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I'd like to know whether the word "Trivial" is commonly used by native speakers in spoken English, if it isn't. What other options are out there that could replace trivial in the sentence above? I've thought of:

"My boss keeps giving me a hard time for unimportant things".

"My boss keeps complaining about silly things".

"My boss keeps complaining about insignificant things".

The word Trivial is kind of a cool word, but I never really hear anyone say it in spoken English. What are your thoughts on that word? Am I gonna get any weird looks if I use it in spoken English?

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Trivial is a completely normal, everyday part of the English language. It isn't going to be one of the first words kids learn to use, but it should be understood by secondary school age, if not earlier.

It might not get much use simply because there are a lot of alternative words - not that any of them are more popular or appropriate, just that there's a lot to go around.

  • Given that There's a lot to go around as you mentioned, how often is the word Trivial used compared to these other words that native speakers use instead? – Kaique Mar 13 at 15:29
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    Well, you know, I've never actually counted. I would say that it's enough that it doesn't seem weird when people use it. – SamBC Mar 13 at 15:44
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'Trivial' is probably a more polite, more tactful word than any of your examples, so is probably more commonly used in written English, (after deleting the former) but well understood nonetheless.

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Well, what is "common" to you? A toddler in New York City might know what a bodega is, while you might reach middle age in Baltimore or Salt Lake City and never encounter the word in conversation. And a toddler in Los Angeles might know what it is, but know it as something different from the New Yorker.

Something you can do is estimate prevalence based on samplings of recorded communication (e.g. broadcast media, print publications). There are a number of corpora developed exactly for such purposes. For what it's worth, a Corpus of Contemporary American English search finds these frequencies:

  • 17216 minor (as adjective)
  • 5123 irrelevant
  • 2741 trivial
  • 2396 insignificant
  • 1673 pointless
  • 1225 unimportant
  • 1023 not important
  • 832 inconsequential

(There are a number of tools for exploring this and other corpora developed by Mark Davies of Brigham Young University which are now available on www.english-corpora.org .)

Now, of course, those words are not indiscriminately interchangeable with trivial. Certainly, minor and pointless have non-synonymous uses which may well be more common. False positives will arise from things like names (for example, the board game Trivial Pursuit). One must furthermore be conscious that a corpus necessarily over-represents some texts and under-represents others, because not all speakers are represented equally in recorded communication. Also, importantly when you are looking for conversational usage, written language tends to lag spoken language, and there have historically been many more collections of written English than transcriptions of spoken English.

Keeping all that in mind, however, I think one could make the case that trivial is not a rare word compared to words which can have similar meaning.

Google NGrams won't do much for you for spoken English, but it provides an easy way to compare the prevalence of words and phrases in the Google Books index visually. As with the other corpora, searching on a phrase to minimize false hits is advisable. Trivial things turns up much more often than minor things or insignificant things.

For a different, less generally applicable proxy, you can try to see if a word appears on some or other vocabulary list for different grade levels. Trivial is suggested for a 7th grade vocabulary list published by Flocabulary (7th grade in the US typically enrolls 12- and 13-year olds); it is on a sixth grade vocabulary list (11- and 12-year olds) published by LearnThat. I do not know anything about these organizations or the quality of their pedagogical materials, but this suggests that trivial is a word that Americans might be expected to learn by the end of middle school, and so a word that would not be unusual in publications such as daily newspapers or mass market magazines.

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    +1. You'll definitely hear trivial more in a college Math or Physics course than you will eavesdropping in a café down the street. Context is everything. "The proof, which is trivial, is left as an exercise for the reader." – whiskeychief Mar 14 at 1:29

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