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When my son said he doesn't recognise all the words in Wordle I commented that he is thus increasing his vocabulary.

He then contended that the correct word should be expanding.

Who is correct? What are the most common verbs/collocations for this sense?

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  • I would consider expand to be a synonym of increase for anything that has volume, as such they feel equally valid. Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 15:08
  • You gotta learn to let your kids be right, when they feel strongly about something, and their position is at least reasonable. I'm speaking from hard experience as a parent. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 2:11

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The most common expression is to improve one's vocabulary. But as you can see in this Ngram, both your son's and your expressions are used and with almost equal frequency. So I wouldn't argue too much about it.

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increase means

to (make something) become larger in amount or size (Cambridge)

The definition of expand actually includes the verb to increase, and may be slightly more accurate in the sense of increasing the number of words you know in a language:

to increase in size, number, or importance, or to make something increase in this way (Cambridge)

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    Good answer. I didn't know adding word classes to the wild card search on Ngram, thanks. I've also checked the American English Corpus for a verb within two words before vocabulary and here are the most common ones for this sense between 1950s-2000s in descending order: 1. expand 2. improve 3. enlarge 4. enrich 5. extend 6. enhance. "Increase" is not within 100 words, surprisingly. Possibly, "increase" is used more colloquially (or could it be more common in BrE?) Also, "expand" could imply a next level improvement of vocabulary, stronger than increasing; and it is a more common collocation.
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 8:20
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    I haven't researched this, but my intuition also tells me that "increase" is surely more colloquial. I would preferably use improve/enrich/expand in a formal text. But this was a conversation between father and son, so I'd say both expressions are perfectly acceptable.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 8:23
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    They're both metaphors, and they differ as to how they view one's vocabulary. Expand views it as a volume (or perhaps an area for two-dimensional use) for storage of the "items", like a warehouse. Increase, on the other hand, refers to the number (or size) of the items, producing a bigger volume unless more densely packed. Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 14:46
  • One's vocabulary is countable and as such its totality does in fact have numerical volume and thus 'expand' is not a metaphor at all, but directly applicable. Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 15:09

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