List English Essay Words

 

When taking the ACT essay section, students have 45 minutes to write a well-reasoned argumentative essay about a given prompt. The new ACT Essay prompts tend to be about “debate” topics — two sides of an issue are presented, with no obviously “right” side. Oftentimes, these subjects carry implications for broader issues such as freedom or morality. Test-takers are expected to convey some stance on the issue and support their argument with relevant facts and analysis.

 

In addition to some of the more obvious categories, like grammar and structure, students’ essays are also evaluated on their mastery of the English language. One way to demonstrate such mastery is through the correct usage of advanced vocabulary words. Below are 50 above-average vocabulary words sorted by the contexts in which they could most easily be worked into an ACT essay.

 

Context 1: Factual Support For ACT Essay

These words can easily be used when stating facts and describing examples to support one’s argument. On ACT essays, common examples are trends or patterns of human behavior, current or past events, and large-scale laws or regulations.

 

  • Antecedent – a precursor, or preceding event for something – N
  • Bastion – an institution/place/person that strongly maintains particular principles, attitudes, or activities – N
  • Bellwether – something that indicates a trend – N
  • Burgeon – to begin to grow or increase rapidly – V
  • Catalyst – an agent that provokes or triggers change – N
  • Defunct – no longer in existence or functioning – Adj.
  • Entrenched – characterized by something that is firmly established and difficult to change – Adj.
  • Foster – to encourage the development of something – V
  • Galvanize – to shock or excite someone into taking action – V
  • Impetus – something that makes a process or activity happen or happen faster – N
  • Inadvertent – accidental or unintentional – Adj.
  • Incessant – never ending; continuing without pause – Adj.
  • Inflame – to provoke or intensify strong feelings in someone – V
  • Instill – to gradually but firmly establish an idea or attitude into a person’s mind – V
  • Lucrative – having a large reward, monetary or otherwise – Adj.
  • Myriad – countless or extremely large in number – Adj.
  • Precipitate – to cause something to happen suddenly or unexpectedly – V
  • Proponent – a person who advocates for something – N
  • Resurgence – an increase or revival after a period of limited activity – N
  • Revitalize – to give something new life and vitality – V
  • Ubiquitous – characterized by being everywhere; widespread – Adj.
  • Watershed – an event or period that marks a turning point – N


Context 2: Analysis

These words can often be used when describing common patterns between examples or casting some form of opinion or judgement.

 

  • Anomaly – deviation from the norm – N
  • Automaton – a mindless follower; someone who acts in a mechanical fashion – N
  • Belie – to fail to give a true impression of something – V
  • Cupidity – excessive greed – Adj.
  • Debacle – a powerful failure; a fiasco – N
  • Demagogue – a political leader or person who looks for support by appealing to prejudices instead of using rational arguments – N
  • Deter – to discourage someone from doing something by making them doubt or fear the consequences – V
  • Discredit – to harm the reputation or respect for someone – V
  • Draconian – characterized by strict laws, rules and punishments – Adj.
  • Duplicitous – deliberately deceitful in speech/behavior – Adj.
  • Egregious – conspicuously bad; extremely evil; monstrous and outrageous – Adj.
  • Exacerbate – to make a situation worse – V
  • Ignominious – deserving or causing public disgrace or shame – Adj.
  • Insidious – proceeding in a subtle way but with harmful effects – Adj.
  • Myopic – short-sighted; not considering the long run – Adj.
  • Pernicious – dangerous and harmful – Adj.
  • Renegade – a person who betrays an organization, country, or set of principles – N
  • Stigmatize – to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or disapproval – V
  • Superfluous – unnecessary – Adj.
  • Venal – corrupt; susceptible to bribery – Adj.
  • Virulent – extremely severe or harmful in its effects – Adj.
  • Zealot – a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals – N

 

Context 3: Thesis and Argument

These words are appropriate for taking a stance on controversial topics, placing greater weight on one or the other end of the spectrum, usually touching on abstract concepts, and/or related to human nature or societal issues.

 

  • Autonomy – independence or self governance; the right to make decisions for oneself – N
  • Conundrum – a difficult problem with no easy solution – N
  • Dichotomy – a division or contrast between two things that are presented as opposites or entirely different – N
  • Disparity – a great difference between things – N
  • Divisive – causing disagreement or hostility between people – Adj.
  • Egalitarian – favoring social equality and equal rights – Adj.

 

Although it’s true that vocabulary is one of the lesser criteria by which students’ ACT essays are graded, the small boost it may give to a student’s score could be the difference between a good score and a great score. For those who are already confident in their ability to create and support a well-reasoned argument but still want to go the extra mile, having a few general-purpose, impressive-sounding vocabulary words up one’s sleeve is a great way to tack on even more points.

 

To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:

 

Angela Yang

Angela is a student at Cornell College of Engineering. At CollegeVine, she works primarily as ACT Verbal Division Manager. She enjoys teaching a variety of subjects and helping students realize their dreams.

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Descriptive language appeals to the reader's five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. When used correctly, descriptive words can help the writer entertain, persuade, inform, and educate. 

List of Descriptive Words

In order to take away the potential of such a list to become overwhelming, let's first break them down by parts of speech.

Adjectives

When people hear the phrase "descriptive words" they tend to think of adjectives. Adjectives modify nouns to describe their specific characteristics. Remember all adjectives are descriptive words, but not all descriptive words are adjectives.

  • Adorable
  • Adventurous
  • Acclaimed
  • Accomplished
  • Acrobatic
  • Brave
  • Bright
  • Brilliant
  • Composed
  • Concerned
  • Concrete
  • Conventional
  • Delirious
  • Demanding
  • Flustered
  • Focused
  • Foolhardy
  • Gregarious
  • Grim
  • Handsome
  • Handy
  • Intelligent
  • Intrepid
  • Joyful
  • Jubilant
  • Keen
  • Kooky
  • Lanky
  • Lazy
  • Limp
  • Luxurious
  • Mediocre
  • Mellow
  • Miserable
  • Nocturnal
  • Organic
  • Ornate
  • Ordinary
  • Powerless
  • Practical
  • Precious
  • Puzzled
  • Questionable
  • Quirky

Adverbs

An adverb is a word or phrase that is used to modify or qualify an adjective, verb, other adverb, or word group. Adverbs can be used to describe concepts such time, place, circumstance, manner, or degree. 

  • Angrily
  • Apathetically
  • Amusingly
  • Assertively
  • Begrudgingly
  • Blissfully
  • Coolly
  • Dutifully
  • Eagerly
  • Faintly
  • Frivolously 
  • Greedily
  • Hastily
  • Intelligently
  • Kindly
  • Lazily
  • Meagerly
  • Methodically
  • Neglectfully
  • Normally
  • Pointlessly
  • Quickly
  • Rapidly
  • Rashly
  • Seriously
  • Tactfully
  • Tragically
  • Vacantly
  • Vividly
  • Weirdly
  • Zealously 

Gerunds

A gerund is a word that is derived from a verb, but functions as a noun. In English, gerunds end in -ing. Gerunds can be descriptive words because are often used to describe the actions of an individual.

  • Baking
  • Biking
  • Cooking
  • Crying
  • Diving
  • Driving
  • Eating
  • Getting
  • Hammering
  • Hiking
  • Joking
  • Jumping
  • Laughing
  • Nailing
  • Making
  • Mixing
  • Painting
  • Preparing
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Swinging
  • Talking
  • Trying
  • Walking
  • Writing

Using Descriptive Words in Your Writing

Descriptive words help paint a picture in the reader's mind. They can:

  • Bring characters to life in a novel or short story
  • Sell an item in a product advertisement
  • Explain the setting of a news story
  • Provide instructions for a DIY project

Words Describing People

Descriptive words can be used to describe physical appearance as well as personality traits. Some words carry positive connotations, while others show the subject in a more unflattering light. 

  • Agreeable
  • Ambitious
  • Amusing
  • Analytical
  • Artistic
  • Assertive
  • Boisterous
  • Brilliant
  • Buff
  • Cantankerous
  • Comical
  • Charming
  • Childish
  • Cheerful
  • Competent
  • Conceited
  • Conscientious
  • Cooperative
  • Crabby
  • Cranky
  • Demure
  • Dependable
  • Depressed
  • Dramatic
  • Exacting
  • Ferocious
  • Generous
  • Helpful
  • Hesitant
  • Meticulous
  • Modest
  • Outspoken
  • Passionate
  • Picky
  • Playful
  • Quiet
  • Quirky
  • Reliable
  • Religious
  • Short
  • Superficial
  • Surly
  • Sweet
  • Timid
  • Tired
  • Thin
  • Ugly
  • Unbalanced
  • Wary
  • Weak

Words Describing Things

Words to describe things can refer to size, color, shape, condition, or function. Some of these descriptive words can also be used to describe people. 

  • Bent
  • Bitter
  • Broken
  • Bruised
  • Cold
  • Complex
  • Complicated
  • Crunchy
  • Dependable
  • Elaborate
  • Elegant
  • Flowery
  • Icy
  • Giant
  • Grimy
  • Grotesque
  • Huge
  • Milky
  • Moist
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Spicey
  • Steamy
  • Sweet
  • Tiny
  • Warm
  • Welcoming

Colors

The basic shades found in a child's box of crayons are just the beginning when it comes to describing colors. 

  • Amber
  • Amethyst
  • Apricot
  • Aqua
  • Beige
  • Black
  • Blue  
  • Brass
  • Bronze
  • Brown  
  • Burgundy
  • Cardinal
  • Cerulean
  • Champagne
  • Charcoal
  • Chocolate
  • Cinnamon
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Coral
  • Crimson
  • Emerald
  • Eggplant
  • Flax
  • Fuchsia  
  • Gold
  • Green
  • Grey  
  • Indigo
  • Ivory
  • Jade
  • Khaki
  • Lavender  
  • Lemon
  • Lilac
  • Linen
  • Magenta  
  • Maroon
  • Mauve
  • Mustard
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Periwinkle
  • Persimmon
  • Pink
  • Platinum
  • Plum
  • Pumpkin
  • Purple  
  • Red  
  • Rose
  • Ruby
  • Russet
  • Rust
  • Sapphire
  • Scarlet
  • Seashell
  • Sepia  
  • Silver
  • Tan
  • Tangerine
  • Taupe
  • Teal
  • Thistle
  • Turquoise
  • Ultramarine  
  • Vermilion
  • Violet
  • White
  • Wisteria
  • Yellow

Shapes

Knowing the names for the most common shapes can help you more accurately describe objects in your writing. 

  • Circle 
  • Cone
  • Crescent
  • Cube
  • Cylinder
  • Decagon
  • Heptagon
  • Hexagon
  • Globe
  • Octagon
  • Oval
  • Parallelogram
  • Pentagon
  • Pentagram
  • Prism
  • Rectangle
  • Rhombus
  • Sexagon
  • Sphere
  • Star
  • Square
  • Triangle

Weather

Instead of simply stating the temperature, help the reader imagine the setting by choosing descriptive words for the weather.

  • Brisk
  • Breezy
  • Chilly
  • Cloudy
  • Cold
  • Cool
  • Drizzling
  • Freezing
  • Hot
  • Humid
  • Mild
  • Pouring
  • Raining
  • Snowing
  • Sprinkling
  • Steamy
  • Sunny
  • Warm
  • Windy

When it comes to using descriptive words, variety is key. Instead of resorting to the same overused words, challenge yourself to come up with new ways to appeal to your reader's senses. Effective use of descriptive words will paint a vivid picture in your reader's mind and make your manuscript impossible to put down.

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