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Smart Sounding Words To Use In An Essay

1. Ennui

Definition: A feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.

Synonym: You are like completely over it.

Said Like: änˈwē

Used Like: That date I went on last night was so bad that towards the end I was in a complete state of ennui lol.

2. Elucidate

Definition: to make (something) clear; explain.

Synonym: Wait what?

Said Like: iˈlo͞osiˌdāt

Used Like: He was all, “I need more space” so I asked him to elucidate because we live 400 miles apart. Am confused.

3. Obfuscate

Definition: render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Something you do when you don’t want to spill all your tea.

Synonym: A passcode on your iPhone so your boy/girlfriend can’t read your text messages.

Said Like: ˈäbfəˌskāt

Used Like: Wait, so how was the sex!! I’m going to need you to stop obfuscating the details!! This is what BFFs are for.

4. Liminal

Definition: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. neither here nor there but some place in the middle, like when you’ve been waiting on the subway for 10 minutes and you could either leave and just walk, but then the train would come as soon as you leave the turnstile. or you could punish yourself and wait who knows how much longer asking yourself WHY.

Synonym: I’m so drukop right now.

Said Like: ˈlimənl

Used Like: Dude, last night was so liminal. I was drunk and horny and sleepy all at the same time so I pretty much fell asleep mid-masturbation with my dick in my hand. No one saw. See Also: drunk texting.

5. Perfunctory

Definition: (of an action or gesture) carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection. also known as procrastination, doing something at the last minute, or giving zero fucks about tasks you’re expected to complete. why? because you maxim and relaxin!

Synonym: Something half-assed, lazy.

Said Like: pərˈfəNGktərē

Used Like: lol you’re getting a bad grade because there is perfunctory written all over this essay!!!

6. Equidistant

Definition: at equal distances. a special lie told when you are trying to get people to go to a place and you fib about exactly how far away it is.

Synonym: It’s 5 minutes away.

Said Like: ēkwiˈdistənt

Used Like: Well we could go there or we could go to my favorite place. They’re pretty much equidistant (a lie).

7. Polemical

Definition: of, relating to, or involving strongly critical, controversial, or disputatious writing or speech. most common traits: 5000 comments on a blog article. often results in television talk show appearances, book deals, short-lived reality television shows.

Synonym: When something goes viral. Also, hate clicking.

Said Like: pəˈlemikəl

Used Like: Wait you guys, did Anna put Kim Kardashian on the cover of Vogue just to be polemical you think??

8. Vitriol

Definition: cruel and bitter criticism. it’s also a type of acid, so.

Synonym: Throwing a pie in someone’s face. Snatching their wig because you hate them so much r/n.

Said Like: ˈvitrēəl,-ˌôl

Used Like: Don’t remind me about that asshole again. I can’t express the amount of vitriol I have for him.

9. Solipsistic

Definition: of or characterized by solipsism, or the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist. worse than narcissism. see also: every single reality television star ever.

Synonym: Facebook likes. Instagram hearts.

Said Like: sol-ip-sis-tik

Used Like: “OMG my new Facebook pic has like 10,000 likes!” “You’re so solipsistic, there are other people in the world you know!” “Whatever, u just mad!”

10. Tenuous


When taking the ACT essay section, students have 45 minutes to write a well-reasoned argumentative essay about a given prompt. The new ACT Essay prompts tend to be about “debate” topics — two sides of an issue are presented, with no obviously “right” side. Oftentimes, these subjects carry implications for broader issues such as freedom or morality. Test-takers are expected to convey some stance on the issue and support their argument with relevant facts and analysis.


In addition to some of the more obvious categories, like grammar and structure, students’ essays are also evaluated on their mastery of the English language. One way to demonstrate such mastery is through the correct usage of advanced vocabulary words. Below are 50 above-average vocabulary words sorted by the contexts in which they could most easily be worked into an ACT essay.


Context 1: Factual Support For ACT Essay

These words can easily be used when stating facts and describing examples to support one’s argument. On ACT essays, common examples are trends or patterns of human behavior, current or past events, and large-scale laws or regulations.


  • Antecedent – a precursor, or preceding event for something – N
  • Bastion – an institution/place/person that strongly maintains particular principles, attitudes, or activities – N
  • Bellwether – something that indicates a trend – N
  • Burgeon – to begin to grow or increase rapidly – V
  • Catalyst – an agent that provokes or triggers change – N
  • Defunct – no longer in existence or functioning – Adj.
  • Entrenched – characterized by something that is firmly established and difficult to change – Adj.
  • Foster – to encourage the development of something – V
  • Galvanize – to shock or excite someone into taking action – V
  • Impetus – something that makes a process or activity happen or happen faster – N
  • Inadvertent – accidental or unintentional – Adj.
  • Incessant – never ending; continuing without pause – Adj.
  • Inflame – to provoke or intensify strong feelings in someone – V
  • Instill – to gradually but firmly establish an idea or attitude into a person’s mind – V
  • Lucrative – having a large reward, monetary or otherwise – Adj.
  • Myriad – countless or extremely large in number – Adj.
  • Precipitate – to cause something to happen suddenly or unexpectedly – V
  • Proponent – a person who advocates for something – N
  • Resurgence – an increase or revival after a period of limited activity – N
  • Revitalize – to give something new life and vitality – V
  • Ubiquitous – characterized by being everywhere; widespread – Adj.
  • Watershed – an event or period that marks a turning point – N

Context 2: Analysis

These words can often be used when describing common patterns between examples or casting some form of opinion or judgement.


  • Anomaly – deviation from the norm – N
  • Automaton – a mindless follower; someone who acts in a mechanical fashion – N
  • Belie – to fail to give a true impression of something – V
  • Cupidity – excessive greed – Adj.
  • Debacle – a powerful failure; a fiasco – N
  • Demagogue – a political leader or person who looks for support by appealing to prejudices instead of using rational arguments – N
  • Deter – to discourage someone from doing something by making them doubt or fear the consequences – V
  • Discredit – to harm the reputation or respect for someone – V
  • Draconian – characterized by strict laws, rules and punishments – Adj.
  • Duplicitous – deliberately deceitful in speech/behavior – Adj.
  • Egregious – conspicuously bad; extremely evil; monstrous and outrageous – Adj.
  • Exacerbate – to make a situation worse – V
  • Ignominious – deserving or causing public disgrace or shame – Adj.
  • Insidious – proceeding in a subtle way but with harmful effects – Adj.
  • Myopic – short-sighted; not considering the long run – Adj.
  • Pernicious – dangerous and harmful – Adj.
  • Renegade – a person who betrays an organization, country, or set of principles – N
  • Stigmatize – to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or disapproval – V
  • Superfluous – unnecessary – Adj.
  • Venal – corrupt; susceptible to bribery – Adj.
  • Virulent – extremely severe or harmful in its effects – Adj.
  • Zealot – a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals – N


Context 3: Thesis and Argument

These words are appropriate for taking a stance on controversial topics, placing greater weight on one or the other end of the spectrum, usually touching on abstract concepts, and/or related to human nature or societal issues.


  • Autonomy – independence or self governance; the right to make decisions for oneself – N
  • Conundrum – a difficult problem with no easy solution – N
  • Dichotomy – a division or contrast between two things that are presented as opposites or entirely different – N
  • Disparity – a great difference between things – N
  • Divisive – causing disagreement or hostility between people – Adj.
  • Egalitarian – favoring social equality and equal rights – Adj.


Although it’s true that vocabulary is one of the lesser criteria by which students’ ACT essays are graded, the small boost it may give to a student’s score could be the difference between a good score and a great score. For those who are already confident in their ability to create and support a well-reasoned argument but still want to go the extra mile, having a few general-purpose, impressive-sounding vocabulary words up one’s sleeve is a great way to tack on even more points.


To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:


Angela Yang

Angela is a student at Cornell College of Engineering. At CollegeVine, she works primarily as ACT Verbal Division Manager. She enjoys teaching a variety of subjects and helping students realize their dreams.

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