What are the percentages of the parts of speech in English?

For instance, what percent of English is comprised of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.?

I have done an extensive web search using a variety of formulations of the question but cannot find this information.

  • You might find this interesting. Jan 21, 2012 at 5:22
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    I'm afraid that even if we knew (which we don't and never will) the exact numbers for all the words in English, in all the sentences they were ever used in, with each word in each sentence tagged for its part of speech, we would know next to nothing about English. Jan 21, 2012 at 15:37
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    "Parts of speech" is what people are usually taught as "English grammar". It's not, though; it's Latin grammar. Jan 21, 2012 at 15:42
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    Do you mean dictionary entries or occurrences in discourse?
    – Mitch
    Jan 21, 2012 at 18:19
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    Corpus analysis (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_linguistics) makes questions like this answerable, but it requires you to change "in English" which is impossibly broad to a specific corpus. Basically a corpus is a bunch of language (a selection of books, websites, chat transcriptions, phone call transcriptions, etc) assembled to be analyzed. The corpus is tagged in such a way that analysis can be done on it. For example frequency distribution, bigram analysis, etc. Despite what some comments above imply, this is a relatively easy question to answer when referring to a specific corpus.
    – pixelearth
    Oct 10, 2018 at 20:22

7 Answers 7


This is a complex question requiring a complex answer, because it all depends on what kind of language you examine. Corpus evidence used in the ‘Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ shows the following approximate frequencies of thousands of words per million:



Adverbs 50

Adjectives 25

Verbs 125

Nouns 150


Adverbs 30

Adjectives 100

Verbs 100

Nouns 300



Pronouns 165

Primary auxiliary verbs 85

Prepositions 55

Determiners 45

Coordinators 30

Modals 20

Subordinators 15

Adverbial particles 10


Pronouns 40

Primary auxiliary verbs 65

Prepositions 150

Determiners 100

Coordinators 40

Modals 15

Subordinators 10

Adverbial particles 5

These figures can give only a crude picture and show only the figures for one kind of written English. In general, though, nouns and verbs are the most common words, and conversation seems to use a higher proportion of verbs, adverbs and pronouns, while written English uses a higher proportion of nouns and adjectives.

  • +1 This is a more authentic resource.
    – Kris
    Jan 21, 2012 at 12:51
  • N.B.: X thousand per million is the same as saying X per thousand. It may be worth updating the answer to use a scale that people have better intuitions about. Nov 1, 2020 at 21:44

Please check Wordnet to see number of nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs used in their database. Though there may not be exact numbers it will give you an idea.

Noun: 117798

Verb: 11529

Adjective: 21479



The first problem is that there is no consensus on how many words the English language comprises. It depends in a very banal sense on the way you define the word "word". For example: Are "eat" and "eats" one word or two?

The other problem is that very many words function as different parts of speech. For example, present can be a noun, verb or adjective.

A better approach is to look at a body of text (a corpus) and analyse that by a process called POS (part of speech) tagging . The proportions of the different word classes will likely vary according to whether the corpus is of written or spoken language, in the academic field or popular media, and so on.

Here is an article that estimated the percentage of nouns in the LOB and Brown corpora at 37%.


Eric Lease Morgan has created Perl scripts to analyse a number of English texts and written about his findings in a fascinating essay called Foray’s into parts-of-speech, summarising:

Percentage and average of parts-of-speech usage in 9 works or corpra

The result was very surprising to me. Despite the wide range of document sizes, and despite the wide range of genres, the relative percentages of POS [parts-of-speech] are very similar across all of the documents. The last column in the table represents the average percentage of each POS use. Notice how the each individual POS value differs very little from the average.


The similarity across all the documents can be further illustrated with a line graph:

line graph of POS

Visit the blog for much more information, charts and conclusions.

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    This analysis is based pretty much on works of fiction. An examination of conversation and of other forms of writing gives different results. Jan 21, 2012 at 9:40
  • I wonder why Eric titled it with the "Foray's" having an apostrophe.
    – Kris
    Jan 21, 2012 at 12:54
  • The second graph really shouldn't be a line graph - it should be a bar graph with multiple bars per part of speech.
    – ahorn
    Nov 12, 2015 at 10:49

As a contemporary poet who writes in English I have been thinking a lot about this. While we use different parts of speech with similar frequency the number of options available to us to use of one kind or other varies drastically.

It possibly says something about how we see the world that we are more exact in our ability to label something, rather than to describe what it does. Not to be tedious or jump off the bus here, but it could also pose problems as we shift to a paradigm where identity is primarily performative. (We are what we do, not what we appear to be.)

I recently went on an interview where I was asked to describe various scenes from an action movie to create a script that would be read between dialogues for the visually impaired. When faced with such a limited number of ways of defining a mode of attack, I realized that we frequently turn an action (with a high degree of physical specificity) into a noun.

Consider a word like haymaker. We throw a haymaker. This is a big muscle movement with tons of power and commitment behind it. We could force it to act as a verb through syntax... "I haymaker you," but we will more than likely meet resistance from readers and critics.

Transferring a word from noun to verb energizes it and sets it closer to the heat of a kinetic exchange. Reversing this process pulls us back from the primary experience into a more reserved/language/observational state. We suck energy out of the word (the only way to put it back in is to then create a value statement about the word/subject... but I don't want to jump that thread here).

My argument would not be to create new verbs, but to be more open minded about using nouns as verbs. Prescriptivists are probably cringing right now, but creative writers are already jumping this direction instinctively-it will probably spread into common use.

Thank you for your time, I hope you find a more solid answer to your question.


As far as a dictionary is concerned, which may also be related to 'what to learn'), parts of speech fall roughly into two kinds, open and closed.

A closed set

is one that is pretty much unchanging. For example, the set of pronouns in English has I, you, we and only a few more, and a new one is rare ("y'all" is one of those rare exceptions. Pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions are closed sets; these all have small numbers in the dictionary (under 20 each).

An open set,

however, tends to allow growing in many ways. New nouns and verbs are created all the time, either in technical vocabularies or everyday slang. Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are open sets in English.

There tends to be a lot of growth of nouns. Combining words in a phrase into a single word is more accepted than for verbs (at least in English). For example "hand warmer" has moved on to "handwarmer" but if you want an action, you still just warm your hands instead of "handwarming". Informally, I think the reason for this is that there are more ways of describing objects than there are of actions.

I would rank the order in percentage as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, determiners. With nouns winning by far, but the last three disputed.

But the percentage of occurrences in speech is a different matter. 'the' is the most frequently occurring word in speech and writing. The frequency of appearance and the count in dictionaries is inversely proportional. There are more closed set terms in a text than open set terms. Also, the closed set is the glue that holds sentences together; without them, you just have a bag of words, you know that something did something to something else but not exactly which direction.

So if you're learning a English (and most languages), the vocabulary component is the hardest part, memorizing an unending list of new nouns and verbs for things like "windshield wiper" or "mitigate". You really must learn the closed sets first just to get the basics of communication, but the long road to (educated) proficiency is in the open sets, the nouns and verbs.

As to your exact question, what are the percentages, I'm basically saying that, for a growing language like English, the percentages are changing, the nouns and verbs always growing, which means they will take up a larger and larger percentage of the dictionary.


All words not used in discourse -- even as they listed in a lexicon (without meanings) are nouns. They don't become Parts of Speech (or writing, which is recorded speech) until they are used as one of the Eight (nine in England) parts of speech.

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    This doesn't answer the question, which is "What are the percentages of the parts of speech in English?" Sep 9, 2022 at 12:59

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