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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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you, my friend, in tomorrow's video. Same time as always, 5pm JST which works out at
about 8am GMT.
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How many words in the english language?

540 Folder Collection
Leftree Huang published on August 1, 2016
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