Words don’t just have meanings. They also carry feelings. Sometimes they are positive. Sometimes they are negative. When you learn a new vocabulary word in English, you need to be aware of the feelings that the word brings with it.
Let’s look at some words to see how this works.
For example, when you want to describe a car, you can say: It’s an antique. It’s a wreck.
Antique is a positive term. It tells you something is old, but that it has value because it is old. An antique car might be worth a lot and bring its owner status.
In contrast, wreck is a negative term. It tells you that something is too worn out or broken to use. If your car is a wreck, you need to get rid of it.
Similarly, you can say of a person: He is proud, or he is arrogant.
Proud is a positive term. When we reach a goal, we feel proud. This man is proud of himself for graduating from university.
Arrogant is a negative term. People who think they are better than others are arrogant. This man loves himself too much and lets others know it.
We call children curious. They are always trying to learn new things and figure out their world. This is a good quality to have. Curious is a positive adjective.
Sometimes, however, people are too curious. They cross the line. They want to pry into our private business. We call them nosy. This adjective is negative.
How can a non-native speaker know what emotions a new word brings with it? First, she can look at the context. Is the sentence or paragraph talking about a good or a bad situation? Second, she can ask a native speaker. Third, she can use a dictionary or thesaurus which often say whether a word is positive or negative.
Let’s practice: Look at the context to try to guess if the orange word is positive or negative. The answers are below
All of these words have to do with saying something nice to someone else. Which words are positive, which are negative?
- She complimented her boss’ suit. Her boss always dressed so stylishly. She wanted to know where her boss got her fashion ideas. She often praised her outfits.
- She flattered her boss, telling her how nice her suit looked. She didn’t really like the suit, but she hoped that by sucking up to her boss in this way, her boss would give her a raise soon.
These words mean not fat. Which is positive, which is negative?
- The scrawny dog dug through the trash to find something to eat. It was so gaunt that it looked as if it were starving.
- The slender dancer moved gracefully about the stage. Her willowy form complemented the music.
Do you want to learn more about the “feelings” of English words? PELA suggests these blog posts: