As I know, the word word can be understood as

  1. vocabulary unit of meaning

A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.

  1. statement / sentence

Something spoken or written; a remark or statement.

What make me confused is that how can I distinguish these two different meanings in case like this one:

A friendly waiter taught me a few words of Italian.

Is it

  1. He taught me a few vocabularies of Italian.
  2. He taught me a few sentences/statements of Italian.
  • I searched with the words in your first definition, and nothing included the word "vocabulary". Did you add that yourself? It's incorrect
    – gotube
    Aug 13, 2021 at 7:03
  • 1
    @gotube Yes, the "vocabulary" is my understanding, the quoted explanation below is from a dictionary exactly. I would have meant that a single word in vocabulary.
    – preachers
    Aug 13, 2021 at 7:40
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    To answer your question then, it could mean either individual words or some phrases
    – gotube
    Aug 13, 2021 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


RE: "A friendly waiter taught me a few words of Italian."

In the strict interpretation, "words" in this sentence indicates that the friendly waiter gave you a few individual words -- i.e. individual units of meaning. For example, the waiter taught you "bella" and told you that it meant pretty or beautiful.

But, in actual usage, "a few words" can also indicate a phrase or a sentence such as "una ragazza bella" (a beautiful girl) because -- well -- a phrase is composed of a few words.

  • 1
    You just added a third possibility. So it can be understood as 1. a few individual words; 2. a sentence (formed by a few individual words); 3. a few sentences.
    – preachers
    Aug 13, 2021 at 13:26

I think things would be clearer with a slightly modified definition of the word 'vocabulary' as 'a collection of words'.

Some ways I would use the word 'vocabulary' in a sentence:

  • "I was impressed at the size of my friend's vocabulary"
  • "This text is challenging to read because the author uses a diverse vocabulary"

With this definition hopefully it becomes a bit more clear that sentence #2 is the more correct one. To modify #1 I would say : "He extended my Italian vocabulary"

  • Thanks for your replay. See the comment above, I misunderstood the meaning of vocabulary. Please refer to the quoted part below "1. vocabulary". So, if I see the sentence "A friendly waiter taught me a few words of Italian.", can I consider it as the meaning of "He extended my Italian vocabulary". Or to be more clearly, "He taught me a few words (in term of vocabulary) of Italian.
    – preachers
    Aug 13, 2021 at 7:45
  • May be I should say "unit of meaning" instead of "vocabulary". I don't know how to express the meaning of "word" using another word, sorry.
    – preachers
    Aug 13, 2021 at 7:58
  • "A friendly waiter taught me a few words of Italian.", can I consider it as the meaning of "He extended my Italian vocabulary" -> this captures the difference well. 'word' is singular, whereas 'vocabulary' is plural. A collection of many words creates a vocabulary. For this reason we would rarely use the word 'vocabularies' because this is a plural of a plural. A use of 'vocabularies' may be 'all my students have great vocabularies' Aug 14, 2021 at 16:06

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