I've seen lists of the most common words in English, compiled from bodies of text.

Normally "the" is ranked first, "and" and "to" are quite high, etc.

But this is only written English.

I wonder what the most common words are in spoken English, I feel like "hello", "how are you" etc. are much much more common in spoken English than in written English.

  • I'm thinking that it would be, uh .... – Hot Licks Mar 19 at 20:10
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    You know, uh, like, I think, yeah. – TaliesinMerlin Mar 19 at 20:10
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    You might also think about the fact that in speech, there often aren't any words. Rather, there are fixed or semifixed phrases that get strung together, with contractions allover the place and words runtogether like shoulda and wanna. and like that. "Word" is a concept with sharp edges and may not be the tool of choice for actual fluid speech. – John Lawler Mar 19 at 21:35
  • Greetings are probably more common in speech than in writing overall, but unless you’re working as an usher in the US, they aren’t going to be anywhere near as frequent as articles, certain prepositions, copulas or coordinators and subordinators – not by a long shot. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 19 at 21:50

The is likely still the top word.

It's impossible to find this out for certain, since not all spoken language is recorded and corpuses tend to capture established usage. Furthermore, filler (like, oh, um, you know) may be underrepresented in corpuses, and spoken usage in general can vary widely depending on the context. Still, there are two good sources for American and British usage.

Method 1: Corpus search on the spoken subcorpus of COCA.

Result: The. It isn't close, folks. (5000 words lists these words in an accessible format but doesn't separate written and spoken English.) "The is the most common word, and it isn't close.

Limitation: COCA's spoken corpus comes from TV, radio, and sources that privilege standard American dialects in a professional register.

Method 2: Consult Geoffrey Leech, Paul Rayson, Andrew Wilson, authors of Word Frequencies in Written and Spoken English: based on the British National Corpus, 2001.

Result: The (spoken English in quantity, though they cleverly find that "oh" and "yeah" are the most distinctively conversational versus task-oriented speech, and the most common interjections/discourse particles.)

Limitations: British English. Spoken corpus was ~10 million words.

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