[Corpora-List] How many words do we know?

Marc Brysbaert Marc.Brysbaert at UGent.be
Fri Jul 29 11:02:42 CEST 2016

You're right. An article we should have included (and discussed) is the following by Gyllstad, Vilkaite & Schmitt (2015). It compares multiple choice with an in-depth interview:


Best, m

________________________________ From: corpora-bounces at uib.no <corpora-bounces at uib.no> on behalf of Mike Scott <mike at lexically.net> Sent: Friday, July 29, 2016 10:48 AM To: corpora at uib.no Subject: Re: [Corpora-List] How many words do we know?


Interesting article and a useful one to point students towards.

One limitation not really fully addressed though is the term "know". The test applied basically checks recognition-as-a-word. Earlier investigations of word knowledge tried to get at ability-to-define-or-explain, which is a VERY different kind of word knowledge.... I would be interested in an estimate of the ratio between these two (and other) different levels of "knowing".

Cheers -- Mike

On 29/07/2016 06:41, Marc Brysbaert wrote:

Dear all,

I'm regularly asked how many words there are in the mental lexicon. As you all know, much here depends on the definition of person (young/old, reader/non-reader) and the definition of word. Still, it is possible to give reasonable numbers for various definitions.

The short answer is that an English person of 20 years old on average knows 42 thousand lemmas coming from 11,100 word families. A 60-year old knows 6,000 lemmas more.

You can read the detailed answer in this open access article:


Feel free to forward this to other people who may be interested.

All the best,

Marc Brysbaert

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