15 Best Books for Improving and Building Vocabulary

, Staff Editor
Updated February 26, 2020
Students researching in Dictionary
    three students researching in dictionary
    JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty
    Used under Getty Images license

If you want to build, improve, or expand your vocabulary, books are your best resources. Your vocabulary is one of your most important communication tools and it can get better over time. Whether you're a child, an ESL student, or an adult, you can always work on your vocabulary skills to get your ideas across, ace exams, and demonstrate your mastery of the English language.

Best Books to Build Vocabulary for Beginners

Some of the best English vocabulary books were built for beginners like kids or those learning English as a new language.

The Dictionary

A dictionary is one of the best books to help you build your vocabulary because it contains all the recognized words in the English language. Look for a dictionary that fits your learning style, then start memorizing words and definitions.

  • Usborne Books & More has an entire line of illustrated dictionaries that feature thousands of words with labeled images to help visual learners build their vocabulary. You can get a standard dictionary and illustrated subject dictionaries for topics like math or science.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Current English uses examples and common language, rather than technical jargon, to define over 120,000 words. The word builder sections also show how different words are related to each other.
  • ESL teachers love the Longman Advanced American Dictionary because it is straightforward. The provided definitions are only those most commonly used today and most words have an example sentence too.

The Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a book that gives you synonyms and antonyms for different words. This can help you build your vocabulary as you find different ways to say words and phrases. Look for a thesaurus that gives you word definitions with the synonyms and antonyms.

  • Merriam-Webster's School Thesaurus takes over 150,000 words and provides synonyms, antonyms, related words, sentence examples, and idiomatic phrases to give you a comprehensive understanding of the word in terms even kids can understand.
  • With The Well-Spoken Thesaurus by Tom Heehler, you'll learn to use normal words in impressive ways. Instead of presenting countless synonyms, this book gives you only the best, explains how and why to use them, and provides examples.

504 Absolutely Essential Words

If you're looking to quickly learn the most important words you'll need to speak English fluently, 504 Absolutely Essential Words by Murray Bromberg, Julius Liebb, and Arthur Traiger is the book for you. The book is divided into 42 lessons, each containing 12 new vocabulary words. It gives the definitions of the words along with sample paragraphs and a variety of exercises for the reader to complete.

15 Best Books for Improving and Building Vocabulary
    504 Absolutely Essential Words
    Used under affiliate license

Build Your Vocabulary Skills

John LaCarna's Build Your Vocabulary Skills: A Quick and Easy Method features a mnemonic technique called the keyword method to help readers memorize over 1,400 vocabulary words commonly found on the SAT and GRE tests. Once you learn this method, you can apply it to learning more vocabulary words from other books.


Best Books to Read to Improve Vocabulary

Books to read that improve your English vocabulary introduce you to new and uncommon words. Many also give you the chance to practice using these types of words.

The Vocabulary Builder Workbook

If you want to improve your writing and speaking skills, Chris Lele's The Vocabulary Builder Workbook can help. The author is a test-prep expert and this workbook helps you identify root words and make associations between roots and a variety of words.

The lessons in the book get progressively harder to help you grow. You'll explore 1,400 common SAT, ACT, and GRE vocabulary words through vocabulary activities.

Word Power Made Easy

Originally published in 1949, Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis was revised in 2014 because it is still one of the leading vocabulary books available.

The book assesses your current vocabulary and then advises you on areas where you need to build. It also covers the etymology of words and teaches the reader how to use the root of words to decipher the meaning of new words. Each chapter ends in a quiz, so you can discern how well you are learning.

15 Best Books for Improving and Building Vocabulary
    Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis
    Used under affiliate license

The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White is a classic guide to writing in English. With sections on how to properly use different forms of words, as well as commonly misused words or expressions, it's much more than a grammar and style manual. With this book, you'll go beyond learning new words and start learning how to properly use words by following a set of rules.

Webster's New Explorer Vocabulary Skill Builder

Merriam-Webster, Inc. is the oldest producer of dictionaries in America. Their book, Webster's New Explorer Vocabulary Skill Builder, is designed to teach you about 200 Greek and Latin root words from which the most common English words in use today are derived.

By understanding the root words, you will be able to understand the meaning of new words you come across. The book is organized into units that examine a root. There are quizzes after every two roots and periodic tests that cover the last seven to eight roots.


Narrative Books to Expand Your Vocabulary

A good list of books to expand your vocabulary should contain novels and stories that will enhance your vocabulary, plus books about how the English language is constructed. This way, you'll encounter new words all the time and understand how words are related.

The Meaning of Everything

Have fun learning about how the biggest vocabulary resources, dictionaries, were created and about the people who created them in The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Through narrative stories, you'll learn all about word etymology and some secrets about words that didn't make it into the dictionary.

Word By Word

After working at Merriam-Webster, lexicographer Kory Stamper shared her insider information about how dictionaries are created in Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. While this is a story about what's wrong and what's right in creating dictionaries and analyzing vocabulary, it also explores word etymology and pronunciation to help you build your vocabulary.


The Harry Potter Series

J.K. Rowling's immensely popular Harry Potter books aren't just fun for kids to read, they are also novels that can actually help improve your vocabulary. One of the great things about the language Rowling uses is that the names of spells, people, and places often stem from Latin roots and describe the very thing they're meant to name. The associations to Latin roots can help you better understand the meaning of other similar words.


Renowned author James Joyce uses about 30,000 unique words in Ulysses. This use of so many different words throughout the book is what can help expand your vocabulary by simply reading one novel.

Vitalize Your Vocabulary

Most books today are available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and ebook formats so you can choose the ones that match your personal learning style. Once you've completed this list, increase your reading, writing, and speaking skills even more with recommended grammar books to improve your mastery of the English language.