Zipf’s Law or Which English Words Should You Know?

English with a Smile

theStefano Mortellaro

zipf3 In 1935, the American philologist (= an expert on written language & literature) George Kingsley ZIpf formulated a clever law about the most popular words in any language. We’ll only talk about English of course. What does his law say? Zipf discovered that the most popular words — in any text — are twice as popular as the second most popular word. So the second most popular word is half as popular as the most popular word. And the third most popular word is only a third as popular as the most popular word. The tenth most popular word is used a tenth as much as the most popular word. And so on. So in each case, how much a word is used is inversely proportional to its ranking on the popularity list. Proportional means that when you have two numbers, one number is a part (portion) of…

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