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English Language

How many words in an average vocabulary?

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May 31, 2012 12:08PM

Hi,

Good question. Here are some interesting numbers based on my limited knowledge. Please note, these numbers are just estimates.

Vocabulary Count

Grade 1 Student = 1,000+ words

Normal Person (Graduate) = 5,000 to 6,000+ words

University Professor = 15,000+ words

Spelling Bee Winners = 30,000+ (as claimed by them)

College Dictionary (Abridged) = 50,000 - 70,000

Total Words in English Language = 250,000+ (Growing)

Dictionary (Un-abridged) with derivatives = 450,000+

Shakespeare used 60,000 words

The above claims must be wrong. While English has hundreds of thousands of words, many are obsolete. Scientific words enter the language faster than obsolete ones die. I know a great many words, but surely not all. My guess: maybe 8,000 or 9,000 tops. Personal judgement keeps me from ever using the 2,000 or 3,000 oddballs. My education includes six years of Classics in prep school, four years at no mean college, a year of law school, and grad school at the US's supposedly top university. A working English vocabulary uses the 2,000 commonest words over and over. Shakespeare is our language's acknowledged master. An exact count of all words from works published using Shakespeare's name, totals 17,300-plus, not 60,000! Some of his as yet undiscovered works might yield a few hundred new ones, but doubtful. An English professor at a top university with a word-collecting proclivity might know 11,000 to 14,000 English words--half or more oddball words. Anyone with the basic 2,000 plus 4,000 more in a range of the more everyday specialties can read, hear, write, or speak very broadly. Claims that an accomplished master of English knows 12,000 or even 20,000 words needlessly scare any trying to master English at a higher level. [The imagined professor is an extreme word-collector not a word-user.] Knowing 6,000 words is challenge enough. The estimated extra words I know over 6,000 are just for my personal amusement. People would justifiably either shun me or throw things at me for using those oddities. I urge all to quit hyperventilating like Chicken Little and unthinkingly repeating others' claim. So if I said "The sky is falling!" would you repeat it? If that question still has intuitive appeal, try this instead: "Your retrievable vocabulary needs not over 6,000 words to make you a master of the English language."