The 50 Most Common English Words (And How to Use Them to Improve Your English)

Samantha Ruff
February 9, 2020 ·
7 min read
Vocabulary

Did you know that there is a Wikipedia article detailing the 100 most common words in English?

As an English student, or someone who is actively trying to improve your English, it’s a nice challenge to check these 100 words to see how many you know (most probably all), but to then think carefully about how many you actually use. This is called your ‘active’ vocabulary, and it should be something that you are seeking to build upon all the time (more of which later).

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The 50 most common words used in English

But back to those 100 most common words. They are the most common because they are the most essential in building sentences. Here are the top 50:

1.     the
2.     be
3.     to
4.     of
5.     and
6.     a
7.     in
8.     that
9.     have
10.  I
11.  it
12.  for
13.  not
14.  on
15.  with
16.  he
17.  as
18.  you
19.  do
20.  at
21.  this
22.  but
23.  his
24.  by
25.  from
26.  they
27.  we
28.  say
29.  her
30.  she
31.  or
32.  will
33.  an
34.  my
35.  one
36.  all
37.  would
38.  there
39.  their
40.  what
41.  so
42.  up
43.  out
44.  if
45.  about
46.  who
47.  get
48.  which
49.  go
50.  when

Why this list is useful

These top 50 words are so instructive because they are clearly the most useful words available to speakers of English. Much can be learned from categorizing these words to see what types of words are the most useful for students of English to learn.

Here are the categories that make up the top 50:

Prepositions (13) – to, of, in, for, on, with, as, at, by, from, up, out, about

Pronouns (10) – I, it, he, you, his, they, we, her, my, she,

Misc. (6) – one, that, their, there, this, all

Verbs (6) – be, have, do, say, get, go

Conjunctions (5) – and, but, or so, if

Question words (4) – what, which, when, who

Articles (3) – the, a, an

Modal verbs (2) – would, will

Adverb (1) – not

The list is really informative for many reasons, but what is particularly worth noticing is the fact that there are no adjectives or real nouns included.

The most useful words to us are the words that appear to do very little at all (prepositions), determine who or what we are speaking about (pronouns), simple verbs, and words that link sentences (conjunctions).

They are not always the words that we, as students, focus on when we are learning. And although most of us will know all of these words, how many of us can say that we are able to use all these words correctly every time? (and don’t forget we can use a tool such as Linguix to get definitions of any words we need in English).

Common errors

Looking again at the categories of words, it is noticeable how many of them feature words that are typically used incorrectly.

For example, prepositions are one of the most common areas of mistake in relation to non-native English speakers. Most of the time these prepositions make little logical sense at all and must be learned simply by heart. But learning the prepositions of time, for example, (in, at, on) is one of the first exercises we learn in English, and so should be something that we are able to do correctly after a relatively brief period of time. And considering all three of these prepositions feature in this list, it would seem they are a priority.

Other words that are typically used incorrectly are articles (the, a, an). The reason for this is clear: because many languages don’t even have articles and many of those that do use them differently to how they are used in English. But again, as all three of these words feature in the top-50 words spoken in English, their correct usage would appear to be a priority.

And so it is with many of the types of words that feature in this top-50 list. Pronouns are often incorrectly allocated by learners, conjunctions can cause all sorts of problems (particularly ‘if’ with conditional sentences), and questions can also be a particular weakness, despite the fact four-question words feature in this list.

What this tells us

The list of most used words in English can be used as a guide by learners to consider their weaknesses in English, and what their priorities should be. The fact is, most learners focus on the wrong kind of vocabulary (adjectives and nouns) instead of these often-overlooked words that are so integral.

The other point to make is that this is not just about building ‘passive’ vocabulary – the words that you know – but ensuring that this passive vocabulary becomes ‘active’ – words that you actually use, and use correctly.

So, although it is important to keep learning new words in English, your priority should be to use the ones you already have correctly!

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