Skip to main content

Which language has the most words?

Comparing the number of words used in different languages is difficult - particularly if you include non-alphabetic languages (Chinese, for example). We can, however, use dictionary size when it comes to the principal European languages.

The Oxford English Dictionary

The OED is by far the largest dictionary. It has 23 volumes and defines 615,100 words.
❏ A similar German dictionary offers around 180,000 words. 
❏ A Russian language dictionary has around 160,000 words 
❏ A French edition has less than 150,000 words. 
However there is another problem in making this comparison.

How do we define as a word?
The OED distinguishes 430 senses for the verb set - see here. Should each be considered each of these as a separate word? 

Linguists make the distinction between words and lexemes. The lexeme ‘run’, for example, includes all its forms: run, running, ran etc.

And what about numbers? If you count to a million, do you have a

million words?

Are all the words in OED in common use?

  • 41,700 OED words are obsolete. This means that you are very unlikely to use them in either speech or writing.
  • 240 are ghost words. A ghost word has never existed outside dictionaries. 
About the English Language Teaching Pack  Download for only £2.99


Popular posts from this blog

Which countries do not have an official language?

According to Henry Hitchings Language Wars (2011) these nations do not currently have an official primary language:

Why is English not the official language of England?

58 countries list English as an official language - but not the UK. 

What is 'concept creep'?

Concept creep a term coined to describe 'psychology's expanding concepts of harm and pathology'. 
by applying concepts of abuse, bullying, and trauma to less severe and clearly defined actions and events, and by increasingly including subjective elements into them, concept creep may release a flood of unjustified accusations and litigation, as well as excessive and disproportionate enforcement regimes.   The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice ... {have been subjected to historical changes}. In each case, the concept's boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. SourceThis trend towards a very broad definition of what constitutes 'harm' has been particularly pronounced on university campuses in the USA and - to a lesser extent - in the UK.

See Conor Friedersdorf's Atlantic essay, 'How Americans Became So Sensitive to Harm'

Download English FAQ Teaching Pack for only £1.99