Query: How Many English Words?

AAllan at AOL.COM AAllan at AOL.COM
Thu Nov 18 23:32:39 UTC 1999

Even though the answer is problematic, the question is not trivial. it has
practical application in dictionary making and importance for linguistic
theory, psychology, educational psychology, etc.

We can give useful answers by being specific. The OED 2nd edition, for
example, has 290,500 entries and a total of 616, 500 word forms (Donna Lee
Berg: A User's Guide to the OED, 1991). Knowing the kind of entries OED has,
we can adjust the number up or down: if we want to count a word only once
even if it's several different parts of speech, for example, we reduce the

It's also of interest how many words are in the active or passive
vocabularies of individuals; how many different words were used by
Shakespeare; etc. I don't have that information at my fingertips but I think
it's available.

- Allan Metcalf

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