Most frequently used words in English

Vocabulary notepad, by Streetfly JZ on Flickr

Did you know that the average person uses only 2000-5000 words on a daily basis? One of the most important tools I use as an English, ESL & Literacy teacher is a most frequently-used-words list.

It is possible to make countless vocabulary exercises & games from the crucial 2000 most frequently used words, and they are also the key words for learning the long and short vowels & spelling rules, for children grades 2-6, but also for adult English speakers that suffer from lower levels of literacy (80% of Canadians score 3 or lower out of 5 on the literacy scale, see here).

Advanced Reading Power, a very handy book by Pearson Longman, says the following about the most frequent words in English:

Advances in computer technology have made it possible for researchers to analyze thousands of English-language texts containing millions of words. From this research they have learned that a small percentage of words—about 2,000—are used much more frequently than all the other words. In fact, these 2,000 most frequent words account for almost 80 percent of most texts. If you know these words, you have a much better chance of understanding what you read.

Free Printable List of the 1000 Most Frequent Words

I created my own printable list of the 1000 most frequently used words and it is free to download. Copy and distribute as many as you like. This list is adapted from Lextutor’s Famous Frequency Word Lists page (beware, Lextutor is a very confusing, horrible-to-navigate website).

Example of a Word Family

Another list that I find invaluable is the list of the 2000 most frequent words AND their word family. Here is an example of a word family of one of the 2000 most frequently used words:
COMPARE
	COMPARABLE
	COMPARED
	COMPARES
	COMPARATIVE
	COMPARISON
	COMPARING
	COMPARATIVELY

I use these word families to teach another basic literacy skill, which is being able to identify the function of a word by its suffix. For example, –able and –ive are suffixes that denote an adjective. Suffixes mainly affect the function of the word, whereas prefixes affect the meaning.

Interesting Links

  • Worldwidewords.com has a discussion about the amount of words that the average English speaker uses.
  • Vocabulary.com has an interactive dictionary with lots of lessons that are also veryvaluable.
  • Twitter is an excellent source for learning vocabulary. I give my students 10 words per day that they need to look up on twitter (you don’t need to be registered to use the search function) and it gives them an idea of the word in actual use by native English speakers all over the world.

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