Thoughts for serious language learners

The Antimoon Blog header image

How many English words do you know?

August 4th, 2011 · 35 Comments · Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered how many English words you know? The question is not very precise — what does it mean to ‘know’ a word? is teacup a word or a combination of two words? how about tick off? is game (something you play) a different word from game (wild animals)? Nevertheless, it feels good to put some kind of number on your vocabulary.

Testyourvocab.com will estimate the size of your passive English vocabulary (the words that you can understand; not necessarily use in a sentence) by showing you a sample of words from a dictionary to determine your general level, and then another sample to get a more precise measurement. You can then compare your result with native speakers and non-native speakers of various ages.

The authors have also published some interesting charts based on the data they’ve collected.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, my score was 26,400.

Share this:

Tags:

35 Comments so far ↓

  • Ivana

    hello tom,
    nice to see you back.

  • Ivana

    btw. my score is 13.400 with a lot of words I’ve met frequently, but couldn’t remember their meaning

  • Asad

    I followed instructions carefully. My vocab score was 18,100. There were some words which I could recognize but I don’t remember their meanings now. I did not check them. Now Tom has to answer how big one’s passive vocabulary should be in order to understand everything that is thrown at you both spoken and written.

  • Ivana

    I tried again, checking the words I had heard of but couldn’t remember their meaning (not those I heard for the first time) just to see what options there are for people who answer about 98% on the first page. The choice of words offered on the second page includes a large number of those that originate from other languages (French, Latin) or those not especially important to know (in my opinion) such as tureen and similar stuff
    So I don’t see why getting the top score (for ex. 35 000) would be especially praiseworthy

  • Ivana

    this is not sour grapes , just my real opinion :p

  • TomFromPoland

    My score is 3,990 words :(

    I have to improve my English using Antimoon method :-)

  • shortie

    So, what?
    how do you know if your vocab is poor?

  • luk

    My score was 20,000, quite good
    , still not good enough :) I’ve finished SuperMemo Speed Up, now I am learning with SupermemoUX. When I am done with all its parts uo to proficiency, I will tackle SM proficiency:)

  • Javi

    My score was 30,100. While taking the test, I saw a lot of “rare” words so I was thinking, “I’ll get a low score !”

  • Ivana

    you guys know a lot about dishware and parts of pens

  • Slava

    Hi,
    17500, I’ve been using supermemo for 2 years and keep using it.

  • Asad

    Having a huge passive vocabulary is pointless. We need a small number of words to express ourselves eloquently but what we need is solid fluency that will come only with constant interaction with native speakers on a daily basis.Also, having a decent pronunciation goes a long way. Source: Experience

  • Slava

    after taking the test second time my vocabulary was estimated as 16 600

  • I've got the biggest

    I think this website is very stupid, and the only purpose of it is for people to pretend, having the biggest ePenis.
    I’ve seen this site before, on an ordinary non-ESL themed forum, and half of the people there pretended to have a result between 10000 – 20000 words.
    That’s quite ridiculous If you compare this to the statistics.
    Only people who have been abroad for 2 years have a score higher than 10.000, and only people who’ve been abroad for over 10 years have a score of 20.000 or more.

    I’ve never been abroad, but I’m a passionate English learner. I listen to native speakers on a daily basis. I read English texts on the Internet every day. I watched a TV series in English. I played and finished computer games in English.
    I’ve been chatting with native speakers. etc.

    Well, my score is always between 7.500 and 10.500. I only checked words, that I could translate to my native language.
    When I mark all words, that I think I’ve seen or heard before, my score is 19.600.

    There are words, like “sparge” which are not even listed in the longman, oxford, or cambridge dictionary.

    The test doesn’t check if you really know the word. I bet, most people didn’t even read the description, and just checked words, that they think, they’ve seen before.
    On the other hand, people will think that they know a word, because it’s spelling or pronunciation is very similar to a word in their native language. However, most of those words are false-friends.
    Another thing is that people will confuse words,
    for example:

    dissemble, disassemble
    dairy, diary
    lessor, lesser
    sapling, sibling
    reproach – has nothing to do with approach
    grouse, goose
    bawl, bowl
    pittance, has nothing to do with pitty
    befit, benefit
    stirrup, sirup
    squall, squirrel
    abscond, ascend
    chaste, chest
    bludgeon, dungeon
    botch, crotch
    burgeon, has nothing to do with burglar
    prig, prick
    captious, captive, has nothing to do with capture

    and I could give you 50 other examples.

    some other things:
    people might know that ostrich is an animal (with feathers), but do they really know which kind of animal it exactly is? If not I wouldn’t check the box.

    tandem – that’s a bicycle in many languages, but did you really know that tandem is tandem in English, and not a false friend? If not you shouldn’t check it.

  • Kguy

    Non native. Never lived in an English speaking country. 36,900 words.

  • Geggg

    10 years abroad and not even 18000 on average? Can you even read a novel without looking up every third word with a repertoire like that?

    Damn if it’s not pathetic.

    • Asad

      Well, living abroad does not mean that you will automatically absorb English language. My cousins have been in Houston for 12 years now. Their English is slightly above zero beginner that’s some shocking stuff. You can develop passive skills by living in your own home country by doing normal stuff like listening, reading,writng etc. My question is, is that enough in order to speak the language fluently?

  • Javi

    You don’t need to have been abroad for a long time to have an extensive vocabulary. I lived in England for a few years but most of the time I was learning (and acquiring) English on an independent basis, that is, by reading and listening to a variety of content in that language.

    The key is comprehensible input, not moving to another country.

  • Tempest

    Native, 22500 word families. I only checked the ones I could actually define and use in a sentence. I got 26000 when I also checked the ones I knew I’d seen or heard before, but wouldn’t be able to define or use correctly.

  • HOngo

    What’s with all the sour grapes? Sure the test may or may not be accurate, but one thing is certain: MORE IS BETTER THAN LESS!

  • Urumbum

    What about the pronunciation? Even many native speakers have problems with words like leishmaniasis or sputum.

    If you cannot pronounce the word right, that means: you shouldn’t really check the box. This would lower the abnormally high scores of many non-native speakers and some native speakers. The CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric pronounced ”sputum” in a wrong way.

    It’s like in Chinese or Japanese. If you don’t know how to pronounce the Kanji, I don’t really think you should say you completely know it.

    • HOngo

      Nope, you’re dead wrong. You don’t have to be able to pronounce it. You have to know what it means. No one says those words out loud anyway. Maybe instead of trying to lower other people’s “abnormally high” scores, you should attempt to raise your abnormally low one. LOL!

      • Javi

        I think you are completely wrong.

        Knowing a word is much more than being able to tell its meaning. You also have to know how it is pronounced, what degree of formality it has, its collocational range and the most appropriate context to use it.

        If you don’t know how to pronounce a word it is obvious you’re not familiar with it and you might hear it and not understand it. Then, you don’t know that word.

        • Francisco

          I simply cannot agree with your last paragraph. One can be perfectly familiar with a word, having used it correctly many times in written communication channels, and still not know how to pronounce it. This happened to me for some tune with many rather simple words such as “cache” and “gauge”. There is also the opposite situation: one can pronounce and use a word correctly without knowing exactly how to spell it. Can you say you “know” the word in these situations? I think you can, in both cases. So, I really think there should be some flexibility when defining what to “know” a word means.

    • Geggg

      I could guess the pronunciation of “leishmaniasis” (this word is so rare my spell check isn’t recognizing it) and “sputum” (though the latter came out as spoo not spyoo, which according to Merriam Webster is an acceptable variant). Maybe the pronunciation of Latin words is easier to predict.

      In any case, since we’re talking about English here, it’d be silly to say you know a word if you can’t pronounce it correctly.

      • Patrick

        You could learn a word using the wrong pronunciation, and then think that it is correct all the time. You technically know the word, because you know the meaning, but you just learned the pronunciation wrong.

        I think grammar is a lot more important that word count however.

        I’ve seen countless foreigners speak English with the worst grammar ever, so in that case, it doesn’t matter how many words you know if you can’t even make an order and a restaurant.

  • Alessandro

    4.010 words. Some words are too difficult to recognize.

  • Adrian

    10.500 and I’m a student of English (non-native). I do realize it’s low :)

  • Nate

    You need to know those words that you used it daily in communications and writings. Probably average you got to know around 15000 words to be fluent.

  • Epson

    Native speaker. (USA)

    I had a linguistic professor who said that the average college-educated speaker (of any language) knows about 30,000 words. I was always curious as to how accurate that was, especially considering that defining what “word” means is problematic.

    I took the test and the result said 35,000 words. So I greatly respect all of the non-native speakers who clearly write so well, regardless of what the test says. And it’s certainly possible to gain a huge vocabulary without living in the target-language country, as most vocabulary acquisition–after a certain point–comes from reading.

    Two points:

    What do non-native speakers (of any language) feel was their “breakout” point in terms of vocabulary size, i.e., when they felt “comfortable” using the target language. (I know–a very subjective question.)

    Despite what the testers claim, English does not necessarily have the largest vocabulary. Yes, it has many “doubles” from French, but, to give one example, Japanese has thousands of “doubles” from Chinese. (Not to mention all the English it’s absorbed.) Norwegian has many words with shades of meaning from the various dialects, and so on. English just has bigger dictionaries, often filled with arcane vocabulary.

  • mahdi

    I took the test and i believe that is not very accurate.because for the first time i took the test my score was 7150(i’m non-native ),after a few weeks i took it again and my score was 8190.the point is i really didn’t learn that many words after the first test.
    i have some vocabulary books and i nearly know how many words i know and how many i learn.at most,the second score had to be about 7500.
    and guys i have a question from the native speakers here.
    is it very awkward or embarrassing for a non-native speaker to pronounce or use the word in correctly?

    thanks.

  • Mike

    (non native 15) Damn i took the test and and i got 8200.quite frankly English is my second language.. i guess it’s not enough to communicate freely BUt I’m trying my best to expand my vocabulary
    but it seems i my memory is too weak to remember words .. one way or another I’m gonna look up for Some methods which will be effective
    and i will prioritize this issue (about words) though it would not be profitless to reply MY comment if you want of course Im not constraining anyone . hope i will ever be able to talk fluently. hope you will reply this ..

Leave a Comment