Two Dozen Interesting Facts About English

As of 2018 there were approximately 1.53 billion people who speak English as a primary, auxiliary, or business language.   In other words, 1 in 7 people on Earth use English in some capacity.  Native English speakers, however, are not the world’s largest linguistic group.  In fact, it is only the third language of the world in terms of native speakers.  Standard Chinese and Spanish are first and second, respectively.  There are between 330 and 360 million people who speak English as their first language, but there are more people in the world  who have learned English as a second language than there are native English speakers.  The U.S. has the largest English speaking population and with 258 million native speakers in the U.S. and 19 million in Canada  most native speakers of English are North Americans.  In addition, there are 60 million native English speakers in the United Kingdom, 25.1 million in Australia, 4.8 million in Ireland, and 4.8 million in New Zealand.  Curiously, English is not the official language of The United Kingdom,  the United States, Australia or New Zealand. 

Because it is spoken in many different countries around the world, English does have a lot of words.  The Oxford English Corpus contains over 2.5 billion words, but most average adult English speakers know between 20,000–35,000 words.  Those who read fiction have a larger vocabulary than those who do not.

English words seem to have a lifespan of anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000 years, but the more commonly used words tend to last longer, and new words are being added constantly.   In fact, a new English word is created approximately every 98 minutes, which is about 14.7 words a day.   Around 4,000 new words are added to the English dictionary every year.  Shakespeare is credited with adding 1,700 words to the English language during his lifetime.

Foreign words are also added.  The Norman invasion of England added an estimated 75,000 French words, and there are a lot of Spanish words as well.  Rodeo, patio, plaza, ranch, aficionado, bonanza, piñata, taco, tortilla, guacamole, fiesta, siesta, matador, macho, bodega and tapas are some examples.  In addition, vamoos (from vamos) buckaroo (from vaquero) and hoosgow (from juzgado) also come from Spanish.  However the majority of English words come from Anglo-Saxon or Old English.  Almost all of the 100 most frequently used words in English come from this source.   English is also full of synonyms.  Often there is a Latin or French word and a Germanic and a Nordic word that mean more or less the same.  For example, intelligent is from Latin through French, wise is Germanic and knowledgeable is Nordic in its origins.  The word «good» has the most synonyms of any other word in the English language, at 380, but the word «synonym» is one of the few words in the English language that doesn’t have a synonym.

Random Facts: ‘E’ is the most commonly used letter in the English language. In fact, as many as one in eight of all the letters written in English is ‘e’.  More English words begin with the letter ‘S’ than any other letter of the alphabet.  The longest word in English ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis’ has 45 letters and the shortest word has  only one letter, I.  There is no word in the English language that rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.  Due to a printing error, there was a word in the English dictionary from 1932 to 1940 which didn’t have a meaning.  The word was ‘Dord’ and it became known as ‘ghost word’.

And finally, pronunciation’ is the word which is most mispronounced in the English language!


Written by Mike Dean Alger for Aston School


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