What are the most-used words in the English language?
One way to trace most-frequently-used words is with the search magic of Google Ngram viewer. With the Ngram viewer, you type a word, and it tells you how often that word is used over a specific time period, based on the Google Books database. For example, the word “the” is used about 5% of the time, which means that in every text of 100 words, 5 of those words are “the.” Similarly, the word “of” is used about 3% of the time, and the word “and” is used about 2.5% of the time.
The folks over at Oxford Dictionaries compiled a comprehensive analysis of English-language usage called the Oxford English Corpus. In this sense, a corpus is the entire body of words and phrases that constitute a language. See their complete analysis here.
Obviously, most of the most commonly used words are short words that help build sentences. As in the previous sentence, the words of, are, that, and the join the parts of the sentence that make the idea. Linguists call these “function words.” 84 of the top 100 words are function words.
Things get interesting when you look at the list of top 10 nouns:
Some of the words, like way, have many different meanings, which may be why they are more frequently used. For example, you could say, “She’s lost her way” or “that’s the way to the grocery store.” It is the same word in both instances, but they are very different meanings. Another reason certain words occur frequently has to do with their use in common phrases. So a word like time is used often, and it also appears in many common phrases, like last time, in time, next time, etc.