English words to learn first: the 700+ that I propose

A reader, Giuseppe, wrote to me asking me which English words it's worth learning first, ie which are the most important for a beginner.

This is a very interesting question, why “What to learn first”Is a fundamental concept in any form of learning: languages, university exams, sports, and after all, life itself….

Have you ever thought about it?

Much of your success depends on the hierarchy with which you learn things. 

40.000 English words?!?

I'll give you an example: imagine taking an English dictionary of the smallest ones, let's say with 40 headwords (one tenth of the total number of English words !, which is estimated to be 400), and then starting to study the words in English one after the other, starting from A to arrive one day at Z.

You end up with a first big problem: to learn them all you risk taking a really long time.

But it doesn't really bother you, because in this example you are a very determined student, plus you know perfectly well the memorization techniques I teach in the blog.

So you go like a train, and in a reasonable time you make it: you have studied and remembered all 40 thousand English words in the dictionary.

But at that point you find yourself with a second big problem, that is, an overload of information, which moreover are all on the same level.

With the consequence that you are not able to use effectively the knowledge you have acquired with so much effort ...

And so you say phrases like, "my tail-wagger worships my helpmate", absolutely incomprehensible to most, to express a simple concept like "my dog ​​loves my wife", that is "my dog ​​loves my wife".

While studying even just a thousand English words, but the right ones and in the right way....

Study only what you need

The example I gave you happens in reality: I recently received an email from a guy who, after downloading the keyword method to learn languages, told me "It works great! I am studying German, and in 3 days I have already learned all the letter A in the dictionary ”.

So, to prevent others from wasting time, I want to clarify this point once and for all: nature has programmed us to forget, not to remember.

Why sand we remember too much (as happens in some rare neurological pathologies and as happens to Funes the mindful, character of a story by Jeorge Luiss Borges) we are unable to function well.

So while not everyone gets to the extremes of the email guy, the problem of what to study first really exists, and by learning to solve it you can fully develop your learning potential. In other words, get more results with less effort.

For this reason, when I talk about the effective study method, the selection process comes first. And I explain techniques such as skimming, which is used to select better.

But for many subjects, selecting the right things isn't easy at all for two reasons:

  • insecurity typical of many students (and in fact often those who study half of the others have a confident character, bordering on bragging rights)
  • the lack of clear guidelines typical of most professors (and in fact often those who study half of the others spend, ironically, a lot of time out of the classroom fooling around and asking others what is important and what is not)

And so you end up trying to study everything, making huge efforts and getting poor results. Like you when we imagined learning 40 English words from A to Z.

Foreign languages ​​and attendance lists

Fortunately for languages, and so we return to the problem of English words with which we started, there is a simple and powerful tool which allows you to easily decide which words to learn: the frequency list.

Frequency lists are collections of words ordered according to how often they repeat themselves in a given context. There are frequency lists of all types and sizes: the 1000 most used English words in cinema, the 2000 most used English words in literature, the 500 most used English words in medicine, and so on with possibilities, quantities and crossings for all tastes.

And these kinds of lists don't just exist for English, but for most languages.

Obviously, lists of different languages ​​differ, from the point of view of writing and pronunciation, almost completely from each other.

But from a meaning point of view, the lists are 95% superimposable, with a few but interesting differences, which reflect cultural / geographical / political diversity. (For example, the word meaning "snow" will be much more common in Swedish than in Spanish, just as "God" is much less common in China than in the United States).

As if to say that the central nucleus of a man's interests and experiences is similar, 95%, in all latitudes and in all areas.

Fascinating isn't it?

The list of "English words" to know

Stimulated by Giuseppe's question about the English word list, I sent him some useful links from wikipedia.

And then, I decided to write my own list too: the 700+ words that most characterize us as human beings (although I certainly forgot a few).

To do this, I tried to keep myself as "dry" as possible and stay on the basics: objects, people, professions, verbs, adjectives, numbers, truly everyday, and of which we have the image and concept printed in the head.

Now, what is my list for? To buy a lot of time to all those who have to learn a language from scratch or almost: just take the words in Spanish, translate them into the target language and memorize them. And you will know 80% of the words you need to use on a typical day.

With a caveat though: it's not as simple as it sounds.

For example, the adjective "high" in Spanish is used both for a man and for a mountain.

While in English it is used for one "tall" and for the other "high". Son and daughter in English are two completely different words, that is son and daughter. Just as two completely different English words identify uncle and aunt.

And an adjective like "tight" can be translated as narrow or tight depending on the situation. And so on for many other words!

Because the number of situations of this type is large, and there are some in every language.

For this reason I prefer, instead of giving the basic list of words in English, give the list of words in Spanish and have the translation done by you, whatever language you want to learn.

In this way you will be able to enter the mechanisms of use of the target language more quickly, also learning a lot of basic grammar: use of articles, formation of masculine and feminine (and in some languages, of the neuter); plural, singular and verbal conjugations.

In fact, this is the phase of real vocabulary study. To understand that is not how they translate literally, but how they work words in another language.

Once you've done that, memorizing them will be a very quick breeze, especially if you use memory techniques such as spaced repetition and the keyword method.

In summary, using the study and memorization of English words as an example, here's how to use the list:

  • get a Spanish-English and English-English dictionary
  • look for the translation of the Spanish word, and see how it corresponds to English
  • for nouns and adjectives first study the difference in use, for example, for narrow, you will find both narrow and tight, and you need to understand the difference
  • then he studies the formation of the plural / singular and of the masculine / feminine
  • for verbs, study the difference in use: for example for "bring" you will find both "take" and "bring"
  • then, it studies the particles with which they accompany
  • when you have translated all the words, go to the English-English section, where you will see the contextualization of the words in complete sentences

Meanwhile, through i free pronunciation services by Google Translate and Forvo, you will hear the pronunciation of each word and you will try to reproduce it with maximum fidelity.

In this way you will have built a solid foundation for the language you want to learn, and you will know much more than not having studied a few thousand words at random.

To make it easier for you, I have grouped the 700+ main words into sublists, in my opinion similar from a conceptual point of view. These are partly arbitrary groupings, and which inevitably have overlaps / incompleteness. For example, I put "fish" among animals and not among foods, because it seemed easier that way. More a matter of taste than an important one, so don't get too fixated on it. But now, let's get started:

 700+ words


I, you, him, her, we, you, them, human, parents, mom, dad, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, son, newborn, uncle, man, woman, homosexual, family, husband, wife, divorced , child, adult, friend, acquaintance, teacher, instructor, neighbor


Cat, dog, fish, cow, pig, horse, bird, animal, hen, chicken, egg, paw, tail, snout, fur, kibble, bowl, mouse, monkey, lion, tiger, leash


Tree, sea, waves, beach, sand, parasol, meadow, river, mountain, hill, path, top, sun, moon, stars, clouds, sky, fog, rain, snow, wind, soil, flower, leaf, lake, air, island, water, fire, nature, plant, seed, fruit

Qualities (adjectives)

Long, short, high, low, big, small, wide, narrow, cold, hot, fast, slow, new, old, young, elderly, good, bad, sick, healthy, expensive, cheap, beautiful, ugly, dark, bright, rich, poor, thick, thin, soft, hard, deep, superficial, famous, unknown, strong, weak, clean, dirty, alive, dead, right, wrong, quiet, loud, nice, obnoxious, heavy, light, dry, dry, humid, wet, light, dark, happy, sad, attentive, distracted, sweet, bitter, salty, rough, smooth, wild, generous, stingy, envious

The human body

Head, brain, face, beard, hair, ears, nose, mustache, mouth, lips, teeth, tongue, cheek, eyes, neck, arms, hand, bone, back, shoulder, chest, heart, stomach, belly, leg, knee, ankle, foot, toe, nail, earrings, necklace, ring, blood, saliva, sweat, pain.

The food

Pasta, rice, bread, cheese, eggs, meat, ham, salami, cake, ice cream, sandwich, salad, tomato, oil, vinegar, garlic, onion, sugar, pepper, chilli, fruit, apple, pear, banana, orange, strawberry , grape, restaurant, table, napkin, plate, glass, fork, knife, spoon, chair, bottle, breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, menu, bill, water, wine, coffee, tea, juice, beer, milk , drinks


Country, city, home, apartment, cinema, hospital, pharmacy, airport, train station, bus station, hotel, university, school, post office, embassy, ​​cafe, theater, bookstore, library, stadium, supermarket, bank, church, police station, highway, street, street, bridge, bakery, butcher, clothes store, market, factory, office, studio, laundry, brewery, prison, museum

The clothes

Hat, Dress, Pants, Jeans, Skirt, T-shirt, Shirt, Underpants, Shoes, Socks, Jacket, Pocket, Coat, Down Jacket, Scarf, Bag, Wallet, Gloves


Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, pink, brown, gray, white, black, colorful, red, light blue

The time

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, week, day, December, January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, month, year, winter, spring, summer, autumn, today, tomorrow, yesterday, morning, afternoon, evening, night, clock, what time is it? hour, minute, second

the work

Profession, job, doctor, engineer, employee, lawyer, actor, judge, singer, teacher, waiter, secretary, writer, entrepreneur, manager, baker, butcher, shopkeeper, policeman, soldier, artist, musician, guitarist, painter, sculptor, student, priest, sportsman, player of ..., football, tennis, volleyball, politician, president, deputy, thief, barber, beautician, dentist, trader, tourist, pilot, researcher

The house

House, stairs, door, window, garden, keys, elevator, table, sofa, armchair, chair, bed, bathroom, hall, room, bedroom, kitchen, balcony, floor, ceiling, wall, soap, toilet paper, sink , toothbrush, toothpaste, trash, computer, telephone, television, radio, laptop, camera, book, pen, sheet of paper, notebook, clipboard, eraser, pencil, film, glasses, video game, box, electricity, technology, newspaper, newscast


automobile, train, plane, bicycle, skates, bus, ticket, ship, petrol, gas pump, wheel, steering wheel, puncture, inflate, deflate, engine, engine oil, overhaul, broken, truck.

The context

Top, bottom, top, bottom, side, back, front, right, left, inside, out, here, there, straight, now, then, before, after, always, often, sometimes, rarely, where, when, how, why, what

The materials

paper, iron, metal, steel, stone, ceramic, wood, gold, diamonds, plastic, glass, silver.


Kilometer, meter, centimeter, kilogram, gram, number, first, second, third, half, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred, one thousand, weight, height, age, temperature, shape, round, square, rectangular, triangular.


Eat, drink, sleep, dream, walk, work, play, run, cycle, walk, swim, drive, learn, jump, break, take, build, teach, smile, talk, listen, write, read, think, study, repeat, memorize, underline, remember, spend, save, consume, buy, sell, pay, cost, kill, steal, beat, fight, cry, laugh, smile, cut, sew, burn, put out, lose, win, equalize, dance, go out, enter, pray, wash, cook, wake up, sing, sit, get up, leave, arrive, give, offer, feed, grow, give to drink, open, close, call, go up, go down, pray, dig, kiss, observe, touch, see, die, be born, lie, question, pull, leave, allow, push, complain, help, hinder, love, call, shoot, erase, choose, want, desire, like, pass , breastfeed, power, carry, between sport, raise, earn, attack, detach, defend, believe

The best systems

War, peace, love, hate, justice, injustice, money, drugs, freedom, hell, heaven, punishment, prize, religion, philosophy, mathematics, science, history, medicine, foreign languages, constitution, politics, democracy, tyranny.


First of all….

  • Remember a rule "cosmic ", that is, that concerns everything: when you want to learn something, try to find a way to determine what is important. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort.
  • For the language vocabulary, we have already talked about the frequency lists: make the choice easy, therefore it is a crime not to use them.
  • For other subjects, learn skimming and be a secret agent, that is, collect as much information as possible. Forums, coffee machines, older friends, classmates ... if you feel like it, ask the professor himself! Everything is broth, especially because thanks to experience you will learn to filter what they tell you and to understand who and what is reliable, and who and what is not.

As for my list, however ... 

  • Have you been studying a language for a while? Look at the 700+ words I wrote, and if you are able to translate and pronounce them accurately, contextualizing them in a sentence, it means that you have laid a solid foundation.
  • Do you have to start studying? Start with these words, and you will have maximum effectiveness.
  • Do you think you are missing any? You are probably right. Write me your proposed additions, with the motivation, and I will be happy to modify the list!

A greeting. Armando.


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