Iâ€™ve been studying Italian for several years now and there always seems to be a new word I come across. So I was curious: How many words are in the Italian language?
According to the Grande Dizionario Italiano dell’Uso there are over 260,000 words in the Italian language. This Italian dictionary was edited by famed Italian linguist Tullio De Mauro and is considered the most comprehensive dictionary of the current Italian language.
But if we think of the various forms that Italian words can take that number grows quickly.
Introduce verb forms, adjective variations, the singular and plural forms of nouns and you can see how that can happen.
In fact, linguist Luca Lorenzetti did just that in his essay, â€œLâ€™italiano contemporaneoâ€ (Carocci, Roma 2004). In it Lorenzetti estimated that there are more than 2 million words in Italian.
If you are learning Italian that number may be intimidating .
But have no fear.
Italians with medium-high education have a vocabulary of around 47,000 words.
That number is even lower for the words that make up basic Italian communication.
7,000 Italian Words
According to the studies of De Mauro, 98% of the Italian used today consists of only 7,000 words.
Those words are broken down into three categories:
1) Basic vocabulary: 2,000 words
The fundamental vocabulary of Italian. These words are used frequently and make up 90% of Italian communication. They are usually learned by native Italians at a very young age. Examples include: the verb â€œguidareâ€ / â€œto driveâ€ and the article â€œilâ€ / â€œtheâ€ .
2) High use vocabulary: around 2,750 words
These words are used less frequently. They are learned in higher levels of education and make up 6% of used Italian. These words are found more often in adult literature and mature conversations. Examples include: â€œimpiantoâ€/â€ implantâ€ and â€œimpaurireâ€ / â€to frightenâ€.
3) High availability vocabulary: about 2,300 words
These words are easy to understand by Italian speakers but are used in only 1-2% of the time. Examples include: â€œpescaâ€ / â€peachâ€ and â€œbancarellaâ€ / â€œstallâ€.
The New Basic Vocabulary Of The Italian Language
So what are the 7,000 words that make up the basic Italian vocabulary?
Furthermore, how did Tullio DeMauro determine them?
The 7,000 words are more formally known as â€œIl Nuovo vocabolario di base della lingua italiana” or translated in English “The New Basic Vocabulary of The Italian Language”.
The list was created by electronically counting the words in over 18,843,459 long texts.
These texts were selected evenly from six categories:
- Press / Print (daily and weekly)
- Essays / Non-Fiction (popular essays, scholastic and university texts and texts),
- Fiction / Literary texts (narrative, poetry)
- Television/Shows (film scripts, theater)
- Computer communication (chat etc.)
- Speech recordings
Proper names, symbols, numbers, and icons were then removed so that only words remained.
From there, the most common words were determined thus creating â€œIl Nuovo vocabolario di base della lingua italiana“.
If you’d like the entire list can be downloaded here.
Most Common 1000 Words In Italian
In addition, the study found the most common 1000 words in Italian make up:
- 86% of Spoken Italian
- 83% of Italian Computer communication
- 84% of Italain Television/Shows
- 81% of Italian Fiction / Literary texts
- 76% of Italian Press / Print
- 73% of Italain Essays / Non-Fiction
86% of spoken Italian uses only 1000 words.
That is a huge drop from the intimidating 260,000 words in the Grande Dizionario Italiano dell’Uso.
Learning those 1000 words would give you a huge head start in becoming fluent in Italian.
Statistically speaking, having these 1000 words in your Italian vocabulary, would mean you would know close to 9 out of 10 words in every Italian conversation.
Understanding most Italian conversations would be a breeze.
So where do you start learning the most common 1000 words in Italian?
Begin by trying one of these free online resources:
Most Common 2000 Words In Italian
But why stop at 1000 Italian words?
What would happen if you increased your vocabulary to the most common 2000 words in Italian?
According to the study the 2000 most common words in Italian are used in:
- 91% of Spoken Italian
- 86% of Computer communication in Italian
- 86% of Italian Television/Shows
- 85% of Italian Fiction / Literary texts
- 84% of Italian Press / Print
- 81% of Italian Essays / Non-Fiction
You can get started learning these 2000 Italian words here:
Additional Common Italian Words
For advanced Italian speakers even 2000 Italian words isnâ€™t going to cut it.
Those of us who are perfectionists will want to try our best to be closer to 100%.
Unfortunately, 100% is never a complete reality even in a native language.
However, if you can master the 5000 most commonly used words in Italian you will understand:
- 95% of Spoken Italian
- 92% of Computer communication in Italian
- 93% of Italian Television/Shows
- 93% of Italian Fiction / Literary texts
- 92% of Italian Press / Print
- 90% of Italian Essays / Non-Fiction
For this challenge you are going to need more than a simple list.
Here are some resources that can help you on the road to becoming fluent in Italian….
Online Italian Dictionaries
- I am a big fan of the Reverso app (iOS/Android). But if you are looking for a free version the website is a great resource as well. It includes English to Italian translations as well as audio clips to help with pronunciation.
- Similar to Reverso, Word Reference offers an English to Italian and Italian to English online dictionary coupled with audio clips.
- This online resource is in Italian only but is one of the most trusted dictionaries in Italy
Printed Italian Dictionaries
If you are a little more old-school and want to flip through a printed Italian dictionary these are good options:
- This dictionary features 100,000 entries with translations.
- Websterâ€™s Italian-English/English-Italian dictionary has been completely revised and updated.
Italian Vocabulary Books
If a dictionary is too much for you try out one of these simpler books:
As you can see, increasing your Italian vocabulary just a little will greatly improve your chances of understanding most spoken Italian.
Thankfully we donâ€™t need to know all 260,000 words in the Italian Dictionary.
Which language has the largest vocabulary?
The Korean language has the largest vocabulary with 1,100,373 words in its dictionary ìš°ë¦¬ë§ìƒ˜ (Woori Mal Saem, 2017). The online open dictionary includes dialects of South and North Korea.
How many words are in the English language?
According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary there are more than 470,000 words in the English language.