Which language has the most words?

Last night, two questions came up:

  1. Which language has the biggest vocabulary/most words?
    – I guess the main point is how one defines words. But I bet there are some researches on that, aren’t there? Any opinions?

  2. Is it true that English has more words than German?
    – I instinctively answered that with “yes” without having any numbers or proofs. An internet search later confirmed my statement that this is probably true because English uses lots of synonyms from different language families (like porc and pig, mutton and lamb…). Again, any opinions?

I’d really like to read some opinions…


[Note: mods, please feel free to move this to another forum that you might deem more appropriate]

English does, but the problem is that non-English speakers often don’t agree. My Japanese friends tell me that Japanese has more words than Englsih.
In general, languages made up of a mixture of two or more “base” languages have more words than languages that take vocabulary basically from just one origin. Thus English, with its Anglo-Saxon plus Latin/French/Greek vocabulary has a lot of double vocabulary: sheep/mutton, pork/pig, etc. Japanese is the same: words come from Chinese, native Japanese, and, now, English, giving Japanese many words for the same things.
The problem with saying that one language has more words than another is that it doesn’t address how many of the words a native speaker actually knows and uses. English has more than a million words, but no one knows all of them.

I asked myself this question a little while ago and came up with this site. HERE

I was happy with that answer and left it alone after that.

For those of you who just the info and not a blind link :raspberry: , here is the crux:

[quote]Is it true that English has the most words of any language?
This question is practically impossible to answer, for the reasons set out in the answer to How many words are there in the English language? However, it seems quite probable that English has more words than most comparable world languages. [/quote]
How many words are there in the English language?

[quote]How many words are there in the English language?
There is no single sensible answer to this question. It is impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it is so hard to decide what counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning a kind of animal', and a verb meaning to follow persistently’)? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (dogs plural noun, dogs present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since we might also find hot-dog or even hotdog?
It is also difficult to decide what counts as `English’. What about medical and scientific terms? Latin words used in law, French words used in cooking, German words used in academic writing, Japanese words used in martial arts? Do you count Scots dialect? Youth slang? Computing jargon?
The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of interjections, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. These figures take no account of entries with senses for different parts of speech (such as noun and adjective).
This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million. [/quote]

This question is practically impossible to answer, for the reasons set out in the answer to How many words are there in the English language? However, it seems quite probable that English has more words than most comparable world languages. The reason for this is historical. English was originally a Germanic language, related to Dutch and German, and it shares much of its grammar and basic vocabulary with those languages. However, after the Norman Conquest in 1066 it was hugely influenced by Norman French, which became the language of the ruling class for a considerable period, and by Latin, which was the language of scholarship and of the Church. Very large numbers of French and Latin words entered the language. Consequently, English has a much larger vocabulary than either the Germanic languages or the members of the Romance language family to which French belongs. English is also very ready to accommodate foreign words, and as it has become an international language, it has absorbed vocabulary from a large number of other sources. This does, of course, assume that you ignore agglutinative' languages such as Finnish, in which words can be stuck together in long strings of indefinite length, and which therefore have an almost infinite number of words’.

Geoge Carlin states in his fairly famous “7 words you can’t say on television” sketch that there are over 400,000 words in the english language, and that only 7 of them are not allowed on television.

And do you count archaic words like “rantipole” which is a modern English word that is just no longer in use?

My ancient greek teacher made a big point of telling us that ancient greek had 6 million words, by far the largest of any language ever. I would not necessarily back her up though; as far as i recall i only ever learned about twenty of them…

Can you count the English words that Japanese people use in Japan as part of the Japanese language?

I’m quite certain that English is the language with the most words because it’s a fact I give my students whenever they present me with a word from their dictionaries that I don’t know. I then tell them that no one person knows every English word. They always seem stunned. I don’t bother to tell them that no one person knows every word of any language, including Chinese. I just quickly move on with the lesson. :wink:

What’s the language with the biggest number of obscenities? Chinese seems kind of limited, all I ever hear people say is “fuck your mother” and “bullshit” and “dog fart” and “o my god!” 200 times a day. I heard that the Slavic languages have lots of creative cursing and swearing, something like Russian or Romanian probably has the most.

I can tell you the one with the least - Maori, the language of NZ’s indigenous people. It has, I kid you not, not a single obscenity (apparently).

What is it?


Right, and I can flap my arms and fly to Iceland.


Right, and I can flap my arms and fly to Iceland.[/quote]Indeed, and Finnish theoretically has an almost infinite number of words because you can stick them together to make really long words, but you won’t find them in a dictionary. English probably does if you make up silly words like antidoorknobisms.

What is it?[/quote]

And BFM, what about antidisestablishmentarianisticality?

I’ve had similar experiences. Somebody would ask me what some obsolete word meant, I would say I didn’t know, and they would ask me how it was possible a native English speaker couldn’t know what an English word meant. I would respond by whipping out my Chinese-English dictionary that has 10,000 characters, find one I knew they wouldn’t know (like a character for “shaggy dog” that was in vogue in the Song dynasty) and ask them what it meant. They would say they didn’t know. I would then look at them incredulously and ask, “Aren’t you Chinese?” They would usually get the point.

Inglish has the most wurds becose I use it and im clevar.

Not unless you read Sandman comics. Borghal Rantipole! Now I’m forced to wonder whether borghal is a word too. Hmmm… :slight_smile:

I thought English was considered a “Germanic” language.

I add this only because an earlier post said that it was Anglo-Saxon plus this that and the other but did not mention German.

I seem to remember seeing a chart that showed the roots of languages and English grew out of the “Germanic” amoeba.


Of course, English has all kinds of influences and borrows freely.

Also, with the British Empire covering a huge percentage of the globe by the late 1800’s, words from local languages within their colonies were adopted.

examples: pyjama, hammock, trekking, etc…