The Physics
An encyclopedia of scientific essays

Number of Words in the English Language

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Bibliographic Entry Result
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Robert McCrum, William Cran, & Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin, 1992: 1 "The statistics of English are astonishing. Of all the world's languages (which now number some 2,700), it is arguably the richest in vocabulary. The compendious Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words; and a further half-million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued. According to traditional estimates, neighboring German has a vocabulary of about 185,000 and French fewer than 100,000, including such Franglais as le snacque-barre and le hit-parade." 500,000 words
1,000,000 words
(including scientific words)
Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 10. Grolier, 1999. "The vocabulary has grown from the 50,000 to 60,000 words in Old English to the tremendous number of entries -- 650,000 to 750,000 -- in an unabridged dictionary of today." 650–750,000 words
Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Volume 1. Oxford University Press, 1989. "In addition to the headwords of main entries, the Dictionary contains 157,000 combinations and derivatives in bold type, and 169,000 phrases and combinations in bold italic type, making a total of 616,500 word-forms." 616,500 words
Webster's Third New International Dictionary. G&C Merriam Co., 1971. "This dictionary has a vocabulary of over 450,000 words." > 450,000 words
Wilton, David. How Many Words Are There In The English Language? Wilton's Word & Phrase Origins. 7 February 2001. "The OED2, the largest English-language dictionary, contains some 290,000 entries with some 616,500 word forms." 616,500 words

Have you ever encountered a person who just keeps on rambling on and on with no end in sight. If you have, you might have wondered if he/she would ever run out of words to say. Unfortunately, that will remain a dream for all of us.

As we enter the Twenty First Century, English is the most widely spoken and written language on Earth. English was first spoken in Britain by Germanic tribes in Fifth Century AD also known as the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) period. During the Middle English period (1150-1500 AD), a lot of the Old English word endings were replaced by prepositions like by, with, and from. We are now in the Modern English period which started in the Sixteenth Century.

The number of words in English has grown from 50,000 to 60,000 words in Old English to about a million today. There are a number of ways in which the English vocabulary increases. The principal way in which it grows is by borrowing words from other languages. About 80% of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin. Another way is by combining words into one word such as housewife, greenhouse, and overdue. The addition of prefixes and suffixes to words also increases the immense vocabulary of the English language.

Today, more than 750 million people use the English language. An average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week. Despite its widespread use, there are only about 350 million people who use it as their mother tongue. It is the official language of the Olympics. More than half of the world's technical and scientific periodicals as well three quarters of the world's mail, and its telexes and cables are in English. About 80% of the information stored in the world's computers (such as this text) are also in English. English is also transmitted to more than 100 million people everyday by 5 of the largest broadcasting companies (CBS, NBC, ABC, BBC, CBC). It seems like English will remain the most widely used language for some time.

Johnny Ling -- 2001

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