Numbers of words in different languages

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by Sev, Dec 1, 2004.

  1. Sev

    Sev Senior Member

    Béziers, France
    France, french.
    I'd like to know if someone has an idea of the number of words used in English, Italian, Spanish, German, French....because my friends and I do not always agree...especially between english and french.

    Some people say that english has much more words (e.g. "grand" in french is big, tall, broad, wide, large and so on), others think it's the contrary and then I think it's more or less equivalent.

    What's your opinion, have you got informations ?

  2. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    Well, about the languages you mentioned, I think German has the longest words, English has the shortest words, Italian is the most articulate/complex along with French, Spanish is the most excessive/redundant. About the quantity of words in each languages, I guess it's impossible to be determined, languages evolve unceasingly. You might compare dictionary editions though...
  3. belén

    belén Senior Member

    Spanish, Spain, Catalan, Mallorca
    I heard that Harry Potter's latest book, in the English original had eight hundred and something pages, while in German it had one thousand and something. It would be interesting to know in Spanish, Portuguese and so on..
  4. walnut

    walnut Senior Member

    Italy - Italian
    In italian it's 804 pages (just to know it: a very, very good translation). But number of pages also depends on book's/font dimensions. Ciao! :rolleyes: Walnut
  5. dave

    dave Senior Member

    UK - English
    No personal bias there then Silvia? ;)

    Let battle commence! ;)
  6. dave

    dave Senior Member

    UK - English
    According to Bill Bryson's book 'Mother Tongue', English has about 200,000 words in common use, German 184,000 and French 100,000 (no mention of Spanish or Italian unfortunately, but I would suspect that they will have a similar number to French). He also notes that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has 615,000 entries (although many of these will be archaic) and says that if technical and scientific terms are included they would add millions more.

    The simple reason that English has so many words is that it is very much a mongrel language, with influences from Celtic, Latin, Danish, German and French (among others). For almost all words with a Germanic origin (e.g. motherhood) there is a synonym of Latin or French origin (e.g. maternity).

    This is also one of the reasons why English is so darn difficult to master!
  7. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member


    The Italian Dictionary by Battaglia is the most massive dictionary (22,504 pages on 3 columns with no pictures) followed by The Oxford English Dictionary (21,730 pages).

    Are you happy now? ;)
  8. Focalist Senior Member

    European Union, English
    It's the number of words in common use that matters - not the prolixity of dictionaries. :)

  9. dave

    dave Senior Member

    UK - English
    Over the moon!
  10. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    Over the moon? :rolleyes: Me or the dictionary? :p
  11. dave

    dave Senior Member

    UK - English
    Me! Over the moon = very very happy (it's a cliche often used by footballers!)
  12. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    awww :D

    You see I was misled by my own language! We have the same expression and it means "to have one's head in the clouds"
  13. Sev

    Sev Senior Member

    Béziers, France
    France, french.
    Quite interesting you all, but now I'di like to add stg : how many percent of all these words (let's say 150 000) do we really use every day ???:eek:

    How do you say "les paris sont lancés" in English ? !! :D
  14. dave

    dave Senior Member

    UK - English
    This is a tricky one. The following article may be of interest though:
  15. temujin

    temujin Senior Member

    Hamburg - Germany
    Norway / norwegian
    Read somewhere that you need to know approx. 10 000 words of a language to be able to participate in a normal conversation. (...of course, it does matter which words you learn...)
  16. Silvia

    Silvia Senior Member

    I'm not sure I know 10,000 words in English! Nevertheless, I'm answering :D Thus I can engage myself in a conversation... :rolleyes:
  17. temujin

    temujin Senior Member

    Hamburg - Germany
    Norway / norwegian well, maybe instead of "normal conversation" it should be "daily life". That makes more sense. 10 000 sounds like an awful lot of words.
  18. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    it hink you'll find that only a couple of thousand is sufficient to live in a country express youself and be understood. i am sure that i do not know 10000 french words, but i lived there for two years and had very little diffficulty is understanding or being understood, and it was _very_ rare that someone would teach me a new word or say a word that i didnt know, and it was more often than not when a technical subject would come up in conversation.
  19. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Hello to all,
    If anyone has time, sorry I do not, at least today, they can Google ´passive vocabulary´and ´active vocabulary´. The latter is the collection of words one uses on a daily basis, and the former is the group of words one can understand without recourse to dictionary. A recent article posted in one of the forums referred to the decline in the size of the Spanish active vocabulary. I don´t recall the numbers.
    I believe the average American from USA has a active vocabulary of fewer than 1000 words, but can understand many more.

  20. Sharon

    Sharon Senior Member

    United States, English
    I read this thread a while ago, and found it interesting.I recently read something that reminded me of it, and I wanted to come back and leave a few comments.
    At this website: I found the following:

    Silviap, I'm willing to bet you know 10,000 words in English - you just don't know that you know them. As far as engaging in conversation, part of a conversation is also understanding what the other person has said. (You can't talk all the time!) :rolleyes: To argue my point, look at the word "mouse." From "mouse" we also have the words "fieldmouse," "mousetrap," "moused," "mousing," "mouses," "mouser," "mouselike," "mousiness," "mousily," "mousier," "mousiest," and "mousy" (or "mousey.") You may not have known all these "mouse-words" existed, but you know enough English to understand them, if someone were to use them in conversation! :p

  21. vachecow Senior Member

    USA English
    I may be wrong, but I think that Japanese has more words than any of the languages that you guys are discussing.
  22. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    After posting in so many other threads with the same comment, I still cannot find my source...
    Supposedly, the English language has about four times as many words as the next "wordy" language, making it the "wordiest" language. And that's even after taking a shrinking: by the 13th century the English language had about 100,000 words more than today.
  23. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    I think it depends on your definition of "word", but if my memory serves me right, the full version of Oxford English Dictionary (the closest to "authoritative") contained something along the lines of 700 or 800,000 words. Of course, most English speakers, even very educated ones with high verbal intelligences don't know near that many. I'm sure a great portion of them are technical terms known primarily to those in the respective fields...for example, I doubt many computer programmers are aware of words like "allophone", "ductile", or "henotheism".
  24. deGerlaise

    deGerlaise Member

    Canada - English
    English has by far the largest number of words in their language and it also has the greatest number of 'sounds'. Forget the exact number. English is a language that is not particularly concerned about its purity, therefore you get a large number of words which are borrowed from other languages and incorporated them into standard English. Bungalow, pyjamas, pot pourri, rodeo, bronco and on and on and on. English, particularly North American English has borrowed a good chunk of words from Amerindian languages - teepee, wigwam, muskeg, chipmunk, canoe, cigar, hammock, kayak. Quite a number in fact.
  25. maxiogee Banned

    I see a reference in an Irish newspaper today to the 'fact' that English is expected to soon hit its millionth word.
  26. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    It has the greatest number of 'sounds' ? What does that mean ?
  27. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    Right-o! Because, if the reference is made about phonemes and allophones (hope that's spelled correctly...), then there are other languages that have more of those than English. To be sure, English has roughly twice as many as Spanish, but it has only about a third of some African languages.

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