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What makes a word "difficult" in English? And how do you use difficult words?

What makes certain words difficult? It seems simple: words we often see in books, advertisements or online tend to be learned earlier and quicker. As a result, we find them easier than words that we rarely come across. So, if you see or hear a word often, you are likely to develop a sense of what it means; if you never see it, you are not likely to know its meaning.

Take, for example, words like "contact tracing," "super-spreader," or "self-isolating." We didn't hear them very frequently before Covid-19. We've become so familiar with them that they are no longer difficult: we see these words a lot, and we know what they mean. Now, compare those Covid-19 words with words like "verisimilitude" or "consanguineous." Do you know what they mean? They don't appear in the news, online blogs or articles very often, so you're probably not very familiar with them.

How often we see or read words does not only determine how difficult they are. Our friends at Merriam-Websterexternal icon (the dictionary) have a list of long and hard words to spell, making them difficult as well. Another articleexternal icon tells us that our own intention to remember a word, how useful that word is to us, or the context can also determine its difficulty.

Further down this article, we've explained some fabulous words Moira Rose uses in the popular TV series, Schitt's Creekexternal icon. Complicated English words, like "confabulate," will give you difficult synonyms for words you may already know.

So, let's have a look at some difficult words in English. Perhaps you can start using them more frequently in your day-to-day life!

List of 50 difficult words in English (and synonyms or meaning)

Difficult word in EnglishSynonym or Meaning
AbrogateTo revoke
AnachronismSomething inappropriate for the given time period
ArrantComplete and wholly
ArtlessWithout cunning or deceit
AsperityHarsh in manner
BelieTo give a false representation to; misrepresent
ByzantineComplex and intricate
CajolePersuade by flattery or coaxing
ConciliateTo make peace with
ConnecticutianA native or resident of Connecticut
ConsanguineousOf the same blood or origin (descended from the same ancestor)
DemagogueA political leader who uses rhetoric to appeal to prejudices and desires of ordinary citizens
DiatribeA verbal attack against a person
DilatoryWasting time
EmbourgeoisementA shift to bourgeois values and practices
EquivocateTo speak vaguely, with the intention of misleading someone
FatuousDevoid of intelligence
GaffeA socially awkward act
GarrulousTalking too much
Hoi PolloiThe common people generally
HubrisOverbearing pride
IconoclastSomeone who criticizes or attacks cherished ideas and beliefs
ImpedimentaThings that impede
InchoateOnly partly in existence; imperfectly formed
IndefatigableShowing sustained enthusiastic action with unflagging vitality
InvectiveAbusive language
JackasseriesThe actions of a jackass
MartinetSomeone who demands exact conformity to rules and forms
MyrmecophilousFond of ants
NonplussedFilled with bewilderment
OmphaloskepsisA lack of will to move, exert, or change
PanacheDistinctive and stylish elegance
PilloryRidicule or expose to public scorn
PolyphiloprogenitiveExtremely prolific; tending to produce offspring, or characterized by love of offspring
PsychotomimeticPsychotic alteration of behavior and personality
PulchritudinousPhysically beautiful
QuattuordecillionA number equal to 1 followed by 45 zeros
QuislingA traitor
SurreptitiousTaking pains not to be caught or detected
SybariteA person who indulges in luxury
TergiversationEvasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement
TrichotillomaniaAn abnormal desire to pull out one's hair
TruculentHave a fierce, savage nature
UnabashedNot embarrassed
UncannySurpassing the ordinary or normal
VicissitudeAn unwelcome or unpleasant change in circumstances or fortune
XenotransplantationTransplantation of an organ between two different species

Using difficult English words in a sentence

When you've read through the list of difficult or challenging English words, you may find some that you've heard before. Sometimes, you may even know the meaning of that difficult word, too. Yet, other words are less well-known. So, how do you use these words in a sentence? 


Let’s start with a strange one: Pillory. A pilloryexternal icon (as a noun) was used to shame criminals publicly. It is a wooden frame with holes for the head and hands. During the Middle Ages in Europe, criminals were sometimes locked in a pillory as punishment. Pillory is now also used as a verb to describe any process that leads to public humiliation. 

"The artist was pilloried for creating a controversial sculpture."


Truculent derives from truculentus, a form of the Latin adjective trux, meaning "savage." In English, it's been used since the 16th century to describe people or things that are cruel and ferocious, such as tyrannical leaders. In modern-day, we also use this word to describe speech or writing that is harsh or a person who is very sure of themselves. For example, if you are quick to argue, always looking for a fight, and hard to please, you are truculent.

"America cannot afford a truculent child president," said by John Kerry when he spoke about Donald Trump.


Last, but not least, a very difficult word to pronounce, write, and probably remember. Pulchritudinous also originates in Latin (interesting factexternal icon: Over 60% of all English words have Greek or Latin roots!). Pulchritude is a descendant of the Latin adjective pulcher, which means "beautiful." Therefore, in English, pulchritudinous, as an adjective, means "physically attractive" or "beautiful."

"Jack loves to stand in front of his mirror, staring at his pulchritudinous face."

Difficult words from Moira Rose on the TV series Schitt's Creek


Check out these difficult words from Moira Rose's on Schitt's Creek

Those who've watched the TV show Schitt's Creek, are undoubtedly aware of Moira Rose's (Catherine O'Hara) extensive and unique vocabulary. Words like "balatron," "dewdropper," "frippet," "callipygian," "bedevil," "confabulate," "spanandry," "bombilate," and "pettifogging" (all real English words!) are used by Moira Rose are might seem difficult and confusing because we don't hear them enough.

Here’s a guide to the Moira Rose terminology on Schitt’s Creek.

Moira Rose's Difficult WordSynonym or Meaning
BalatronA buffoon; one who speaks a lot of nonsense and is characterized by self-indulgence
BedevilCause great and continual trouble to something
BlousonA garment (such as a dress) having a close waistband with blousing of material over it
BolusA pill or drug
CallipygianShapely buttocks
ChanteuseA woman who is an accomplished nightclub singer
Chin-wagTo have a friendly conversation
ChurlishLacking civility or graciousness
ConfabulateTo hold an informal discussion
DewdropperA slacker
EncumberTo weigh down or burden
EpistleA formal or elegant letter
FrippetA frivolous or showy young woman
InamorataA woman with whom one is in love or has intimate relations
IrksomeAnnoying or tedious
JuvenescenceThe state of being youthful
Mise en scèneThe setting or surroundings
OxidiseTo dehydrogenate especially by the action of oxygen
PablumBland, intellectual sustenance
PeccadillosA slight offence
PettifoggingArguing over trivial things
PrestidigitatorA sleight-of-hand artist
SephardicJewish or of Jewish descent
SpanandryThe extreme scarcity of males
SpittoonA receptacle for spit
PeregrinationA long and meandering journey

Can I use difficult English words in the IELTS Writing and Speaking test?

The IELTS Speaking test is supposed to represent a regular conversation between two people. So, you should probably avoid very formal language, which may include difficult words. For example, you don’t usually say “furthermore” or “moreover” in everyday conversations. Similarly, you would probably not use "consanguineous" to describe your relatives in a discussion with your friends or colleagues. However, you also don’t want to use overly informal language, such as slang.  

For IELTS Writing, according to the marking criteria, if you use a wide range of vocabulary with very natural and sophisticated control, you're on your way to achieving a Band 9. So, you could use difficult English words you learnt in this article in your IELTS Writing test. But be careful: you have to use these words correctly and in the right context. For example, describing a fashion model as pulchritudinous would be great. But, writing about a Ferrari as a pulchritudinous car, would probably raise some eyebrows.

You can get a high IELTS band score if you show the ability to use sophisticated, challenging, and difficult English words, or if you use idiomatic expressions appropriately. But perhaps stick with words you are familiar with or common idiomatic expressions that are well-known. We’ve provided some helpful lists with our Idioms A-Z: Explained.