Vocabulary: Word families (FCE/CAE/CPE tips)

Building your vocabulary (FCE/CAE/CPE): Word families
Intermediate to advanced (B1-C2)

Why learn one word when you can learn more? Building your vocabulary is essential for many English exams e.g. Cambridge First, Advanced and Proficiency and helps you make more sense of English.

Let’s look at some examples:

Take the word ‘identity‘ as in ‘identity card’ (ID card) or ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘proof of identity’. ‘Identity’ is a noun so how many related words can you think of?

Noun: identification
e.g. Do you have any means of identification?

Verb: identify
e.g. The police tried to identify the body

Adjective: identifiable, identicalidentified, unidentified (as in unidentified flying object – UFO)
We promise not to collect any identifiable information.
I have an identical twin

Adverb: identifiably
e.g. His accent was identifiably Scottish

Some of these related words will be much more common than others but at a higher level you need to be more aware of ‘word families’

Let’s take another – the word ‘awe

Noun: awe, awfulness
The sound filled me with awe
I will never forget his awfulness

Verb: awe
e.g. She awed me with the tone of her voive

Adjective: awful, awesome, awestruck
It was an awful play (negative)
It was an awesome performance (positive)
She was awestruck
Adverb: awfully
He played awfully (badly)
She is awfully clever (very clever)

As you can see, word families can be quite large and you’ll sometimes find that one spelling of a word can be for example a noun and a verb (‘awe’).

Most word families are made by changing the beginning and ending of the words. At the beginning, prefixes are often used e.g. un-, in-, im-, il-, a-, anti-, dis-, mis-, trans-, pre-, under-. At the end, nouns often end in: -ian, -ment, -tion, -sion, -ity, -ism, -ness, -ence, -ance, -age.

When you see a new word, try to guess if it is part of a word family.

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