For an English learner like me, learning new words and making them absorbed deeply in my mind is not an easy task. I always find it difficult while deciding which word is suitable to use.

Furthermore, I often forget the words that follows the last one in saying a sentence, which makes me stop to think, but on most occasions, still get no proper answer.

What I want to ask is:
Can I use some simple words or phrases instead of complicated ones?
If i don't know how to say the right words?

For example:

I believe that you could fulfill your dream one day.

If I forget 'fulfill', which is proper here for the noun, may I say instead:

I believe that you could make your dream into reality one day.

Another example:

He is accused of committing a crime.

If I forget 'commit', may I say:

He is accused of doing a crime. or
He is accused of making a criminal thing/behavior.

I know it may sound funny to native ears, but that may be the sole method for a foreigner who has poor vocabulary in emergency.

  • I found it hard to make this question clearer. I'm still confused what you want. :)
    – Maulik V
    Jan 3, 2015 at 10:15
  • 4
    Using simple words has a lot of advantages. When done right, it could sound even better than when you're trying to use big words. For example, you could say "I believe that you can make your dream come true one day," for your first sentence, and say "They accused him of stealing" or "They accused him of his crime," for the second one. Jan 3, 2015 at 10:31
  • 3
    The 1000 most popular lexems are sufficient to explain rocket science Jan 3, 2015 at 20:56
  • Most words are defined in terms of simpler words, so you can usually say something very close to what you want by using more words if you can't find the perfect word. And sometimes the more-words version is actually clearer.
    – keshlam
    Jan 4, 2015 at 2:19

6 Answers 6


I absolutely believe that it's not the "big words" that make a good sentence or a good writer/speaker.

If you can clearly say what you mean, you are using the language well enough.

Or is the following sentence better? (Full of big words, basically the same meaning...)

If you can explicitly and concisely state what you want to convey, your usage of the language is adequate.

So, yes, go ahead, use whatever words you have in your vocabulary.

  • I agree with this. Language is for communication. If you can't communicate using complex words, what other choice do you have than to resort to the words you do know? One thing that will not help is not trying to communicate. If you try and you make mistakes, that is better than saying nothing. Plus, you might get some feedback. Or, your imperfect English still gets the message across, which means you Have successfully communicated, although imperfectly--meanwhile you keep learning and practicing new 'complex' words.
    – user6951
    Jan 3, 2015 at 15:39
  • aedequate also demonstrates another problem with "big" words ;)
    – Voo
    Jan 3, 2015 at 20:05

The alternate sentence in your first example is perfectly fine.

If you want an additional way to talk about dreams, a common way to express what you're describing is to say that a dream "comes true", for example:

With hard work, you'll soon make your dreams come true.

You can also say it in a way that implies the fulfillment of the dream will (or won't) simply happen:

I'm afraid my dream of world peace will never come true.

In your second example about "committing a crime," neither alternate is proper English.

The first ("doing a crime") would at least be understood, but the second sentence ("making a criminal thing/behavior") would almost certainly confuse the listener.

I really can't think of another simple way to say "commit a crime" aside from describing the crime itself, for example:

He was accused of killing his goldfish.

The disadvantage here is that you actually have to name the crime, whereas saying "commit a crime" allows you to maintain a distance, especially if you'd rather not talk about the specifics of the act.

  • 1
    "Doing a crime" is common slang, as in the phrase "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime" (i.e., if you can't cope with being sent to prison, don't break the law). Jan 3, 2015 at 15:39
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    I'd say that that whole saying is common slang, not the phrase "do a/the crime," which I have never heard outside of that particular saying. My guess is that it was a back formation made to sound similar to the slang term "do (the) time."
    – oaker
    Jan 4, 2015 at 0:44
  • What @oaker said. Native speakers (even dishonest ones! :) don't do crimes - they either commit a crime, or more commonly they just break the law. Oct 26, 2015 at 15:22

Well, I assume the short answer to your Q is: Yes.

A speaker that uses complicated vocabulary system is never praised as much as a speaker with simple vocab. usage but a correct one.

The most prior thing here is to know where not to use certain words. I can make a mistake, but I should never do a mistake, because that's a mistake. Widening your range of vocab. requires this point, but the subtle differences are always there and are usually either learnt in the process of usage or not usually noticed by many as errors.

Certainly, using "easier" words will require better grammar, and sometimes even a more understanding of vocab.

He is accused of doing a crime.
or He is accused of making a criminal thing/behavior.

If I were you, and if I were obliged to choose between the complicated and the simpler, I would have glanced at my addressed people. Humans can have different moods; while some wouldn't know, realize or bother themselves with the little differences "vibrant" and "brilliant" have, the other nitpicky ones, (in especial situations) would pick every possible hole by saying that "vibrant" is more approving.

However, some context will require a more delicate approach to the vocab. Simple example is when you're reporting the 'flame test' of different compounds, so the flame test of Magnesium should differ with Copper Sulphate in 'brightness'.

A short conclusion would be: Depending on the people you speak to, the topic you're talking about, or the words you use, the choice would be different; but; generally, correct basic vocab. usage is way better than complicated ones.


Yes, both your substitutions for more complex sentences are correct.

However, in the second sentence(about dreams) I recommend you use 'a' instead of 'into', because as a native speaker I've never heard anyone say or write 'dream into reality', but 'making your dream a reality' is very well-known and respectfully used.

  • 1
    I believe that you could make your dream a reality one day. I also believe that you could turn your dream into a reality one day.
    – Adam
    Jan 6, 2015 at 20:12

As Stephie and Damkerng have written, you should try to say what you mean, with the words you have. You will make lots of mistakes. But everybody makes mistakes when they are learning English.

Most English words were made by people who had trouble finding the right word. There are three main kinds of words in English:

  • Germanic words (like "word" and "fulfill" and "dumptruck".) "Dumptruck" was made by combining two whole words: "dump" + "truck".
  • Latin (and Middle French) words (like "combining"). "Combining" was made by "putting together" three parts of words: "Com" + "bine" + "ing".
  • Old words with new meanings. Some words are used in slightly different ways. Other words are used as different parts of speech. (English has rules for changing nouns into adjectives, changing nouns into verbs, and changing verbs into nouns.)

Every time somebody invented a new word, they had to explain what they meant. If you do not know a word, it is OK to just explain what you mean.

As for your examples:

I believe that you could make your dream into reality one day.

This is perfectly clear. I might simplify it to:

I believe that you can make your dream into reality.

He is accused of doing a crime.

This is clear. The following sentence means the same thing:

He is accused of a crime.

In ordinary conversation, most people say a few extra words. This is OK.

When writing, it is best to write out your first draft quickly. On your second draft, you can edit your words. You can choose better words, you can simplify things, you can correct your spelling, and you can improve your grammar.


Ironically, this practice also has a fancy word to describe it: "circumlocution." Wikipedia defines it, though in a rather technical way, as follows:

Circumlocution (also called circumduction, circumvolution, periphrasis, or ambage) is locution that circles around a specific idea with multiple words rather than directly evoking it with fewer and apter words. It is sometimes a necessary tool of communication (for example, in getting around lexical gaps to overcome untranslatability), but it is also often a flaw in communication (for example, when it is a figure of speech that is unnecessarily ambiguous and obscure). link

Don't worry if you didn't follow that. The point is that circumlocution is a good tool to have as a language learner: it's much better than, for example, waiting for a long time while you try to think of the right word or phrase. The main risk is that you may bore or confuse your listeners, either by using a lot of words when a few would be more typical or direct, or by using a word in a non-standard way.

It's about finding a balance between practicing and using your English. As a rule of thumb, I would use more circumlocution to get my point across in casual conversation and for first drafts of text, but try harder to eliminate it in prepared remarks (like giving a talk) or a more polished draft.

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