Words you should master
This book gives you 11 lists of English words. These lists give you a total of 7673 words. If you’re trying to achieve a high degree of fluency in English, and if one of your fluency-blocking problems is that the right word (or another word or expression that you can use in its place) doesn’t often occur to you readily, these are the words you should master.
They’re the words you’ll find necessary, as well as normally sufficient, to maintain a high level of fluency, when you’re communicating with anyone in English — no matter what the topic. So I’ve called these words fluency words. You need these words, whether you’re speaking or writing in English, or listening to or reading the English spoken or written by someone.
Words of the greatest general utility
When two or more people are using a language to communicate, there are two aspects to what is going on:
• “Production” of the language used by one or more of them — that is, the process of speaking or writing.
• “Reception” of the speech or writing so produced — that is, the process of hearing/listening or reading.
The 7673 words given in this book are necessary, and normally sufficient, for the production as well as the reception processes.
These 7673 words are the most frequently-occurring words both in speech and writing — irrespective of the topic. And these are the words of the greatest general utility, too. Here are three reasons:
First of all, they’re the words that most of your hearers and readers are likely to know and understand. And so, they’re the words you should use almost exclusively while speaking or writing — because they’re the words that are most likely to help your hearers and readers to understand you.
Second, they’re also the words everyone who speaks or writes English uses most heavily and most frequently. And so they’re the words that’d help you understand them.
Third, they’re the words that can help you more than any other words to mentally compose what you want to say or write — and to say it or write it at the same time as you compose it, with the greatest ease. This is because these words have an interesting feature: They all (especially, the 3750 ‘Maximum General Utility’ words) have a strong tendency to form syntactic as well as lexical patterns with many others among them, and these patterns help you to produce speech and writing chunk by chunk, with each chunk containing a group of closely connected words, rather than word by word.
The first three lists cover 3750 words (A1 Group, A2 Group and A3 Group, together). These are the most frequently-occurring 3750 words in the English language — in spoken as well as written English. If you achieve a total mastery of these 3750 words, they can take care of almost 80% of all your vocabulary needs — whether you’re speaking or writing, and whatever the topic. The rest of the 20% of your vocabulary needs would normally be met mostly by vocabulary items made up of the 3923 words covered by the B1, B2 and C lists, and to some extent by the specialist vocabulary items particular to the topic you’re speaking or writing about.
I’ve categorized the most-frequently occurring 3750 words mentioned above as the ‘Maximum General Utility’ words (MGU words). They’re covered by the first three lists in this book (A1 words, A2 words and A3 words). That is, I’ve divided the most-frequently occurring 3750 words into three sub-groups — according to their frequency and general importance: A1 group of words, A2 group of words and A3 group of words.
The A1 Group contains the most important 1155 of the MGU words, the A2 Group contains 1228 words that come next in importance, and the A3 Group contains the remaining 1367 MGU words. Together, these three groups make up a total of 3750 ‘Maximum General Utility’ words.
The next two lists in this book cover 2552 words (B1 Group and B2 Group, together). These words come next in frequency and general importance. These words also occur very frequently, though not as frequently as the MGU words. These words can add to your fluency level in two types of situations:
(i) when you’re trying to add serious content to what you’re saying or writing.
(ii) when you’re speaking or writing about topics outside everyday conversational subjects.
I’ve categorized these words as ‘Near-Maximum Utility’ words (NMU words). I’ve divided these words again into two sub-groups: B1 Group and B2 Group.
B1 Group contains the most important 1324 of the NMU words and B2 Group contains the remaining1228 of the NMU words. It goes without saying that B1 words occur more frequently than B2 words.
One more list remains. This list covers 1371 words. Mind you, these 1371 words are not as frequent as the MGU words or as the NMU words in everyday speech or writing. But they’re quite frequent in serious discussions and writing — especially, in writing.
You’ll find these words extremely useful when you’re trying to speak or write about a topic by dealing with it very thoroughly and by considering all the important aspects of it carefully and in a detailed way. These words help you pack meaning and content more densely than when you speak in everyday situations into what you say or write. And they help you present your facts, ideas, thoughts and arguments cogently and clearly — and still remain fluent.
I’ve categorized these 1371 words as ‘Advanced General Utility’ words (AGU words). We’ll call these words ‘C words’ and the group of ‘C words’ Group C. I’ve categorized these words separately, because I want to signal one thing to you: The AGU words are less frequent and are of less general utility than the MGU words and the NMU words.
One-word items and multi-word items
There’s an important thing you should note about what you get in this book. This book concentrates primarily on lists of words, one-word items — and not on lists of all the possible types of vocabulary items.
What is the difference? You see, vocabulary items consist not only of one-word items (individual words), but also of multi-word units — phrasal verbs, collocations, fixed and semi-fixed phrases, compound words, idioms, etc. This book does not concentrate on multi-word units, except for a few that occur so commonly (as ‘wholes’) as to amount to single words.
But remember that even multi-word units are made up of individual words. Multi-word units are nothing but combinations of individual words. And so what this book covers is a collection of the most fundamental items of English vocabulary. But don’t forget one thing: Individual words really begin to help you by meeting your vocabulary needs only when you’ve learnt what words often tend to occur before and after them, and only when you’ve learnt to use these co-occurring words as cluster-wholes.
Mind you, generally speaking, it’s one thing to know individual words, and quite another to know these multi-word units. You have to master these word clusters (multi-word units) separately — by concentrating your attention on them separately.
Essential and non-essential words
There are so many words in the English language that nobody can say precisely how many there are. And the overall size of the English vocabulary keeps growing day by day with the addition of newly-coined words.
All estimates of the total vocabulary size are inexact, and they vary from each other very widely. These estimates range from around 400,000 words to around 800,000 words.
But most of these 400,000 to 800,000 words are highly technical and scientific words. And most of the words that get newly coined every day are technical and scientific words, too. As for the words other than the highly technical and scientific ones, a considerable percentage of them is made up of archaic words and obsolete words — and so are not of any use in normal spoken or written communication.
What is left is only a total of around 200,000 words, and this is the vocabulary field that supplies words for common use.
Now take a very well-read university graduate whose mother-tongue (or first language) is English. How many words do you think such a person can be said to know out of these 200,000 or so words?
Estimates show that such a person may know about 15 to 20 thousand word families. Remember: Word families — not words. Each word family consists of several words. Considering this fact, it’s estimated that such a person may know around 100,000 English words.
But the degree of their knowledge (of these words) varies from word to word. As far as the most frequent 7000 plus words are concerned, well-educated people whose mother-tongue (or first language) is English can be said to know these words thoroughly. They actually do use these words in speech and writing quite often.
And these are the words that this book covers.
As far as the next most frequent 8000 plus words (that follow these 7000 plus words in frequency) are concerned, well-educated people whose mother-tongue is English can be said to know these words reasonably well, though not as thoroughly as they know the first group of the most frequent 7000 plus words. Fluent, articulate users of English would find themselves having to use these words in speech and writing only occasionally. In fact, most of the time they use these words, they use them in writing – that too, in serious, in-depth writing – rather than in speech.
Mind you, these words outside the list of the most frequent 7000 plus words are not important for fluency in English. Broadly speaking, they’re not important for the production of English as such. Even for production of serious speech and serious writing, they’re only of occasional use. That is, they’re not words of much general utility.
And so, mind you, this book does not cover the words that are not of general utility.
Now, take the low-frequency words – words outside even these less-frequent 8000 words. As far as most of the low-frequency words are concerned, even well-read university graduates whose mother-tongue is English can be said to know most of these words only to the extent that they can recognize them (and understand them in a general way) in other people’s speech or writing. Their knowledge of these words can, in general, be said to be recognition knowledge. Essentially, the role of these words is to help you understand those who find themselves having to use them in their speech and writing for special reasons – and those who tend to use complex words in place of simple, straightforward words.
I said a minute ago that words of common use come from a vocabulary size of around 200,000 words. This doesn’t mean that all these 200,000 words are commonly used ones. No. In fact, out of these 200,000 or so words, only around 40,000 to 60,000 words are of general utility — even for well-read native speakers of English. The remaining words are mostly for use only by subject experts during learned discussions and in learned writings about the deeper aspects of various concepts in specialized subject fields.
Again, don’t be under the impression that every one of these 40,000 to 60,000 words is quite frequent. That is not so. Actually, only a small percentage of them (MGU, NMU and AGU words) can be said to be frequent, and a far smaller percentage (MGU words) to be highly frequent. The remaining words among these 40,000 to 60,000 are low-frequency words.
The 40,000 to 60,000 words of general utility are the words that a typical dictionary for advanced learners normally covers.
...continued in the book.