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Why So Many Words for the Same Thing?

English Communication: Why so many words for the same thing?

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Roberta (from Italy) asked me, “Why does English have so many words for everything? ‘Smart,’ ‘Clever,’ ‘Brainy,’ ‘Intelligent’– in Italian we just say ‘Intelligente!’

It’s true, English has a lot of words!  Experts count at least 250,000. (Other experts say half a million, a million or even a billion. It is all in how you count them!)

No matter how you count the number of words in English, this is significantly higher than most other languages–likely more than any other language.

Why so many words?  The answer is in English’s long and complicated history of invasion and conquest.  Of different cultures (and their languages) colliding, borrowing, and merging.  And the answer is in the rapidly expanding vocabularies of all the sciences, technology, and even slang and colloquial phrases in popular culture.

Don’t worry, though– you don’t need to memorize all quarter-million (or more!) words to be a proficient English speaker.  And when it comes to words with synonyms (words with the same or similar meanings, like ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’), you can often communicate what you need to say if you know just one or a few of the words.

On the other hand, there are a few types of words in English that have hundreds of synonyms–especially adjectives like ‘good’ and ‘bad.  For example, ‘really good’ can be expressed with words like excellent, wonderful, amazing, incredible, and many more.  With words like these that are so, so common, you probably want to be able to use a few and recognize many.

Here are other synonyms which mean “really good:”

  • Awesome
  • Fantastic
  • Cool
  • Hot

Be sure to watch our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos  for more English pronunciation and accent reduction exercises.

Contributing editor: Amber McKinney

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