Essential TOEFL Words

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the most common function words used in TOEFL questions. Knowing each of the words below is essential to understanding (and answering) the questions appropriately. After each main word, I’ve listed other parts of speech that you may also encounter on the test or in your preparations.


infer (v.); inference (n.)

An inference is similar to an assumption, except that while assumptions are usually made blindly (and often foolishly), an inference tends to be better-informed. You may be asked to infer the speaker’s or writer’s attitude toward a certain topic based on their tone of voice or word choice, or you may need to infer background information based on the facts you have.


imply (v.); implied (adj.); implication (n.)

Inference and implication are two sides of the same coin: an author or speaker may imply a fact or idea, which you, as the reader, must then infer. In other words, to imply is to hint at something without directly stating it. Be sure not to mix it up with inference—only the speaker can imply something, and only the listener or reader can infer something from the information available.

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suggest (v.); suggested (adj.); suggestion (n.)

“Suggest” is a synonym for “imply” that, unfortunately is more common in real life than on the TOEFL. Still, it may be used to talk about the conclusions that can be drawn, for example, from the results of an experiment. You may also encounter a second usage of “suggest”: to put forth a theory or voice a (usually new) idea. For example, a scholar may suggest a controversial explanation for a phenomenon.


opinion (n.)

You probably already know the word “opinion”–it’s your own attitude towards something or your interpretation of it. Still, I included it in this list for one very important reason: give your opinion when it’s asked for, but otherwise, stick to the facts. Giving your opinion when that’s not part of the prompt can be considered an off-topic response, which typically will earn you a lower score than you deserve.


summarize (v.); summary (n.)

To summarize something is to condense it by stating only the major points. Not only will you often have to do this in integrated tasks, but it’s a great practice method for improving your listening and reading comprehension: read or listen once, then summarize the passage. Read or listen again, and add to what you wrote. Continue doing this until you have a good outline that contains all the major information from the lecture.


Rarely will the TOEFL ask you to merely summarize the information you were given; you’ll usually need to interpret, contextualize, or otherwise comment on it. So generally speaking, your summaries should be no more than a few sentences long. Practice recognizing the main ideas and condensing them so you can complete the summary component of a question without skimping on interpretation and discussion.


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2 Responses to Essential TOEFL Words

  1. Rp November 27, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    In the writing section, what is preferred? UK english or US english? For example, in UK english, we use colour and in US the same is spelled as color.

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

      Don’t worry about that—they’re equally acceptable. In general, try to stay with one convention, if you can. Switching back and forth between British and American spelling or vocabulary can be confusing. But the TOEFL doesn’t have a preference for British or American English, luckily. 🙂

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