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How many words in the English Language??

Posted by Bob on November 17, 2000

In Reply to: How many words in the English Language?? posted by Alex on November 16, 2000

Good question.
For one thing, it's a moving target: new words are being added to English every day. Archaic words, long forgotten, vanish from the language every day. Most unabridged dictionaries have 300,000 to 330,000 entries. The Oxford English Dictionary has about 400,000 entries. Listings, of course, contain multiple versions of a word (e.g., contain, contains, containing, contained.....) But that's not the whole story, either: dictionaries often fail to include slang, foreign terms in common use, and popular borrowings, and other ephemera of language. I've seen estimates of 500,000 words in English, but it's impossible to nail a specific number. For one thing, you can create "counting numbers" up to infinity, so the supply of words will always exceed the dictionary's boundary walls. And that's fine, since English is living and growing and metanetworking (to coin a word) every day. So. Let's whimsically pick 456,229 total. But useful words in actual use: 218,388. How's that?