Intermediate+ Word of the Day: survey

survey (verb, noun) /v. sɚˈveɪ; n. ˈsɜrveɪ/ LISTEN

Surveyors at work

Someone filling out a survey

To survey means ‘to study something in a general way’ and also ‘to view something in detail in order to know the condition or value of something.’ To survey also means ‘to study the opinions of a group of people’ and, related to this sense, the noun survey is the sample of facts and opinions gathered by surveying. A survey is also a general description or study of something and also a formal examination.

Example sentences

  • The wealthy landowner stood on the balcony of his great house and surveyed his domain.
  • The inspector surveyed the building to see if there were any problems with it.
  • The newspaper surveyed 50,000 people to find out their opinions on modern issues.
  • This survey shows that roughly a third of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • This book offers a general survey of French Renaissance art.
  • Before we bought our house, we had a survey done to make sure we wouldn't find unexpected problems once we moved in.
  • Julia took a survey class in 20th century Spanish literature.

Words often used with survey

land survey: this term can refer to surveys of the topographical features of land for mapping or for civil engineering purposes. In some countries it is also a way of establishing property ownership and exact boundaries. The people who do this are called surveyors.

In pop culture

In the American TV game show Family Feud, two families compete to guess the most popular answers given to survey questions by members of the general public. There is also an Australian version of the show, with the same name, and the UK version was called Family Fortunes and has more recently been relaunched as All Star Family Fortunes. A recent storyline on the Australian soap opera Neighbours had the show’s Canning family competing on Family Feud. You can see a clip from the US version here:

Other forms

surveyable (adjective), surveyor (noun), surveyance (noun)


Survey dates back to around the year 1400. The Middle English verb surveien, meaning ‘to consider or contemplate’ was borrowed from the Anglo-French verb surveier, which came from the Old French sorveoir, meaning ‘to look down at or look upon,’ as well as ‘to guard or watch.’ It can be traced back to the Medieval Latin supervidēre (oversee), formed by the prefix super- (over) and the verb vidēre (to see). The English verb supervise also came from this Latin verb. The meaning expanded to “examine the condition of something’ in the mid-15th century. The noun comes from the verb, and was first used in the late 15th century. The most common meaning we use today, ‘a systematic collection of data or opinions,’ is very recent. It was first used less than 100 years ago, in 1927.

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