English Core Vocabulary - The Words Necessary to Know
This is a reading note of Core Vocabulary: The English Words You Need to Know published by Melanie on October 29, 2012 (see source #1) and The OEC: Facts about the language published by Oxford Dictionaries (see source #2).
In this chart, a lemma is the base form of a word; for example the lemma climb includes the different word forms climbs, climbing, and climbed.
According to this chart, you only need to know 10 words to understand 25% of everything native speakers say and write. You need to know 100 words to understand 50% of everything native speakers say and write, and 1000 words to understand 75% of all the words used in common, everyday English.
Native speakers use just 7000 words for 90% of everything they say and write! Those 7000 words are the key to speaking English well. Those 7000 words are the core vocabulary of English.
To move from the intermediate level to the advanced or fluent level, you need to learn 6000 more words. That’s why it seems to be taking so long!
English consists of a small number of very common words, a larger number of intermediate ones, and then an indefinitely long ‘tail’ of very rare terms.
-- Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford Dictionaries has a list of what it has identified as the 3000 most common words used in English. Oxford calls these words keywords.
Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary also has a list of the 3000 most common words in English. Merriam-Webster calls these words core vocabulary. (The Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary focuses on American English.)
Macmillan has identified the 7500 most common words in English and calls this group of words core vocabulary. Macmillan has a star system to identify how common the word is. Three red stars * means the word is one of the 2500 most frequently used words in English. Two red stars means that the word is one of the next 2500 most common words. One red star * means that the word is one of the next 2500 most common words. (The Macmillan dictionary has both British or American definitions.)
Remember, not only do you need to know a word, you need to be able to use a word in a sentence and in conversation.
Some words may have multiple definitions. Learn the definition in the context of where you heard/saw the word. Don’t try to memorize every single meaning of the word all at the same time.
The 20-volume historical Oxford English Dictionary is the largest record of words used in English, past and present.
The second edition of the OED, published in 1989 and consisting of twenty volumes, contains more than 615,000 entries, and the third, available online, is expanding all the time, with batches of 2,500 new and revised words and phrases being added in regular quarterly updates.
... a lemma being the base form of a word. For example, climbs, climbing, and climbed are all examples of the one lemma climb.
Just ten different lemmas (the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have, and I) account for a remarkable 25% of all the words used in the Oxford English Corpus.
Like all natural languages, English consists of a small number of very common words, a larger number of intermediate ones, and then an indefinitely long 'tail' of very rare terms.
It's interesting to note that most reasonably sized dictionaries contain significantly more than 25,000 lemmas.
The 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, for example, lists more than 75,000 single-word lemmas, which means that the majority of its entries must belong to the long tail of extremely rare words. The 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, for example, lists more than 75,000 single-word lemmas, which means that the majority of its entries must belong to the long tail of extremely rare words.
-- Oxford Dictionaries
The majority of the top 25 nouns (15) are from Old English, and of the remainder, most came into medieval English from Old French, and before that from Latin.
Notice that many of these words are very common because they have more than one meaning ... often also form part of common phrases ...
Of these 25, 20 are Old English words, and three more, get, seem, and want, entered English from Old Norse in the early medieval period. Only try and use came from Old French.
Again, most of the top adjectives are one-syllable words, and 17 out of 25 derive from Old English: only different, large, and important are from Latin.
-- Oxford Dictionaries
- Melanie is a native English speaker, lives in Canada and teaches English.
* cached version, generated at 2020-06-14 09:36:47 UTC.
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