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Learning English Vocabulary

Introduction

Learning vocabulary is an essential skill in learning a foreign language.  Vocabulary is a necessary step before learning other skills.  Vocabulary learning is necessary before reading comprehension, listening, speaking, writing, and pronunciation.

Tips for learning English language vocabulary

dictionaryEnglish has a vast vocabulary.  It is estimated that there are more than 250,000 distinct words.  There are often several distinct meaning in a word.  You should not be discouraged, as only about 3000 words are necessary for basic comprehension.  It is important to learn the correct word to use, do not waste time learning or teaching words that are not useful, except for advanced students.

Learn the most often used words first

Starting with the most common words is the fasted way to gain basic comprehension.  It is a good idea to learn this list of the top 100 words first. These are the 100 most commonly used words in the English language.

Top word in written English

able
bad
best
better
big
black
certain
clear
different
early
easy
economic
federal
free
full
good
great
hard
high
human
important
international
large
late
little
local
long
low
might
move
major
military
national
new
old
only
other
political
possible
public
real
recent
right
small
social
special
strong
sure
true
white
whole
young

 

Top Nouns

These words are the 50 most frequently used nouns in written English. Learning to use these nouns is a good starting place for any beginner English learner who wants to build up his English vocabulary. Nouns give you a concrete way to talk about the people, places, and things around you. However, too many English learners focus on memorizing long lists of nouns in the beginning. It is easy to get carried away, you do not need to learn the names of all the animals at the zoo, or name all of the tools in your toolbox. While you may eventually learn all those nouns, mastering a shorter, more targeted list is a better use of your time. You can always look up more precise nouns as you need them. After all, how often do you need to talk about platform shoes or ferrets?

area
book
business
case
child
company
country
day
eye
fact
family
government
group
hand
home
job
life
lot
man
money
month
mother
Mr
night
number
part
people
place
point
problem
program
question
right
room
school
state
story
student
study
system
thing
time
water
way
week
woman
word
work
world
year

Top Verbs

This list gives the 50 most frequent verbs in English in alphabetical order. Understanding how to use these verbs is a high priority for any English learner. Mastering verbs is a cornerstone of a strong English vocabulary because it allows you to describe actions and states of being. Verbs are powerful vocabulary words because they can be conjugated to discuss the past or the future, hypothetical situations, or possibilities. Even with just 50 common verbs in your toolbox, as well as some other types of words, you can communicate many things in English.

ask
be
become
begin
call
can
come
could
do
feel
find
get
give
go
have
hear
help
keep
know
leave
let
like
live
look
make
may
mean
might
move
need
play
put
run
say
see
seem
should
show
start
take
talk
tell
think
try
turn
use
want
will
work
would

List of the 50 most frequently used adjectives in written English

Learning these 50 most commonly used adjectives in English is a good place to start expanding English vocabulary.  These adjectives are a good place to get started for many simple English tasks.

Remember that you can negate adjectives if you don’t know the opposite word yet, for example, say, “It’s not clear,” if you don’t know the word “confusing.” You can also combine adjectives for added precision, for example, say, “What you want is possible but hard,” if you don’t know the word “challenging.” By learning to use these 50 adjectives correctly and applying a few “tricks” to make your life simpler, you’ll expand your ability to communicate in English.

able
bad
best
better
big
black
certain
clear
different
early
easy
economic
federal
free
full
good
great
hard
high
human
important
international
large
late
little
local
long
low might
move
major
military
national
new
old
only
other
political
possible
public
real
recent
right
small
social
special
strong
sure
true
white
whole
young

 

Learn new vocabulary in a logical way

Once you’ve mastered the short vocabulary lists, you can move on to the more comprehensive ones below. Remember, although a native English speaker has a vocabulary of 20,000 words or more, learning just 3,000 words is enough to understand most of the everyday English conversation. Learning 3,000 words is enough for basic writing as long as you’re working from the right list. The basis of this list is word frequency so that you won’t find vocabulary like “tiger,” “skirt,” or “spaghetti,” all common in beginner English lists but not all that useful. To learn English faster and more efficiently, focus on memorizing the most common vocabulary first, rather than a haphazard collection of words that you are unlikely to use.

Click here to download the 1000 most frequently used English words

English Vocabulary Resources for Students and Teachers

English Vocabulary in UseEnglish Vocabulary in Use Pre-intermediate and Intermediate Book with Answers and Enhanced eBook: Vocabulary Reference and Practice 4th Edition by Stuart Redman  (Author), Lynda Edwards (Author)

English Vocabulary in Use pre-intermediate and Intermediate is primarily designed as a self-study reference and practice text, but it can also be used for classroom work.  This new edition has been fully revised and updated to ensure that the vocabulary presented is current and relevant.

  • One hundred easy-to-use units: vocabulary items are presented and explained on left-hand pages, with a range of follow-up activities on right-hand pages.
  • Presents and explains new words in context and shows learners how to use them and how to work out rules for using them.
  • Based on a corpus of real written and spoken language to ensure the vocabulary is relevant and up-to-date
  • It contains a comprehensive, student-friendly answer key.
  • Includes a detailed index with phonemic transcriptions to help with the pronunciation of difficult vocabulary.
  • Is beautifully illustrated in full color

Click here to get English Vocabulary Resources for Students and Teachers

Aaron Skudder

8 Comments

  1. 250,000 words wow I didn’t realize there are so many. Well done pointing out that only 3,000 words are needed for basic comprehension. This makes the task of learning English a lot less intimidating. Your drop down menus are a really great feature here. I think it’s a great idea to start with the most used words. It makes sense. Great post!

  2. I really enjoyed your post. Reading that about 3,000 words are only necessary for basic comprehension is a relief. My first language is Spanish and I’ve been trying to improve my English skills. I’m glad I found your site! 🙂

    Thank you very much for including these brief lists of words right here in this post. I’m interested in having this book you suggested, English Vocabulary in Use. I like it’s beautifully illustrated in full color. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • Thank you for your kind comments.  Please read my post ‘Problems that Spanish learners have speaking English.

      This article will help you with pronunciation.

  3. I like the way you presented the most often used English vocabulary in a manner that people learning it as a second language can follow easily. English can be a difficult language to learn, so this approach helps a lot I think. Learning lists of the main words used by category makes sense, especially if you stick to the main ones used most often.

    In older days, I used this approach when traveling and working in new countries where the language commonly used was other than English. Just 3000 words were enough to hold very in-depth conversations with the locals. This effort also produced great results for business and long-term relationships (friends)…

    The book that you recommend at the end of the article seems like an ideal textbook to use to help the English as a second language student. It has all the tools for a teacher to tap into as well as for the student to use in their quest to improve their skills. Good resource, thanks…

    I wanted to bring up another trick that I used…After learning key-words and phrases, I would immerse myself in the culture and settings of the host country, where I was forced to use the words in real-time settings. At first, it was always a bit rocky as you might imagine, but the locals appreciated my efforts so helped me. I imagine it is the same when learning English as a second language. 
      

    • Speaking with locals in the native language you are learning is essential to learning the language.  Learning vocabulary is not enough.

  4. Quick question, I am currently learning different languages. My primary language is English. You said that , “learning just 3,000 words is enough to understand most of everyday English conversation”, does this apply to other languages as well? For example, will knowing these 3,000 common words in French or Spanish keep me up to par with everyday conversation, just like in English?

    I would very much like to hear your perspective on this intriguing subject. Thank you for your time. I will be waiting for your response.

    -Drake-

    • No.  Arabic, for example, has a much larger vocabulary than English.  I am finding that I can understand Spanish knowing about 3000 words, however, vocabulary is only part of comprehension.  Learning the words is not enough, you have to converse with Spanish speaking people to understand the subtleties of grammar.

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