Our team of experts led by lexicographer Ian Brookes have used data science and corpus linguistic techniques to identify 10,000 words that make a real difference to children’s academic success – and which can rapidly accelerate your child’s literacy level.



So, how did Ian and the team arrive at 10,000? Let’s crunch the numbers.

1 million → 42,000:
The English language is mind-bogglingly vast. The Global Language Monitor claimed that English acquired its one-millionth word in 2009, and continues to acquire new words at the rate of one every 98 minutes.[1]

However, this figure counts everything that could possibly be considered as a word, including lots of one-off inventions and obscure coinages that would not be understood by many people.

Most words, furthermore, are variations on a core of 42,000 ‘root words’.[2] For example, the word ‘happy’ has numerous related forms: ‘happily’, ‘happiness’, ‘happier’, and so on. Learning just one variation of these root words provides a base for acquiring all the others.

42,000 → 37,000:
Not all root words are equal, however. Some, like ‘happy’, are so common that children don’t need to consciously study them – they’ll learn them anyway. We used data science to identify 5,000 of these ‘easy’ words, and removed them from our list. 37,000 to go!

37,000 → 10,000:
27,000 root words, though, are obscure words that most of us manage very well without unless we are scientists, academics, crossword enthusiasts, or Scrabble players.

English is full of technical or old-fashioned words that children are unlikely to ever encounter, let alone be expected to use, by the age of 17. Words like ‘sphygmomanometer’,[3] or ‘curglaff’,[4] for example – discarded from our list.

The 10,000 words that matter
That leaves us, then, with the 10,000 words that children really need to learn: challenging words that develop children’s comprehension, writing, and analytical skills, and enhance their achievement across the curriculum.
These are the words that children will encounter in the best literature, and which make up our 10,000 Word Journey.

About Ian Brookes
Ian Brookes is Mrs Wordsmith’s chief lexicographer. He is the former editor-in-chief of The Chambers Dictionary and has led or contributed to the creation of over 50 dictionaries and reference books from Chambers, HarperCollins, and Oxford University Press.


  1. The Global Language Monitor (2018) No. of Words in the English Language. Available from: https://www.languagemonitor.com/top-words-of-the-year/no-of-words/ [Accessed 10 January 2018].
  2. Brysbaert, M. et al., (2017) How Many Words Do We Know? Practical Estimates of Vocabulary Size Dependent on Word Definition, the Degree of Language Input and the Participant’s Age. Frontiers in Psychology. 7, pp. 11-16.
  3. (n.) A blood pressure meter
  4. (n.) The shock one feels upon first plunging into cold water
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