How Many Words Do You Know?

Today, I discovered an interesting test on The Economist website. The website,, is hosting a serious research project to measure how many words the average English speaker knows.

You can take the test here.

Given that the English language has 171,476 words in current use, my result of 26,300 words was pretty embarrassing. Furthermore, my vocabulary is below average for someone who had my verbal SAT score.

Anyway, I am curious to see how others fare on this test.


About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
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34 Responses to How Many Words Do You Know?

  1. Chris Van Trump says:

    Hmmm… 40,300.

    Then again, I do read quite a bit.

    Not bad for a slacker like myself.

  2. Alice Rennie says:

    I got 37,900. I also read a lot, and I’m just slightly under what someone with my SAT score would average.

  3. Crimson Wife says:

    I got 32,700 and that’s pretty much average for the age group closest to me with my SAT score.

  4. Moe says:

    I don’t think we even had SAT back in the Stone Age. But I beat ya lad (if not some of your other commenters) – 36,500

  5. Bob says:

    I scored 31,100 and honestly don’t remember my SAT scores. This does lead me to say that you could have had a good day when you took the SAT, and a bad day when you took this vocab test.

    I also don’t remember studying or preparing for any of my college entry tests. That was back in the 1960’s when I believed their instructions that studying would not improve results. Since then, a huge industry has grown around preparing high school students for their college entrance exams.

  6. nickgb says:

    31,000, which looks to be about what my age and SAT score average out to in the sample. I’m happy to dig my heels in to say that nobody needs more than 31,000 words. Liberal academic elitists.

  7. Vern R. Kaine says:

    30k for me. I didn’t spend any time in the military but I do read a lot of books with pictures in them.

  8. kirjottaja says:

    I’m not a native speaker, having Finnish as my mother tongue, so I got 10 500. The result really makes me want to improve my vocabulary. Though, I find it quite difficult. I’ve tried to read some good literature, hopefully that’ll help.

  9. Farah says:

    So, I got 25,600. Which is slightly below average for my age (25) but not by much. And its quite a bit below my SAT score average. So, I don’t know what that means, but I guess I have some time to improve. Maybe I’ll have to make a conscious effort to start using 25 cent words more often 🙂

    • Farah, you were probably just too honest. There were a ton of words I recognized, but wasn’t 100% sure of the definition, so I didn’t check them. That said, if I saw them on a multiple choice test like the SAT, I would likely get them right.

      • Farah says:

        Yes, that exact thing had crossed my mind. I was thinking that there were probably a lot of people who would just check off every word they recognized rather than taking the time to think about whether or not they could actually define it. It makes me feel better to think that, anyway. 🙂

        What I do find interesting is that I read business publications for at least half of every day at work, and there were still a number of words I didn’t know. I wonder if the ones they chose to use for the survey are more common to a specific type of literature (i.e. not the ones I read) and that’s why I didn’t know them. I think that’s what they try to get at with the questions at the end, where it asks how much you read and then how much you read fiction literature specifically.

        • Chris Van Trump says:

          It’s possible.

          I expect they’re just looking to see how the genre fans measure up against each other, but it could be that the survey will reveal which category of literature tends towards the greatest range of vocabulary.

          Pretty much exclusively science-fiction and fantasy in my case, for the record, with some nonfiction thrown in for self-edification.

    • Also, if you read some of the background material on the site, only the smartest people are taking this test, so the average is, well not so average. 😉

  10. JSierra says:

    I am happy with my score, but also disappointed that it is not higher. 37,800 out of an estimated 300,000. We all need to do better, especially as native English speakers.

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