How many words are there in the English language? The answer to this question might seem pretty simple and straightforward – just open a dictionary and count the words. But that’s a bit more complicated. Before counting all the words in a language we have to decide what counts as a word:
- Do words that can be treated as two parts of speech count as one word or two?
Here are a few examples:
Objéct – a verb, which means to feel or express opposition to or dislike of something or someone.
Óbject – a noun, which means a thing that you can see or touch but is not a living animal, plant, or person.
End – a noun, which means a final part of something (a period of time, an activity, a movie or a story).
End – a verb, which means come or bring to a final point; to finish something.
- Do we count each inflection of a word separately?
Ends – plural form (The string has two ends). Ends – present tense of the verb (The movie ends at 16:00).
- Do word combinations count as words?
Is the word combination object-oriented a new word or two other separate words?
- What words are actually English?
There are many words and word combination in the English language that are actually foreign:
French: déjà vu, faux pas, avant-garde, cliché, sauté, vis-à-vis, soufflé, bon appétit.
Japanese: sake, anime, emoji, manga, shiatsu, tofu, sushi, wasabi, teriyaki, sumo, karate, dojo, sensei, samurai, Kimono.
Spanish: tequila, siesta, burrito, nacho, mojito, pronto, sobremesa.
Latin: gáster, labium, corpus, alibi, de facto, carpe diem, pro bono, status quo, vice versa, adversum. Many of these words are related to medicine and law.
German: blitzkrieg, gesundheit, kaput, gestapo, nazi, bratwurst, Oktoberfest, schnitzel, strudel.
Most of these words are commonly used by English speakers, but they come from other languages. So should we count them as English words?
- Should we count abbreviations as English words?
For instance D.I.Y., approx., vs., tel., misc., Mr., Mrs.
- Do slang words count?
Here are some examples YOLO, woke, lookalike, staycation or glamping.
In fact, that would be nearly impossible to count all the words that exist in the English language, including regional vocabulary, slang words, inflections, and technical terms. In addition to this, there are new words added to the English language every day. English is rapidly growing and changing, some words are borrowed, some are added and some are no longer used.