 2020 at 10:52
  • In the game of twenty questions, one question is "Is it a person, place, or thing?" Those three categories include your "place" and are a gross categorization of nouns. Will that suit? If not, why not?
    – rajah9
    Apr 7, 2020 at 11:24
  • @rajah9: There are categories that are sub-categories. For example, a container falls under "thing", but there are so many words defined in terms of "container". So, "thing" is way too broad.
    – machine_1
    Apr 7, 2020 at 11:27
  • @rajah9: Container: (aerosol, amphora, ampoule, aquarium, bag, barrel, basin, basket, beehive, billy, bin, birdcage, bottle, brazier, bucket...) and so, so many others.
    – machine_1
    Apr 7, 2020 at 11:30

2 Answers 2

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Categories are supersets. All dogs are mammals. All cats are mammals. Some mammals are dogs. 'Mammal' is a category that includes the subset of 'dog' and the subset of 'cat'.

By this example it is easy to see that some categories are subcategories of larger categories. All mammals are animals. All reptiles are animals. Some animals are mammals.

In some sense, all words (or rather nouns) are categories. But usually there is often a minimal superset given a list of like 'kinds'. Dog cat bear mouse... the category is mammal.

The more technical terms for all this is 'hypernym' and 'hyponym'. 'Mammal' is a hypernym of 'dog', 'cat', 'bear', 'mouse'... And 'dog' (and the others) is a hyponym of 'mammal'.

The question is how to find a vocabulary item that is the hypernym of two given terms. The best current resource for that, for English vocabulary, is

Wordnet

For example,

dog

(with the links for hypernyms and hyponyms expanded).

For your example, one of many meanings gives:

place

As you can see, there's a lot. Wordnet is a formal dictionary but on steroids, linking meanings of words by these category relations.

The direction of your question though is if there is a resource like this for the purpose of making learning new vocabulary easier. Unfortunately I know of no comprehensive source for this. There is a lot of second language learning resources that attempt to do this sort of thing, collecting like terms in one spot. Schaum's Vocabulary series for foreign languages gives a chapter of realted vocabulary having to do with say kitchen items, travel vocab, car repair, etc etc etc. These you will have to look for yourself.

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  • You have given the accurate term for what I am looking for: Hyponym. That is exactly what I want. A list of hyponym words; I hope I will find it.
    – machine_1
    Apr 7, 2020 at 14:47
  • @machine_1 One single list will be like look at a dictionary sized list. For one word at a time, most dictionaries are not very good at pointing out hyponyms and hypernyms. Wordnet will give you both _for a single given word at a time(click on 'S' in any given definition). For small sets, like you mentioned in your original question, vocabulary builders sometimes do that. I think even googling for 'categories of places' might work.
    – Mitch
    Apr 7, 2020 at 16:37
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There exist lists of vocabulary that are deemed fundamental as they are used to explain all the words in a learner's dictionary, the mastery of that dictionary opening the road to an understanding of about 85 % of the English language. One is a 3000 word list that has been thouroughly tested by 70 linguists or more and there is another one, more extensive, counting 5000 words. They are the "Oxford 3000" and the "Oxford 5000". You can download them from the site "oxfordlearnersdictionaries." and see from a study of them whether they might not suit your purpose. For instance, for "abattoir", in the 3000 list you go from "slaughterhouse" (not in the list) to "building" which one is in the list.

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