The English Language. How many words?

In the second edition of the Oxford English dictionary, there are approximately 600,000-word forms defined. This includes many old-fashioned words that are not in common use anymore. The dictionary also expands every year to keep up with new words that are invented to describe the world around us, or to include new meanings for words that already exist in English. A more useful number from the Oxford English Dictionary would be the 171,476 words that are in current use. That means there are examples of each of these words being used recently.

That’s still a lot of words, though, and doesn’t reflect the number of words that English speakers actually use. For that number, let’s look at a recent study by the people at who say that most adult native-speakers of English have a vocabulary of 20,000-35,000 words. Obviously, these are not the same words and everyone’s vocabulary will include different words according to their career, education and interested.

So, let’s look back at the question. If we want to talk about how many words there are in English, there are three key numbers to remember: more than a million total words, about 170,000 words in current use, and 20,000-30,000 words used by each individual person.

How about you, though? How many words do you think you know and what are you doing to expand your vocabulary to the 20,000-30,000 that an English native speaker uses?