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Subject-specific vocabularyTechnical stuff

In addition to general words and academic words, you will also need to learn subject-specific or 'technical' vocabulary. This page explains what subject-specific vocabulary is.

What is subject-specific vocabulary?

Each subject has words which are either used specifically in that subject area (and not in general English), or common words which are used with special meaning in that subject area. Such words are known as technical, domain-specific or subject-specific words. The following are two examples of non-general words used in the subject area of genetics:

  • haploid: an organism or cell having only one complete set of chromosomes;
  • diploid: an organism or cell having two sets of chromosomes or twice the haploid number.

Words such as these can be difficult even for native speakers to learn, though native speakers may have some advantage in being able to recognise prefixes, suffixes or roots which give the word meaning, e.g. 'di-' in diploid, meaning 'two'.

The second type of subject-specific vocabulary, i.e. common words used with special meaning, are similar to the type of academic vocabulary in which general words have a special meaning in academic contexts. In this case, though, such words take on a special meaning according to the subject they are being used in, as shown in the following examples.


  • general:  a group of students who are taught together
  • biology:  taxonomic group containing one or more orders


  • general:  a social unit living together
  • biology:  a taxonomic group containing one or more genera, e.g. 'sharks belong to the fish family'


  • general:  the state of cohering or sticking together
  • botany:  the process in some plants of parts growing together that are usually separate (e.g. petals)
  • physics:  the intermolecular force that holds together the molecules in a solid or liquid
  • language:  how parts of a text are connected together (see the writing section on cohension for more details)

You can see these and other examples of subject-specific words in the section on subject-specific lists.

Next section

Check out some subject-specific lists for certain subjects in the next section.

Previous section

Read the previous section about the GSL (General Service List).


Sheldon Smith

Author: Sheldon Smith    ‖    Last modified: 13 September 2019.

Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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