Formal English Vocabulary

This post is a follow-up to CPE Vocabulary and 15 Big Words Worth Knowing, and it is going to be devoted to formal English vocabulary, which is always found on tests like CAE and CPE, as well as in journals and works of literature. All the vocabulary is taken from CPE (C2 Proficiency) practice tests. The original context, the key word definition and examples are given.

# 1

It is scarcely unfair to say that it has been only over the past ten or fifteen years that many companies seem to have put the idea intentionally, rather than fortuitously, into practice.

Fortuitous /fɔː(r)ˈtjuːɪtəs/ is a formal word which means happening by chance, especially in a way that is lucky or convenient: 1. The timing of her departure was entirely fortuitous. 2. This is a fortuitous turn for both of us. 3. That’s really quite fortuitous.

# 2

There are increasingly onerous legal restrictions on advertising.

Onerous /ˈəʊnərəs/ is a formal adjective which is used to describe something that you dislike or worry about because it is very difficult to deal with: 1. The job is onerous. 2. I hate these onerous responsibilities. 3. We wish him well in undertaking his onerous responsibilities.

# 3

Some of these are a direct consequence of the recession discussed earlier: the controversy over production costs, and the disinclination to take the sort of risks that are ironically often the essence of good advertising.

Disinclination is the feeling of being unwilling to do something: 1. His disinclination to discuss the topic is hard to explain. 2. She felt a strong disinclination to talk about her plans. 3. I have a strong disinclination to do any work.

# 4

The belief that our planet was just 6,000 years old was fatally undermined by the geologists who were revealing the great antiquity of our world.

Antiquity is the state of being extremely old: 1. It indicates the antiquity of the tradition. 2. This is a town of great antiquity. 3. Don’t break this vase! It’s of great antiquity.

# 5 

All very well, in the past, to contemplate with equanimity the prospect of Joan returning to work one day, but to accept that the day was almost here… No, he didn’t like it at all.

Equanimity is a calm state of mind and attitude to life, so that you never lose your temper or become upset: 1. His sense of humor allowed him to face adversaries with equanimity. 2. The defeat was taken with equanimity by the leadership. 3. He seemed to be facing the future with equanimity.

# 6 

What drives moderately intelligent persons to put themselves up for acceptance or disparagement?

Disparagement /dɪˈspærɪdʒməntis the act of speaking about someone or something in a way which shows that you do not have a good opinion of them: 1. Reviewers have been almost unanimous in their disparagement of this book. 2. (to disparage – verb) The actor’s work for charity has recently been disparaged in the press as an attempt to get publicity. 3. Voters don’t like political advertisements in which opponents disparage one another.

# 7 

To a man or woman, are they generally parsimonious, vulgar, shallow, arrogant, introspective, hysterically insecure, smug, autocratic, amoral, and selfish?

Someone who is parsimonious /ˌpɑː(r)sɪˈməʊniəsis very unwilling to spend money: 1. Laura was not mean but she was parsimonious. 2. She’s too parsimonious to heat the house properly. 3. I think that politicians are often parsimonious with the truth.

# 8 

The mere idea of standing up in front of an audience and demanding attention is abhorrent.

If something is abhorrent /əbˈhɒrəntto you, you dislike it very much, usually because you think it is immoral: 1. Racism is abhorrent to the majority of people. 2. There are many people who still find the act of abortion abhorrent. 3. These claims, while not uncommon, will be abhorrent to some.

# 9

Abiding quietly in this stratum of society, somewhere well below public attention level, there is humor, yes, since humor can endure in the least favorable circumstances.

A stratum (plural – strata) of society is a group of people in it who are similar in their education, income, or social status: 1. It was an enormous task that affected every stratum of society. 2. The rebels came overwhelmingly from the poorest strata of rural society. 3. The report shows that drugs have penetrated every stratum of American society.

# 10

Just as there may be a certain sterility in the self-effacement of a humble life, so it seems feasible that the selection process of what is funny is emasculated before it even commences.

Someone who is self-effacing /ˌself ɪˈfeɪsɪŋdoes not like talking about themselves or drawing attention to themselves. Self-effacement is the noun: 1. The captain was typically self-effacing when questioned about the team’s successes, giving credit to the other players. 2. In fact, he was very quiet and self-effacing. 3. He was a quiet and self-effacing person who took joy in the success of others.

To emasculate something means to reduce the power or effectiveness of something: 1. The company tried to emasculate the unions. 2. The local media are emasculated by censorship. 3. They were accused of trying to emasculate the report’s recommendations.

To commence /kəˈmensis to begin: 1. The lawyers are preparing for the trial, which commences in 30 days. 2. The academic year commences at the beginning of September. 3. They commenced a systematic search.

Do you need to use not only formal vocabulary but also formal grammar? Check out our post on formal English grammar and learn useful constructions which will make your speech and writing as formal as they should or must be.

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