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  1. #1
    goingtocalifornia's Avatar
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    Default Words in English

    How many words are there in the English language?
    How many of them do we need to know to have fluent English? All?
    What about phrasal verbs and idioms?

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    Default Re: Words in English

    The reason for this question was that I heard, the other day, on the radio that English language has the most words among all European languages.

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    Default Re: Words in English

    There's no good answer to the question of "how many words are there in the English language?"

    Some clever people maintain that the number of words is actually infinite, because you can add suffixes and prefixes to your heart's content, getting a new word every time. However, in practice, once you get past a certain level, the words you form are not useful, and words much longer than that are essentially meaningless. About the longest useful word you could form in this manner is traditionally stated to be "antidisestablishmentarianism", which is opposition to the belief that church and state should be separated; I would tentatively suggest that a group of people who hold such views are "antidisestablishmentarianists", which is one letter longer, but that's about as far as I am prepared to go.

    There are a few longer words, but they are mostly technical words specific to certain branches of science (names of organic chemicals can be very long -- but they're not so much words as a sort of scientific code).

    Since new words are being coined all the time, and old words falling into disuse, it's hard to put an actual figure on just how many words there are, but "hundreds of thousands" is probably the nearest you'll get to an actual figure.

    However, the number of words you'll need to know to be fluent in English is considerably less; mere tens of thousands. About 60,000 if you're a PhD student.

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    Default Re: Words in English

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    However, the number of words you'll need to know to be fluent in English is considerably less; mere tens of thousands. About 60,000 if you're a PhD student.
    60,000 Isn't that so big a number?... but I think that includes the 2-letter and 3 letter words we know, I already got a lot. But I wonder if my vocabulary could reach up to even 30,000 words.

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    Default Re: Words in English

    The 2nd edition of the Oxford Dictionary has 171,476 words in current usage, with 47,156 obsolete words. But this doesn't include suffixes -Oxford estimate there are a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary.

    If you want to improve your vocabulary, and personally I find it an addictive game, try the charitable organization FreeRice. It gives rice to the third world as you play the game plus you learn new words.


    AskOxford: How many words are there in the English language?

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    Default Re: Words in English

    I've just tried playingFreeRice and it's really good. I think I would make it one of my favorite sites, second to usingenglish.

    Do you know of another site like that one which deals with idioms?

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    BobK is online now Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: Words in English

    A very similar question was asked here: http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/as...tml#post229709. There are a couple of interesting links in my answer(s? - I forget). But it is unrealistic to think 'I must learn tens [or even hundreds] of thousands of words before I can be called fluent'. If you can communicate efficiently about the things you need to communicate about, fluency will come. You don't need to learn lists.

    b

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    Lightbulb Re: Words in English

    In fact, being fluent is not a matter of how many words you know but how well you work with the words you know. As someone said, the most important thing is to communicate

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    Default Re: Words in English

    Quote Originally Posted by FabioZ View Post
    In fact, being fluent is not a matter of how many words you know but how well you work with the words you know. As someone said, the most important thing is to communicate
    Yes, although fluency improves dramatically if you're not always having to rephrase your sentence because you don't know a particular word. It partly depends on what you mean by "fluency", but in this case I take it to mean "being able to have a conversation with a native speaker without them having to make allowances for one's language skills", which isn't exactly what an examiner means when he awards marks for fluency.

    60,000 is what a PhD student writing a thesis is expected to know. Most of us will have a considerably smaller vocabulary. 30,000 or even less should be enough to have a good conversation in the pub.

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