Despite the relatively large number of words that constitutes the lexicon of a language, most spoken and written discourse is composed out of a relatively small set of words and their repetitions. Extensive corpus analyses indicate that, in English, the 2,000 most frequent words account for 80-85% of the running words in non-specialized written texts and about 90-95% in colloquial speech (informal spoken language).
The identification of these subsets of the lexicon is relevant to various research endeavors as well as to central aspects of curriculum and course design. Of special interest are the General Service List (GSL) and the Academic Word List (AWL) that, together, provide approximately 90% coverage of most written texts.
The General Service List (GSL) by West (A General Service List of English Words, 1953, London; Longman, Green & Co.) is a well-known list that has withstood the test of time and comprises around 2, 000 word families from among the most frequent in the English language.
Download the GSL set
|Files Included:||Headwords Family words Word families by headword Minimal pairs Headwords by part of speech|
The Academic Word List (AWL) by Coxhead (A New Academic Word List. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 2000: 213-238) contains some 570 word families specific to academic texts where they account for about 9-10% of running words.
Download the AWL set
|Files Included:||Headwords Family words Word families by headword Headwords by part of speech|
The ICE-CORE lists by Gilner and Morales (The ICE-CORE word list: The lexical foundation of 7 varieties of English. Asian Englishes, 14(1), 2011: 4-21) are compilations of the most frequent lemmas (inflections) and headwords (word families) shared across 7 varieties of English, namely, Canada, East Africa, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Philippines, and Singapore and as represented by corpora in the International Corpus of English.
Download the ICE-CORE v2.1 list
|Files Included:||Lemmas Headwords|
Function words are characterized by their ambiguous lexical meaning and by their capacity to organize grammatical relationships between words within a sentence. There are a relatively small and fixed number of function words (as opposed to verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, which are limited but expandable sets). Prepositions, conjunctions, determiners, pronouns, and auxiliary verbs are all considered function words. Most of these words are uninflected although a few are inflected and may take affixes.
Ideally, it would be possible to list all function words (since they comprise a closed class) but this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Nonetheless, our objective is to provide exhaustive lists of the function words in the English language. Contributions are welcome.
Download the English function words set
|Files Included:||Auxiliary Verbs Conjunctions Determiners Prepositions Pronouns Quantifiers|
For reference purposes, a succinct description of each class of function words follows.
Auxiliary Verbs are verbs whose function is to characterize the main verbs they accompany with shades of meaning pertaining to tense and/or modality. Regarding tense, the core meaning of the verb can be modified to express perfect, progressive, or passive voices. Regarding modality, the main verb is altered to denote judgement or opinion in terms of ability, advice, expectation, intention/willingness, likelihood, necessity, permission/prohibition, or degrees of politeness.
Auxiliary verbs are necessary to form questions and negatives in English. If auxiliary verbs are used only to serve these functions, they are referred to as dummy auxiliaries. Additionally, the auxiliaries 'do', 'does', and 'did' can be inserted preceding the main verb for emphasis. Modal verbs are distinguished from other auxiliary verbs by their inability to function as main verbs and their lack of complete conjugations (infinitive for example).
Conjunctions are uninflected function words that serve to conjoin words, clauses, phrases, or sentences. There are three basic forms: single word (however), compound (as long as), and correlative (so ... that). In terms of function, conjunctions can be grouped into additive (so, thus), adversative (but, instead), causative (so, because), and temporal (after, then).
Conjunctions are not structural elements in a clause. Rather, they are external elements that establish grammatical relations (coordination, correlation, subordination) between clauses. Certain adverbial and prepositional phrases can also act as conjunctions (subsequently, in addition to that).
Determiners are inflected function words employed as noun modifiers and that serve to alter the referents of noun phrases in terms of amount, location, possession, and general versus specific. In terms of form, determiners are simple (two, their, the) or compound (a number of, one half, a little). Also, possessive and demonstrative adjectives are considered determiners.
The determiner class is often divided into articles (a, an, the), determiners (both, neither, whichever), and quantifiers (much, various, little).
Prepositions are uninflected function words that combine with nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases to form prepositional phrases that can have, in turn, adverbial or adjectival relationships with other words. Prepositions can be simple (as, of) or compound (next to, in view of) forms. In terms of function, at least the following types of preposition can be distinguished: time (until, circa), location (along, amid), logical (since, given), possession (including, pertaining to), and movement (toward, to).
Prepositions can also occur in post position with: nouns (interest in, need for), adjectives (familiar with, sure of), participles (married to, made of), and verbs (give up, look forward). In this situation, the composite can be thought of as a unit.
Pronouns are inflected function words employed in place of nouns or noun phrases. In terms of form, pronouns are simple (nothing, herself) and compound (each other, one another). Also, some pronoun composites are used in relative clauses (all of whom, several of which).
Pronouns are classified into the following classes: subject personal (I, he, we), object personal (me, him, us), possessive (mine, his, ours), reflexive (myself, himself, ourselves), demonstrative (this, these, such), relative (who, all, that), indefinite (each, anybody, none), reciprocal (each other, one another), and interrogative (how, who, why). Additionally, reflexives also operate as so-called intensive pronouns when they are employed to emphasize an antecedent noun or pronoun (as in, "The boss himself prepared the coffee" or "I myself could not believe it").