One of the most intimidating things about learning English is the huge number of words to know. English has over 100,000 word families, which are words with the same root (like “played”, “playful” and “playing” which all share the root word “play”). It also gains around three new words every day… yikes!
But research shows that there’s no reason to be scared. Why? Because you will be able to understand about 65% of all written material in the English language with only the 300 most frequently used words.
The 300 most common words in English
We’ve collected the most common English words below, split into the major word classes (verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs) and four more word classes (prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, and contractions). If you see some words repeated in these lists, don’t forget that many English words can be in more than one class.
Most common verbs in English
Verbs are “doing” words that express a specific action. The most common English verbs are:
Most common nouns in English
Nouns are words that name something — a person, a place or a thing. The most common English nouns are:
Most common adjectives in English
Adjectives are words used to describe nouns or pronouns. The most frequent English adjectives are:
Most common adverbs in English
Adverbs are used to change the meaning of a verb, adjective or another adverb. Aside from the most common ones below, you can usually spot adverbs by looking for words that end in ‘-ly’. The most common English adverbs are:
Most common prepositions in English
Prepositions are words that link nouns, pronouns or phrases with other words in a sentence. The most common English prepositions are:
Most common pronouns in English
Pronouns are words that replace nouns. They are used to avoid repeating nouns over and over again, making sentences easier to understand. The most common English pronouns are:
Most common conjunctions in English
Conjunctions connect words, clauses and sentences together. The most frequently used English conjunctions are:
Most common contractions in English
Contractions are shortened versions of words, which cut out letters and replace them with an apostrophe (’). The most common English contractions are:
4 great ways to learn new English words
Now that you know the words you need to get started, the next step is to ask, “How can I learn them?” Take a look below at our top tips to grow your English vocabulary.
Are flashcards still a useful way to learn a language?
The short answer is: yes! The longer answer is: yes, but they should be used to support other learning activities. Flashcards help you learn new vocabulary through repetition, repetition, repetition. By focusing more on what you don’t know, you can build new connections in your mind and improve your memory of new words. Testing yourself with flashcards is also strangely satisfying, especially when you look back at the number of new English words you’ve mastered!
Flashcard apps allow you to identify which words you need to work on and which you already know. Some great flashcard apps are:
- Memrise: Test your knowledge with this addictive flashcard app with interactive features. Learn more of the benefits in our Memrise vs Rosetta Stone review.
- Quizlet: Study your target language with ready-made flashcards, or make your own.
- Preply: Import words your tutor shared in your online lessons, or add any word you want to learn!
Write a diary
Another great way to grow your English vocabulary is to write a diary every day.
When you write a diary, you’ll learn and reinforce the most frequently used words in your daily life. You’ll also figure out which words are missing from your vocabulary. As the days pass, you can go back and see the amazing progress you’ve made and the new words you’ve learned. Seeing your progress in this way is extremely motivating, and keeps you learning!
If you’re learning the most common words in English, a diary is an amazing technique to use these words in context. Give it a try!
Practice by speaking
Once you’ve learned the most common English words, you have plenty of material to start a real English conversation.
You can learn so much by speaking to people on language exchange apps, friends, family members and during 1-on-1 lessons with an expert English tutor. In fact, research conducted at the University of Montreal discovered that repeating words out loud to another person is more effective for memorization than saying them aloud to yourself.
The more you speak with other people, the more you’ll use the most common English words, and the more your fluency and memory will develop. You’ll definitely make mistakes when you speak. But the more mistakes you make, the faster you’ll see progress!
Create your own word lists
Before making a word list, ask yourself this key question: “What will I spend my time doing with this language?”
With this question in mind, you can create your own word lists which focus on the vocabulary you will need every day. For example, if you work in finance, you might need to use the word “assets” much more than you would “flowers.” If you continue to see common words, whether it’s during your work, with your friends, or inside the English stories you read, write them down!
Create your own word lists in a spreadsheet, notepad, or app, and update them every time you pick up an important new word.
Why you don’t need as many words as you think
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 principle? This fascinating idea is well-known in economics and business. It explains that with many skills, 20% of your time and energy generates 80% of your results. The same rule can be applied to language learning, too.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the research of Dr. Edward Fry, who collected the most common English words for his book Dr. Fry’s 1000 Instant Words. He found that the 25 most commonly used words appear in a huge 30% of written material in English. The first 100 are used in about 50%, and the first 300 are used in about 65%. Dr. Fry’s findings mean that with the 300 most common words, you can understand the majority of texts written in English.
When we spoke to Olly Richards (who knows eightforeign languages), we found that learning the most common words is the first step he takes to learn any language fast. He said:
What most people don’t realize is that when you use really simple dialogues, they will contain the 100 or 200 most common words in the language which are used over 50% of the time. So if you learn the most common 100 words in a language, you will understand 50% of everything you hear. This blows people’s minds when they first hear it!
Pretty incredible, huh?
Grow the vocabulary you need with a tutor
We’ve already discussed some powerful tactics for learning new vocabulary. If you want more tips to expand your vocabulary, check out the article on how to memorize new words in English.
However, research shows that the fastest way to learn new words and speak a language is (unsurprisingly) to speak it! That’s why learning with an online tutor can take your English to the next level. With your own tutor, you’ll be speaking from lesson one, and will quickly understand which words are missing from your vocabulary. Your tutor will also put together a plan so you can grow the vocabulary you need.
There’s nothing more motivating than seeing your vocabulary grow from 300 simple words, to 600 and even more. Before you know it, you’ll be building sentences with confidence!