Most US adults know more than 42,000 words by age 20

Marc Brysbaert
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London– Armed with a new list of words and using the power of social media, a new study has found that by the age of 20, a native English-speaking American knows 42,000 dictionary words.

As we get older, we learn one new word every two days, which means that by the age of 60, we know an additional 6,000 words, said the study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

“Our research got a huge push when a television station in the Netherlands asked us to organise a nation-wide study on vocabulary knowledge,” said leader of the study Marc Brysbaert, Professor at Ghent University in Belgium.

Marc Brysbaert
Marc Brysbaert

“The test we developed was featured on TV and, in the first weekend, over 300 thousand Dutch speakers had done it — it really went viral,” Brysbaert said.

Realising how interested people are in finding out their vocabulary size, the team then made similar tests in English and Spanish.

The English test has now been taken by almost one million people. It takes up to four minutes to complete and has been shared widely on Facebook and Twitter, giving the team access to an unprecedented amount of data.

The test is simple. You are asked if the word on the screen is, or is not, an existing word in English. In each test, there are 70 words, and 30 letter sequences that look like words but are not actually existing words.

The test will also ask you for some personal information such as your age, gender, education level and native language.

This has enabled the team to discover that the average 20-year-old native English-speaking American knows 42,000 dictionary words.


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