What makes a word "difficult" in English? And how do you use difficult words?
What makes certain words difficult? It seems simple: words we often see in books, advertisements or online tend to be learned earlier and quicker. As a result, we find them easier than words that we rarely come across. So, if you see or hear a word often, you are likely to develop a sense of what it means; if you never see it, you are not likely to know its meaning.
Take, for example, words like "contact tracing," "super-spreader," or "self-isolating." We didn't hear them very frequently before Covid-19. We've become so familiar with them that they are no longer difficult: we see these words a lot, and we know what they mean. Now, compare those Covid-19 words with words like "verisimilitude" or "consanguineous." Do you know what they mean? They don't appear in the news, online blogs or articles very often, so you're probably not very familiar with them.
How often we see or read words does not only determine how difficult they are. Our friends at Merriam-Webster (the dictionary) have a list of long and hard words to spell, making them difficult as well. Another article tells us that our own intention to remember a word, how useful that word is to us, or the context can also determine its difficulty.
Further down this article, we've explained some fabulous words Moira Rose uses in the popular TV series, Schitt's Creek. Complicated English words, like "confabulate," will give you difficult synonyms for words you may already know.
So, let's have a look at some difficult words in English. Perhaps you can start using them more frequently in your day-to-day life!
List of 50 difficult words in English (and synonyms or meaning)
|Difficult word in English||Synonym or Meaning|
|Anachronism||Something inappropriate for the given time period|
|Arrant||Complete and wholly|
|Artless||Without cunning or deceit|
|Asperity||Harsh in manner|
|Belie||To give a false representation to; misrepresent|
|Byzantine||Complex and intricate|
|Cajole||Persuade by flattery or coaxing|
|Conciliate||To make peace with|
|Connecticutian||A native or resident of Connecticut|
|Consanguineous||Of the same blood or origin (descended from the same ancestor)|
|Demagogue||A political leader who uses rhetoric to appeal to prejudices and desires of ordinary citizens|
|Diatribe||A verbal attack against a person|
|Embourgeoisement||A shift to bourgeois values and practices|
|Equivocate||To speak vaguely, with the intention of misleading someone|
|Fatuous||Devoid of intelligence|
|Gaffe||A socially awkward act|
|Garrulous||Talking too much|
|Hoi Polloi||The common people generally|
|Iconoclast||Someone who criticizes or attacks cherished ideas and beliefs|
|Impedimenta||Things that impede|
|Inchoate||Only partly in existence; imperfectly formed|
|Indefatigable||Showing sustained enthusiastic action with unflagging vitality|
|Jackasseries||The actions of a jackass|
|Martinet||Someone who demands exact conformity to rules and forms|
|Myrmecophilous||Fond of ants|
|Nonplussed||Filled with bewilderment|
|Omphaloskepsis||A lack of will to move, exert, or change|
|Panache||Distinctive and stylish elegance|
|Pillory||Ridicule or expose to public scorn|
|Polyphiloprogenitive||Extremely prolific; tending to produce offspring, or characterized by love of offspring|
|Psychotomimetic||Psychotic alteration of behavior and personality|
|Quattuordecillion||A number equal to 1 followed by 45 zeros|
|Surreptitious||Taking pains not to be caught or detected|
|Sybarite||A person who indulges in luxury|
|Tergiversation||Evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement|
|Trichotillomania||An abnormal desire to pull out one's hair|
|Truculent||Have a fierce, savage nature|
|Uncanny||Surpassing the ordinary or normal|
|Vicissitude||An unwelcome or unpleasant change in circumstances or fortune|
|Xenotransplantation||Transplantation of an organ between two different species|
Using difficult English words in a sentence
When you've read through the list of difficult or challenging English words, you may find some that you've heard before. Sometimes, you may even know the meaning of that difficult word, too. Yet, other words are less well-known. So, how do you use these words in a sentence?
Let’s start with a strange one: Pillory. A pillory (as a noun) was used to shame criminals publicly. It is a wooden frame with holes for the head and hands. During the Middle Ages in Europe, criminals were sometimes locked in a pillory as punishment. Pillory is now also used as a verb to describe any process that leads to public humiliation.
"The artist was pilloried for creating a controversial sculpture."
Truculent derives from truculentus, a form of the Latin adjective trux, meaning "savage." In English, it's been used since the 16th century to describe people or things that are cruel and ferocious, such as tyrannical leaders. In modern-day, we also use this word to describe speech or writing that is harsh or a person who is very sure of themselves. For example, if you are quick to argue, always looking for a fight, and hard to please, you are truculent.
"America cannot afford a truculent child president," said by John Kerry when he spoke about Donald Trump.
Last, but not least, a very difficult word to pronounce, write, and probably remember. Pulchritudinous also originates in Latin (interesting fact: Over 60% of all English words have Greek or Latin roots!). Pulchritude is a descendant of the Latin adjective pulcher, which means "beautiful." Therefore, in English, pulchritudinous, as an adjective, means "physically attractive" or "beautiful."
"Jack loves to stand in front of his mirror, staring at his pulchritudinous face."
Difficult words from Moira Rose on the TV series Schitt's Creek
Check out these difficult words from Moira Rose's on Schitt's Creek
Those who've watched the TV show Schitt's Creek, are undoubtedly aware of Moira Rose's (Catherine O'Hara) extensive and unique vocabulary. Words like "balatron," "dewdropper," "frippet," "callipygian," "bedevil," "confabulate," "spanandry," "bombilate," and "pettifogging" (all real English words!) are used by Moira Rose are might seem difficult and confusing because we don't hear them enough.
Here’s a guide to the Moira Rose terminology on Schitt’s Creek.
|Moira Rose's Difficult Word||Synonym or Meaning|
|Balatron||A buffoon; one who speaks a lot of nonsense and is characterized by self-indulgence|
|Bedevil||Cause great and continual trouble to something|
|Blouson||A garment (such as a dress) having a close waistband with blousing of material over it|
|Bolus||A pill or drug|
|Chanteuse||A woman who is an accomplished nightclub singer|
|Chin-wag||To have a friendly conversation|
|Churlish||Lacking civility or graciousness|
|Confabulate||To hold an informal discussion|
|Encumber||To weigh down or burden|
|Epistle||A formal or elegant letter|
|Frippet||A frivolous or showy young woman|
|Inamorata||A woman with whom one is in love or has intimate relations|
|Irksome||Annoying or tedious|
|Juvenescence||The state of being youthful|
|Mise en scène||The setting or surroundings|
|Oxidise||To dehydrogenate especially by the action of oxygen|
|Pablum||Bland, intellectual sustenance|
|Peccadillos||A slight offence|
|Pettifogging||Arguing over trivial things|
|Prestidigitator||A sleight-of-hand artist|
|Sephardic||Jewish or of Jewish descent|
|Spanandry||The extreme scarcity of males|
|Spittoon||A receptacle for spit|
|Peregrination||A long and meandering journey|
Can I use difficult English words in the IELTS Writing and Speaking test?
The IELTS Speaking test is supposed to represent a regular conversation between two people. So, you should probably avoid very formal language, which may include difficult words. For example, you don’t usually say “furthermore” or “moreover” in everyday conversations. Similarly, you would probably not use "consanguineous" to describe your relatives in a discussion with your friends or colleagues. However, you also don’t want to use overly informal language, such as slang.
For IELTS Writing, according to the marking criteria, if you use a wide range of vocabulary with very natural and sophisticated control, you're on your way to achieving a Band 9. So, you could use difficult English words you learnt in this article in your IELTS Writing test. But be careful: you have to use these words correctly and in the right context. For example, describing a fashion model as pulchritudinous would be great. But, writing about a Ferrari as a pulchritudinous car, would probably raise some eyebrows.
You can get a high IELTS band score if you show the ability to use sophisticated, challenging, and difficult English words, or if you use idiomatic expressions appropriately. But perhaps stick with words you are familiar with or common idiomatic expressions that are well-known. We’ve provided some helpful lists with our Idioms A-Z: Explained.