What are the most Frequently Used Words in English?
Based on the evidence of the billion-word Oxford English Corpus, it is possible to identify the hundred commonest English words found in writing around the world. These are listed below.
It is noticeable that many of the most frequently used words are short ones whose main purpose is to join other longer words rather than determine the meaning of a sentence. These are known as Function Words. It could be said that the more interesting facts about word frequency are to be found a little further down the list and we explore this below.
Interestingly, the analysis reveals that the vast majority of the words we use most frequently are from Old English: the basic elements of nearly any sentence that any of us utters were in place before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.The Most Frequently Used Words are:
The commonest nouns are time, person and year followed by way and day (month is 40th). The majority of the top 25 nouns (15) are from Old English and of the remainder most came into medieval English from Old French and before that from Latin. The exception is group (French from Italian) which did not appear until the 17th century.
Notice that many of these words are very common because they have more than one meaning: way and part, for example, are listed in this dictionary as having 18 and 16 different meanings respectively. Another reason for a word's high position on the list is that it forms part of many common phrases:
For Example: Most of the frequency of time comes from adverbial phrases like on time, in time, last time, next time, this time, etc.
The Most Frequently Used Words ( NOUNS ) are:
A look at some pairs or groups of words makes interesting reading:
• man is 7th, whereas child is 12th and woman 14th
• the highest-ranking body part, hand, is 10th - eye is the next in 13th place, followed by head at 27
• Work is at number 16 whereas play and rest do not feature in the top 100!
• war is at 49 with no sign of peace
• problem is 24th and there is no solution in sight
• friend is 30th with no enemy or foe
• book is number 41 whereas computer does not feature in the top 100 and is below paper
• Money is surprisingly low at 65 and cash is nowhere to be seen: this low ranking is perhaps explained by the fact that we have so many synonyms for money.
As one would expect, the commonest verbs express basic concepts. Strikingly, the 25 most frequent verbs are all one-syllable words. The first two syllable verbs are become (26th) and include (27th). Furthermore 20 of these 25 are Old English words and three more get, seem and want entered English from Old Norse in the early medieval period. Only try and use came from Old French. It seems that English prefers terse, ancient words to describe actions or occurrences.
The Most Frequently Used Words ( VERBS ) are:
Again, most of the top adjectives are one-syllable words and 17 out of 25 are from Old English. Only different, large and important are from Latin. In terms of the words' meanings great is higher in the ranking than big probably because of its informal sense very good. Little is surprisingly high at 7 as compared with small at 15. Bad is unexpectedly low at 23: is this because we have such a large choice of synonyms available for expressing bad things?
The Most Frequently Used Words ( ADJECTIVES ) are:
It is noticeable that many of the most frequently used words are short ones whose main purpose is to join other longer words rather than determine the meaning of a sentence. The Oxford English Corpus is a collection of real twenty-first century English and is a major part of the Oxford Language Research Programme. Its research findings are used to write and revise Oxford dictionaries, including the latest revised edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.