Exchange-traded funds have become increasingly popular investment vehicles among beginning and advanced investors alike. While they trade like a typical stock, they offer exposure to much more nuanced investment strategies -- from corporate bonds to dividend stocks to emerging market equities. It's for this reason that we here at The Motley Fool have heralded the proliferation of these funds.

For those of you now learning about ETFs, I've compiled a list of the 10 largest funds by assets under management as well as a cursory description of their holdings, courtesy of the online ETF database As an investor, I've often found that learning about the biggest players in a particular market is the best way to dip my toes into it. And these 10 funds are a great start in this regard. Not only do they provide sufficient liquidity, but they also offer a number of unique exposure opportunities.

A veritable menu of strategies
As you'll see below, this top 10 list gives you a veritable smorgasbord of investment strategies. The SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD) is exactly what it sounds like, a trust that holds piles and piles of gold. This has been a particularly popular ETF in the last couple years, as investors and hedge fund managers like John Paulson have sought out perceived safe havens from the broader economy. Our own Christopher Barker goes so far as to claim that this fund changed the world in seven years.

Two popular emerging market funds, the Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSE: VWO) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (NYSE: EEM), give investors an option to profit from the explosive growth of emerging economies like China, Brazil, and Russia. What's particularly interesting -- i.e., attractive -- about these two is that they're trading at a significant discount relative to a year ago -- both are down approximately 8%. As Fool analyst Dan Caplinger pointed out in an article about the easiest way to make $200,000, however, the Vanguard fund offers better value for long-term investors because its annual expenses are a third of the iShares'.

The last funds I want to direct your attention to on the list are the two bond ETFs: iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (NYSE: TIP) and iBoxx Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE: LQD). I discussed the TIPS fund in an article recently about ways to protect the future purchasing power of your dollars -- it's a great vehicle for investors worried about inflation. As the name suggests, this fund consists of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, the principal of which is indexed to consumer prices.

The corporate bond fund, on the other hand, gives investors exposure to a market that was effectively inaccessible to small investors in the past -- that of the corporate bond market. The object here is yield, as corporate bonds pay interest as opposed to appreciating in principal the same way that equities do. The fund's current yield is 4.43%, over twice the yield on the S&P 500 and considerably more than what Treasuries pay.

Below, you'll find the rest of the ETFs among the top 10:

Exchange-Traded Fund

What It Tracks

Assets Under Management (Billions)

Add to My Watchlist

SPDR S&P 500 ETF S&P 500 index $96.1 Add
SPDR Gold Trust Spot price of gold bullion $66.8 Add
Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets ETF MSCI index of emerging market stocks $45.1 Add
iShares MSCI EAFE Index MSCI index of developed international market stocks $36.8 Add
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index MSCI index of emerging market stocks $33.9 Add
PowerShares QQQ Nasdaq 100 index of largest nonfinancial stocks trading on the Nasdaq $28.2 Add
iShares S&P 500 Index S&P 500 index $27.4 Add
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF Index of Treasury inflation-protected securities $22.6 Add
Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF Broad U.S. stock market $20.1 Add
iBoxx Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF Index of hundreds of investment-grade corporate bonds $17.4 Add


Our three favorite ETFs
While there's an ETF for just about anything you can think of, our three favorite are disclosed in a recently released free report about ETFs that are set to soar during the coming economic recovery. To access this report while it's still available, click here now -- it's free.

Foolish contributing writer John Maxfield does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has sold shares of SPDR S&P 500 short. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.