How many words are there in the English language? A question with a complicated answer. Depending on your criteria, the answer can range from somewhere around a quarter of a million words to one million words, give or take a few hundred thousand. Even to the most enthusiastic logophile, that is an overwhelming amount of words to use when reading, writing, and speaking. Thankfully, relatively few of these words meet most of our basic reading, writing, and speaking needs.
The English words needed for most communications are referred to by terms such as, sight words, high frequency words, and most common words. Researcher Edward B. Fry ranked these words in order of frequency. The first 25 words on the list make up about a third of all printed material. The first 100 make up about half of all written material, and the first 300 make up at least 65 percent of all written material (Fry, Kress, & Fountoukidis, 2000).
To quickly illustrate this concept, let’s look at this twenty-word quote by John F. Kennedy: ...