Have you ever wondered how many words are there in English? Well, it is estimated that there are around 1,025,109.8 words in English, according to the Global Language Monitor.
As a language learner, do you have to know all these words? Probably, not! In fact, an educated native speaker is reported to know around 16,000-20,000 word-families. For example, a word family for ARGUE includes argue, arguing, argues, argued, arguable, arguably, unarguably, argument, arguments.
Realistically – how many words do you need to know to be a competent English user? Below, you’ll find an answer for the question.
… for reading books
If you wish to read a wide variety of texts (e.g., novels, newspaper, blog entries) and recognize 98% of the words in the texts (98 words out of 100 words), you are recommended to know around 8,000-9,000 word families (or around 35,000 individual words). This means that you need to know a lot of vocabulary to read a text. If you are a student in a university where English is widely used, this must be your goal.
…for watching movies & TV programs
Vocabulary size required to watch movies and TV programs in English is different from reading. In order to know 98% of the words in movies in English (e.g., Shrek, Frozen, Hunger Games), you need to know around 6,000 word families. For TV programs (e.g., Friends, BBC News), you need to know around 7,000 word-families.
Whether you read books or watch movies/TV programs in English, you are required to be familiar with PROPER nouns. These nouns include company names (e.g., Google, Samsung), famous people (Mandela, Obama), companies (Suzuki, Chevy) and other names (Craiglist, Ebola, etc)
At the end, I’d like to point out that the number of words you must know for your English also depends on your learning goals. If you want to do your degree in law and do crossword puzzles in English, you probably need to know larger vocabulary (more than 10,000 word-families). So, it always depends …
How many words do you know? Go to Lex Tutor and take a vocabulary size quiz to find out your vocabulary size.
Keep in mind that vocabulary is always important!
About the author
I’m Ulugbek Nurmukhamedov. In Uzbekistan, my friends call me Ulug’bek. In the US, almost all of my friends call me Bek. I was born and raised in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Since 2004, I have been doing most of my academic work in the USA. Read more about me here.