Active vs Passive Vocabulary: Difference and Comparison

Vocabulary is important for learning a language. For understanding a language or speaking, there is a need of knowing vocabulary. Apart from that, one native has a vast vocabulary, so understanding different words help learners.

However, there are different types of vocabulary, such as active and passive vocabulary. Most people are aware of the active vocabulary as it is mostly used while speaking, although people are not much aware of the passive vocabulary. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Active vocabulary consists of words that an individual can confidently use in speaking and writing, while passive vocabulary includes words that can be recognized and understood but not actively used.
  2. Active vocabulary is more limited than passive vocabulary, requiring more familiarity and mastery.
  3. Expanding active vocabulary requires practice and application, while passive vocabulary can be developed through exposure and comprehension.

Active vs Passive Vocabulary

Active vocabulary is important for effective communication, as it allows a person to express their ideas and thoughts clearly and accurately. Passive vocabulary, on the other hand, refers to the words that a person understands but does not actively use in their speech or writing.

Active vs Passive Vocabulary
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Active vocabulary is the words we already understand and use in conversation. The familiarity with these words is most as it is precisely understood by the learner, such as their spelling, pronunciation, and use in a context.

Moreover, these words are mostly used in conversation. And the range of words is very smaller than the passive vocabulary. 

Passive vocabulary is the words known while reading and writing, but are not used in conversation. Aside from that, it has less familiarity than active vocabulary due to the imprecise understanding of these words.

Therefore, these words are not used in communication. And the range of words is larger than the active vocabulary. 

Comparison Table

Parameters of comparison Active Vocabulary Passive Vocabulary
Definition Active vocabulary is the vocabulary we already understand and use in conversation.Passive vocabulary is the words we know while reading and writing, but don’t use in the conversation. 
Use in conversationActive vocabulary is used in conversation.Passive vocabulary is not. 
Range In active vocabulary, the range of words is very smaller than the passive vocabulary. The range of words is very larger than the active vocabulary in passive vocabulary.
Precision of words spelling, pronunciation, and use in the contextIn active vocabulary, the words are precisely understood, such as their spelling, pronunciation, and use in respect to the context. There’s familiarity with the words, but are not precisely understood. 
Grammatical accuracyActive vocabulary is used with more grammatical accuracy.Passive vocabulary is not. 

What is Active Vocabulary?

Learning a language can be hard, yet focussing on reading, writing and speaking makes the process faster.

Picking up vocabulary while reading, and writing is quite the easiest way to grow knowledge.

But, there are types of vocabulary, active vocabulary and passive vocabulary. 

Active vocabulary is a type of vocabulary, that deals with words used in conversation. One precisely knows that words as such are familiar with their meaning, pronunciation, and use in the context.

Additionally, it is much smaller than passive vocabulary. 

To increase active vocabulary, one must use new words as much as possible in the conversation. The active vocabulary needs usage to build up large active vocabulary.

As the active vocabulary is used confidently due to the precise understanding of the word. 

Moreover, if the words are used in the right context along with correct pronunciation and grammar. It automatically transfers to active vocabulary. And the spontaneous use of these words ensures it comes under active vocabulary. 

Furthermore, natives have more extensive active vocabulary than a learner as they are used to speaking that language from a very young age.

Even the advanced learner doesn’t have such extensive active vocabulary, although they may have larger active vocabulary than a beginner learner. 

What is Passive Vocabulary?

Passive vocabulary is also a type of vocabulary, that deals with familiar words, but it is not used in conversation.

These words are not confidently used in the conversation as it’s not precisely understood by the learner, such as their spelling, pronunciation, and use in the context. 

To increase passive vocabulary, one must read and listen to the language as much as possible. With continuous familiarity, it builds up passive vocabulary.

Additionally, the passive vocabulary lets learners understand the language to an extent. But, it doesn’t help in communication. So, it has pros and cons. 

Moreover, passive vocabulary is good for understanding a language. Having an extensive passive vocabulary is not a bad thing, but surely, it wouldn’t help in speaking the language of course.

The learners have extensive passive vocabulary as compared to active vocabulary. However, it changes all the time for a learner as exposure is quite impactful for a learner. 

Furthermore, natives have a small passive vocabulary than a learner as they are used to speaking a lot of words from a very young age.

Even the advanced learner does have a passive vocabulary, although they may have a smaller passive vocabulary than a beginner learner. But, it changes for every learner due to the exposure to the language. 

Main Differences Between Active and Passive Vocabulary

Reading, listening, and speaking all are necessary for learning a language. Additionally, building a strong vocabulary helps a lot. Besides, there are types of vocabulary, active and passive vocabulary. Some words are precisely understood and some are not. This results in a distinction of vocabulary. Although using every possible word, learning new words builds up vocabulary and helps in understanding conversation much better.  

  1. Active vocabulary is the vocabulary we already understand and use in conversation, while passive vocabulary is the words we know while reading and writing, but don’t use in the conversation. 
  2. Active vocabulary is used in conversation, while passive vocabulary is not. 
  3. In active vocabulary, the range of words is very smaller than the passive vocabulary. Meanwhile, the range of words is very larger than the active vocabulary in passive vocabulary. 
  4. In active vocabulary, the words are precisely understood, such as their spelling, pronunciation, and use in respect to the context. Meanwhile, there’s familiarity with the words, but are not precisely understood. 
  5. Active vocabulary is used with more grammatical accuracy, while passive vocabulary is not. 

References 

  1. https://academic.oup.com/applij/article-abstract/19/2/255/316323
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0023-8333.00046

Last Updated : 24 July, 2023

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