The Scarlet Letter Vocabulary Words

Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is a master of vocabulary and language. In this lesson, we will explore the variety of powerful words used in his classic novel, ''The Scarlet Letter.''

What's in a Word?

Imagine the scenario: You are sitting in your favorite, most comfortable beanbag chair reading what is sure to be the best novel you have ever held in your hands. You are frozen, however, as you encounter an unfamiliar word. What do you do? As an educated reader, you know the best action to take is to stop reading and either use the context of the text to determine the meaning or look up the word in a dictionary.

When reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this incident may happen often as he frequently uses vivid vocabulary. This classic novel depicts a Puritan society and how it reacts to Hester Prynne, the mother of an illegitimate child by a surprising individual. This novel explores the themes of remorse, societal peer pressure, morality, and vengeance.

Let's explore some of the words in this masterpiece. Note that this list contains a basic form of the word, so if you see 'bequeathed' in the book, look for 'bequeath' in the list. Terms are organized alphabetically by chapters.

Illustration of a scene in The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter Image


  • FERVOR: noun. Great intensity of feeling; passion
  • INAUSPICIOUS: adj. Not favorable; unlucky
  • INIQUITY: noun. A sin or wicked act
  • SAGACITY: noun. Wisdom
  • UTOPIA: noun. An ideal place; a place with no imperfections
  • VENERABLE: adj. Deserving of respect because of age, position, or sacred nature


  • AMENABLE: adj. Agreeable; willing to submit or go along with another's ideas
  • ANNIHILATE: verb. To totally destroy; wipe out
  • ASSIMILATE: verb. To conform and adopt the cultures and values of a group
  • CAPRICE: noun. An unexpected and sudden change (could be people or nature)
  • EVOKE: verb. To call or summon; to bring out
  • GESTICULATION: noun. Using hands or other body movements to express oneself
  • INFANTILE: adj. Behaving like a child/infant
  • LABYRINTH: noun. A complex set of paths or confusing events
  • MALICIOUS: adj. Characterized by evil or hate
  • PERVADE: verb. Spread throughout many areas
  • PLEBEIAN: noun. Related to the common people (not nobility or royalty)


  • DAUNTLESS: adj. Having no fear
  • EXEMPLARY: noun. Worthy of praise; suitable as a model of behavior or action
  • IMMINENT: adj. Certain to occur soon
  • IMPERIOUS: adj. Like a dictator; overbearing
  • INCANTATIONS: noun. Specific words used to bring about a magical spell
  • LUDICROUS: adj. Causing laughter because something is ridiculous
  • TRANSGRESSIONS: noun. Acts that violate the law or religious statutes
  • UNOBTRUSIVE: adj. Not noticeable or able to be seen
  • VEHEMENCE: noun. Provoking violence or extreme heated emotions


  • ABASEMENT: noun. The act of reducing someone's rank or degree or power or prestige
  • ABOMINATION: noun. Something that is hated, intolerable
  • DEFUNCT: adj. Not in use any longer to the point of being considered dead or worthless
  • INTROSPECTION: noun. The act of self-reflection; thinking about one's own emotional state of mind
  • LATENT: adj. Present but not noticeable or easily seen
  • ODIOUS: adj. Worth of hatred; detestable
  • PROPAGATE: verb. To spread information to many people
  • STEALTH: adv. Behavior that is secretive in nature


  • ACQUIESCE: verb. To give in, usually without a fight
  • ENIGMA: noun. Something that is difficult to figure out; a puzzle or mystery
  • GIBE: verb. To tease or make fun of
  • OBVIATE: verb. To notice before and make adjustments to avoid
  • PETULANT: adj. Displaying rude or disrespectful irritation at a minor occurrence
  • PROPENSITY: noun. A tendency toward a certain behavior, act, or attitude
  • SEMBLANCE: noun. An outward appearance that is deceptive and not as it appears to be
  • USURP: verb. To take over (position, place, etc.) without the right to do so

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