Simple vs Sophisticated Vocabulary? It’s All Just Semantics (Interpretation)!

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Simple & Sophisticated English Vocabulary

Improve Spoken English

Have you ever caught yourself thinking that your English vocabulary needs to be spruced up because it’s too simplistic?

Have you recently sat an English exam and you’re dreading a bad spoken test result because you feel you didn’t use enough of fancy vocabulary when answering questions?

Do you honestly believe people will judge your English speech based on your choice of words so you’re trying to go for less-known vocabulary when speaking in English with others?

Then you may want to give it a second thought because in reality there’s no such thing as simple and advanced vocabulary ❗

Everything is a matter of perspective, and while everyone would agree that, for example, a word ‘doglike’ is a much simpler version of ‘canine’, there’s no real reason for that sentiment other than the fact that ‘canine’ isn’t used that often in everyday conversations.

So is that all there is to it?

Are English words ‘made-up’, ‘exciting’ and a sentence ‘It makes me feel so free’ ranking much lower on the alleged vocabulary importance scale than their counterparts ‘fictitious’, ‘exhilarating’ and ‘It’s a liberating experience’ just because you’d find them in the first year’s English textbook?

Or are there more dimensions to this whole simple vs sophisticated English vocabulary discussion?

Read the rest of this article to find it out, and also join the discussion in the comments below! 😉

Alternatively, you may want to check out this list of sophisticated practical English phrases you can use in your daily life!

Let’s Define Simplicity

For me, and I believe for most people simplicity means something that’s easy, isn’t that right?

You can do an easy multiplication such as five times nine in your head without using a calculator, so that’s simple – forty-five.

Multiplying twenty-five by twenty-five will not be that easy for the average person, so it’s a more complicated operation and therefore not simple.

By the same token, when you say a sentence “I’m having a problem” you use simple vocabulary and grammar because you can say it out loud without much effort; it’s easy. Yet to say “I just encountered a dilemma” might take a lot of effort for any foreign English speaker so that makes the respective vocabulary more sophisticated and more important.

Is that so?

NO ❗

As I said earlier on, it’s all a matter of perspective. Repeat the phrase “I just encountered a dilemma” a dozen times and it becomes second nature to you; it becomes effortless. So now that it’s become easy, does it render the respective English words simple instead of sophisticated?

I think you’ve started seeing where I’m coming from on this.

Simple vocabulary is WHAT YOU KNOW AND WHAT YOU CAN USE.


Why Simplicity is Often Scorned Upon

Simplicity is oftentimes equaled with something childish.

Traditionally, when the English language is taught as an academic subject, we start with learning basic vocabulary. By and large, it’s similar to how a child would learn their native language (except for the fact that naturally it’s acquired through SPEAKING ONLY – unlike school language studies…), so we develop this approach of equaling basic vocabulary with something that only children would use.

Surely, it doesn’t become an adult to speak like a child!

And now that you’re sitting this speaking exam, better show me that you’re a well-educated foreigner who’s capable of speaking better than a ten year old…

HOLD ON, Mister Examiner! 😀

Don’t you realize that by forcing someone to use certain means of expression, you’re putting an enormous pressure onto that person? By trying to sound smart, quite the opposite effect may be achieved!

Just because someone chooses to use commonly used words and expressions, doesn’t make their speech less fluent.

It’s not an indication of an underachievement compared to someone who just spoke using super-sophisticated vocabulary.

And after all, who said speaking like a ten year old is EASY?

There are expressions and sentences comprised of basic vocabulary we don’t use in our daily conversations and we would find it HARD to come up with something that’s second nature for a ten year old native English speaking kid.

Bottom line – just because certain vocabulary and phraseology reminds of the beginner’s English level, doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad or over-simplistic ❗

Often it’s All About Word Origins!

As you probably know, a lot of English words have been adopted from a number of languages – German, Latin, French, Greek and others.

And so it happens that vocabulary you’d learn as a beginner English student often derives from Anglo-Saxon languages whereas longer,more sophisticated’ vocabulary mostly likely originates in Latin or French.

Let’s take, for example, two expressions that describe the same thing – ‘sleeping room’ and ‘dormitory’.

If you’re saying that it’s time for you to go to your sleeping room and I’m saying – “It’s time for me to go back to my dormitory” – it’s all a matter of using English words originating in two different language groups.

The word ‘sleeping’ has Germanic roots, while ‘dormitory’ is a direct adaptation of a Latin word ‘dormitorium’.

Sure, it sounds much fancier, and so do many words derived from Latin, French and Greek such as ‘amalgamate’, ‘subterranean’, or ‘commence’. But personally I don’t think that their counterparts ‘blend’ (Old Norse), ‘underground’ (‘ground’ – Old English) and ‘begin’ (Old English) would be less attractive.

Yes, for the most part those words are shorter and I can see why some would argue that it’s EASIER to remember shorter words which in turn makes them SIMPLER. My personal experience tells me, however, that once you learn a certain word regardless of the number of syllables in it and you KNOW HOW TO USE IT, all of a sudden it becomes easy! 😉

Bottom line is – what’s sophisticated for me can be easy for you ❗ It’s best not to judge foreign English speakers based on stereotypical assumptions about what’s simple and what’s sophisticated vocabulary.

Also, don’t fall victim to the pitfall of learning fancy vocabulary just for the sake of it. Let new English word USEFULNESS be the decisive factor determining how you acquire new vocabulary!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!


English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • dec

    it is a very interesting and very real psychology that native English speakers will almost sub-consciously think people who have poor English skills as stupid. Totally illogical, but true.

    Yet it doesn’t seem to work in reverse, eg, I am in Vietnam and have very little Vietnamese at the moment – it makes me feel frustrated, but not stupid. And, certainly, as far as I can tell, the Vietnamese don’t think I am stupid.

    A related behaviour is English speakers who think if they speak really slow, or loud, or both, to a non-English speaker, they will magically understand.

  • dec

    ‘sleeoing room’ would actually be a ‘bedroom’, not a ‘dormitory’, a basic English phrase for ‘dormitory’ would have to be ‘group sleeping room’, but that still doesn’t quite capture the meaning. you would have to say ‘large room with many beds’ (because ‘dormitory’ implies some size and number, eg, i don’t imagine a ‘dormitory’ of 2 or 4).

  • English Harmony

    I`m glad that you found your own way to discover confidence. Being comfortable with your level, while still wanting to improve, as you said, will give you the peace that is so necessary for you to grow.
    Thank you for your feedback !

  • Elena

    As a foreigner living in London I’ve often feel as if I am less intelligent than english people, because of my vocabularity. In fact I probably made myself feel that way as I’m surroanded by rather sophisticated english people and I only speak and write in english for 3 years. I found your posts very exciting and somehow calming, giving me the confidence and peace of mind that language is multidimensional and there is always a room for improvment. Thank you!

  • Thanks for the comment Lucas, and I’m really glad you find inspiration in reading my blog posts! And I can’t thank you enough for wanting to spread the word around my blog, I really appreciate it!

    Chat soon,

    Robby 😉

  • Lucas

    I am always impressed by your great posting that makes my heart pumping with excitement and sometimes relief. I am also living in English speaking country (Canada). I am even thinking of making your practical theories translated into my own language so more people can share your great blogs. Anyway, excellent job! Keep up the good work! 

  • Hi Anastacia,

    To say someone knows English perfectly is quite a vague term, and that’s one of the most common pitfalls for foreigners to fall for!

    Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate fluency, and it is possible to know (read – ‘recognize’) massive English vocabulary lists while being unable to ACTIVELY use the biggest part of it (speaking or writing).

    Well, writing is a different story, and taking into account you can choose words and plan your sentences when writing, you would still be able to use plenty of you passive vocabulary. But when it comes to speaking, it’s a different story altogether, and my personal experience tells me that it’s possible to KNOW sophisticated vocabulary while being very limited in its ACTIVE implementation.

    Of course, don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible to KNOW and to be able to USE what I refer to as sophisticated vocabulary, and it’s only a bonus if you can do that! I’m not advocating for oversimplification of the English language or something like that, and I’m pretty sure you know that anyway! 😉

    Thank for the comment,


  • Well, you learn something new everyday! Thanks for the examples, I actually didn’t know you can omit the pronoun ‘it’ and just say ‘find out’. Now when I’ve looked into this, it all makes sense.

    Thanks! 😉

  • Francisco Javier

    There’s no need to use “it” in that sentence. The phrasal verb “find out” alone is enough, that’s the way it sounds more natural.

    I’ve checked in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and here are some examples:

    – We could find out from the local council.
    – I thought it best to let you find out for yourself.

    Note how the pronoun “it” is not included in those examples. It’s not necessary.

  • Anastacia

    Hi RObby!!! That is a cool article!!! U have just changed my mind. Before I thought if a person use sophisticated vocabulary, he or she knows English perfectly. But now I have just realized that it is a stereotype. My mind is very flexible and I adore to learn something new every single day!!! Thanks for food for my brains!!! 

  • If you take out the word ‘it’ from the sentence “Read the rest of this article to find it out”, it won’t make sense. I don’t think it’s incorrect; ‘it’ merely refers to a subject mentioned previously and substitutes it, that’s all.

  • Hi Benson,

    Thanks for the comment! One piece of advice for you – don’t underestimate yourself! I’d say you’re pretty good at using phrases and idioms (“run-of-the-mill”, “quite a long time”) which is essential for fluency. Keep improving, and you’ll get there before you know it! 😉

  • Francisco Javier

    That’s all well and good but don’t say “find it out”, say “find out”. That’s the idiomatic expression.

  • Benson8lin

    Hello Robb, This is Benson, i always feel the same as what you described in your blog. You are such an English buff. your level of English is what i dream for. I got that run-of-the-mill level of English in speaking for quite a long time.