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Vocabulary Size by Age and Education

How many words did Shakespeare know?

Statisticians Bradley Efron and Ronald Thisted tried to figure out how many words Shakespeare actually knew. This analysis wasn't a trivial task and took a pretty long time in 1976. Based upon the results of this analysis Efron and Thisted created a corpus revealing the number of words and frequency of their repetition.

In total Shakespeare used in his works about 31,500 (some studies count up to 34,000) different words. But did he use all of the words known to him? Most likely not.

After thorough consideration, the statisticians came to the conclusion that in addition to the given number Shakespeare knew approximately 35,000 words that he didn't use in his compositions. Thus, they estimated that Shakespeare's real vocabulary made up about 66,500 words.

Now let us compare the vocabulary of contemporary people of different ages and educational background with the great classic playwright. The table below displays the figures of vocabulary sizes.

Education/Age Vocabulary Size (Base Words)
Shakespeare* 34,000
University Graduate 23,000
Educated Adult (High School) 15,000
Age 12 12,000
Age 5 5,000
Age 2 300
Figures taken from research carried out by English Today (Cambridge University Press).

*As mentioned above the actual Shakespeare's vocabulary could contain over 65,000 words.

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