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  • How many words are there in the English language?

  • Good morning, good afternoon, or of course even good evening, depending on where in the

  • world you happen to be right now. I'm Julian, and this is doing English.

  • Yesterday we answered the question "Which language has the most words" and we said it

  • was English, but how many words are in the English language? This, unfortunately, is

  • an incredibly difficult question to answer. It depends on how we count a word. For example,

  • "eat" and "ate". Is it one word or two words? Are they the same; "eat" and "ate"? In one

  • sense, "ate" is simply the past form of "eat," but the word is spelled different. It's pronounced

  • different. It has a different meaning, therefore, surely it should be a different word.

  • How about "eat" and "eats," or "eat" and "eaten," or how about "eating." Are these all the same

  • word, or are they different words? Again, they're similar but they do have different

  • meanings and they are pronounced differently, but at the same time, they have the same root

  • word, "eat." Do we count them as one, in which case it's one word, or do we count them as

  • five, in which case it's five words? Clearly, how we decide to count words like this is

  • going to make a massive difference to the number of words that we count in the English

  • language. For this reason, basically nobody is agreed on this.

  • There's a fantastic discussion on this in the book "Vocabulary in Language Teaching"

  • by Norbert Schmitt. He writes that estimates vary from somewhere between about 400,000

  • and 2 million, again depending on how you count the words and depending on who is doing

  • the counting; 400,000 to 2 million. That is a massive difference. We generally accept

  • that there's about 250,000 in common use, again depending on how you count them, and

  • again depending on who is doing the counting. The problem again is we don't really know

  • how to count these words, but generally an accepted figure is about 250,000 words in

  • common use, and about 1 million words in the language.

  • I will say, however, that it's also estimated that a native speaker who has graduated university,

  • at about the point of graduating university only actually knows about 10% of the words

  • in common use. If there is about 25,000 words in common use, then the average native speaker

  • at the point of graduating university will know about 25,000 words, a very tiny percentage.

  • To answer the question, probably about 1 million, but about 250,000 in common use, but about

  • 25,000 that people actually know and use, and the words that are actually used on a

  • daily basis is much, much smaller than that as well. About a million is a good estimate,

  • I think.

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How many words are there in the English language?

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A2 UK count language english language depending common ate

How many words in the english language?

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