Can you learn English with the top 100 words?
A study by Oxford Online* has identified the top 100 words in English. The list was compiled from the Oxford English Corpus, which has billions of words in it. The research shows that these top 100 words make up an incredible 50% of all the words we use in English.
But that isn’t all. They also found that the top 1,000 words account for 75% of our vocabulary. And with only 7,000 words, you’ve covered 90% of all of the words you will ever use in your lifetime. The other 10% are words related to extremely specialist subjects.
Incredibly, they also found that the top 10 words in English (the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have, I) make up 25% of all the words we use. So, if you take any 100-word paragraph from an article, the chances are that 25 of them will be one of these words.
Sound good? Unfortunately, it isn’t that straightforward. For a start, most of the words that appear in the list are headwords. A headword is like a root word, with lots of other words that come off it. For example, from the headword run there are inflections (runs, running, ran) and derivatives (runner, runaway, runner-up, runny).
But that’s not all. There are also compound nouns (ski run, trial run), phrasal verbs (run out of something), idioms (run out of steam), verbal expressions (run a business), prefixes (re-run) and suffixes (run-down) – all from that one little word, run.
On top of that, words often have different meanings. So, while the most common meaning of run is “to move quickly” (faster than walking), if you say that a road “runs” in a particular direction, you’re describing which way the road goes. For example, “The road runs from north to south.”
So, of the 1,000 highfrequency headwords there are thousands of other related words. However, studying high-frequency words can still be useful: if you know the basic meaning of the headwords, you can often guess the meaning of the other terms and expressions.
So, get studying that list!
The top 100 words in English
the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have, I, it, for, not, on, with, he, as, you, do, at, this, but, his, by, from, they, we, say, her, she, or, an, will, my, one, all, would, there, their, what, so, up, out, if, about, who, get, which, go, me, when, make, can, like, time, no, just, him, know, take, people, into, year, your, good, some, could, them, see, other, than, then, now, look, only, come, its, over, think, also, back, after, use, two, how, our, work, first, well, way, even, new, want, because, any, these, give, day, most, us
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Check out Oxford’s 3,000 most frequent, important and useful words. How many of them do you know? Search Google for “The Oxford 3000”. Or the “General Service List”, which was created by Michael West in 1954. Search Google for “the General Service List (GSL)”.
Oxford Online is associated with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
■ a corpus n = a large collection of written or spoken texts that is used for language research
■ to make up phr vb = if A “makes up” a certain percentage, it represents that percentage
■ straightforward adj = easy, simple
■ a headword n = the main form of a word. There are lots of other forms that come off this word
■ a root word n = the main form of a word. There are lots of other forms that come off this word
■ an inflection n = a change in the form of a word that shows its grammatical function, for example: take, takes, taking…
■ a derivative n = a word that comes from a headword. For example: run (headword) = runner (derivative)
■ high-frequency adj = a “high-frequency” word is a popular word that is used a lot in writing or speech
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