How Many Words Do You Have to Know to Speak English?


The English language as a lot of words. Even if you consider words like accept, acceptable, acceptance as part of the same word family, there are still about 500 thousand words. Fortunately, many words are used much more frequently than others. For example, the word “the” makes up about 6% of all words that are commonly used. Recent research tells us that 2,800 make up 90% of all words used  in speaking or writing. So you don’t need to know a lot of words to be functional in English. If you double that number and learn 5,000 words you can communicate at an intermediate level. At that level you know enough about English that you can guess the meaning of most of the words you don’t know. So if you are starting to learn English, don’t feel overwhelmed, just start learning a few new words every day and soon you’ll find yourself understanding the language.


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