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Is Vocabulary an Indicator of Intelligence?

December 27, 2020 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Is Vocabulary an Indicator of Intelligence?

Generally speaking, yes.

But at the same time, no, not really.

It’s a good indicator of education. Which of course, goes hand in hand with intelligence.

Intelligent people tend to read more.

And people who read more are naturally going to know more words… and be more intelligent because they learn more from reading.

Make sense?

The thing is tough, when it comes to speaking or writing, what’s important is how succinctly and clearly you express yourself.

A big mistake a lot of people make–native speakers included–is thinking that big, clever-sounding words are intrinsically more intelligent sounding. They’re not. And a sure-fire way to make yourself look pretty silly is by using them where it isn’t appropriate. Or worse, in an incorrect way.

Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of Princeton researched this and found the most intelligent sounding essays were ones that used simple vocabulary. It showed confidence and made the good ideas stand out.

The people who tried to use clever words in order to make their work sound more intelligent, on the other hand, just confused their reader. And often, it seemed like these people were actually trying to hide the fact they had nothing interesting (or intelligent) to say.

So yes and no…

While it is true intelligent people do tend to have better vocabularies…

… correlation doesn’t equal causation.

What matters is how effectively you use the words, phrases and expressions you know.

And that’s what we focus on in MEFA:


Dr Julian Northbrook

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