TESOL/English vocabulary list

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This page aims to be a vocabulary list for learners of English as a foreign language. It is intended for learners of English as foreign language rather than a second language, because it focuses on the most basic words in English with the aim of developing fluency as fast as possible. For learners without a chance to gain large quantities of input, this is essential.

The selection of the most basic words is based on the objective ranking of words in spoken English from TV and movie scripts at Wiktionary's frequency lists page, but it should be regarded as a work in progress based on the know-how of teachers with real experience or the practical experiences of learners.

These are the most common words (including contractions) in English order of frequency, broken into parts of speech. If a word belongs to more than one part of speech, it is listed under each part of speech it belongs to. The word is not listed if its use is rare or very specific, for example "it" as a noun to mean a person in the game of tag.

Contractions are listed under the phrases they form. For example, "I'm" is a verb phrase missing an object but with the subject filled in with "I", so it is listed under "verbs."

The importance of closed-class words[edit]

Maximizing use of borrowings in the L2 helps focus lessons on closed-class words which need more focus in a lesson. Closed-class words often have many senses and pose a daunting challenge, so students need the help of a teacher and the help of a lesson to master them, unlike closed-class words which are simpler and easier to master by oneself.

Building listening comprehension skill is another reason to focus on closed-class words. Closed-class words are often the words which are reduced in speech, making them harder to hear, so the learner should have as much time as possible to build up their listening comprehension skills with closed-class words in a lesson with a teacher who has the desired pronunciation, usually a native speaker.

Using borrowings to focus lessons[edit]

Frequently, borrowings from English into the L2 are members of the open class parts of speech, especially nouns and adjectives. These are the low-hanging fruit, the words that a learner knows before ever stepping into the classroom. The teacher can take advantage of these to lighten the load on the student.

Closed-class words[edit]

  1. articles
    1. a
  2. pronouns
    1. you
    2. I
    3. that
    4. it
    5. me
    6. what
    7. this
    8. my
    9. your
    10. we
    11. he
  3. determiners
    1. you
    2. that
      1. that book is a good read
    3. what
    4. this
    5. no
    6. we
    7. all
  4. interjections
    1. what
    2. no
    3. my
    4. so
    5. well
    6. oh
    7. right
  5. conjunctions
    1. and
    2. that
      1. she said that she was coming
    3. not
    4. so
    5. but
  6. prepositions
    1. to
      1. go to (the shop)
        1. Where will you go on vacation? I will go to Hawaii.
        2. note: go to there
    2. of
    3. in
    4. for
    5. on
    6. with
    7. but
      1. I like everyone but him.
    8. about
    9. out
  7. particles
    1. to
      1. I want to (verb)
        1. What will you do tomorrow? I want to go shopping.
        2. Will you go shopping? I want to.

Open-class words[edit]

  1. adverbs
    1. the
    2. that
    3. what
    4. in
    5. this
    6. no
    7. just
    8. not
    9. on
    10. so
    11. but
    12. all
    13. well
    14. about
    15. right
    16. here
    17. out
  2. adjectives
    1. on
    2. so
    3. well
    4. right
    5. here
  3. verbs
    1. is
    2. know
    3. I'm (note that "I'm" is 16th most common, whereas its component "am" is 125th)
    4. have
    5. don't (slightly more common than "do")
    6. do
    7. be
    8. was
    9. it's (30th most common)
    10. are
    11. you're
    12. get - very versatile
  4. nouns
    1. right
      1. the store is on the right
    2. here

Possibly outside the core[edit]