Is that the most powerful word in the English language? (2023)

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Is that the most powerful word in the English language? (1)

By Elena Schumacher1 January 2021

The most used word in the English language may only have three letters - but there's a lot of power behind it.

"THE". It's ubiquitous. we cannot imagine English without it. But there isn't much to see. It is not descriptive, evocative or inspirational. Technically it makes no sense. And yet this mild and seemingly innocuous word could be one of the most powerful in the English language.

This story was originally published in January 2020.

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"The" tops the list of most commonly used words in the English language.They make up 5% of all 100 words used. "'The' really slips out," says Jonathan Culpeper, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University. But why is it like that? So the answer is twofoldThe BBC Radio 4 program Oral Tradition. George Zipf, a 20th-century American linguist and philologist, coined the principle of least effort. He predicted that short and simple words would be the most common - and he was right.

Another reason is that "the" is at the heart of English grammar and has a function, not a meaning. Words are divided into two categories: expressions with semantic meaning and functional words like "the", "to", "for" with a task to be done. "That" can work in a number of ways. That's typical, explains Gary Thoms, an assistant professor of linguistics at New York University: "A word that's used a lot develops a real flexibility," with various subtle uses that make definition difficult. “The” helps us understand what is being said and gives nouns meaning as a subject or object. So even someone with a rudimentary knowledge of English can tell the difference between "I ate an apple" and "I ate an apple".

Is that the most powerful word in the English language? (2)

"Score a goal" seems to be more important than "score a goal" (System: Alamy)

But while "it" has no meaning per se, "it appears to be able to effect things in subtle and wondrous ways," says poet and author Michael Rosen. Remember the difference between "scored the goal" and "scored the goal". The inclusion of "the" immediately suggests that this goal is important. Maybe it was the only game? Or was it the deciding factor that won? Context all too often determines meaning.

(Video) The Most Powerful Word in the English Language (WATCH THIS)

There are many exceptions to the use of the definite article, such as in proper nouns. We wouldn't expect anyone to say 'Jonathan', but there's nothing wrong with saying, 'You're not the Jonathan I thought you were.' A football commentator can deliberately create a general atmosphere by saying, 'You have Lampards in midfield,” meaning the playersIfLampard.

The use of "the" may have increased with the increase in trade and manufacturing leading up to the Industrial Revolution when we needed to refer to things and processes. "That" contributed to the clear distinction and could serve as a quantifier, for example "a stick of butter".

This could lead to the assumption that "the" is the English horse. functional but boring. However, Rosen rejects this view. As elementary school kids are taught to use "wow" words and to choose "shouted" over "said," she believes no word has more or less a "wow" factor than any other. it all depends on how it is used. "The power of language comes from context... 'that' can be a wow word," he says.

This simplest of words can be used to dramatic effect. At the beginning of Hamlet, the keeper's utterance, "Long live the king," is soon followed by the appearance of a ghost: "Doesn't he look like a king?" To whom, the audience asks, does "it" refer? Living or dead king? This kind of ambiguity is the kind of "hook" authors use to ask us questions, even if only slightly alarmed. "'The' does a lot of work here," says Rosen.

A deeper meaning

"It" can even have philosophical implications. The Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong said that a term like "round square" represents this object. now there was such a thing. According to Meinong, the word itself created nonexistent objects, arguing that there are objects that exist and those that don't - but all were created by language. "'The' has a kind of magical quality in philosophy," says Barry C. Smith, director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London.

Is that the most powerful word in the English language? (3)

"The" gives substance to phrases like "Mann im Mond" and implies that they exist (Source: Alamy)

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay in 1905 entitled "On Denotation, All About the Definite Article". Russell introduced the theory of definitive descriptions. He found it unacceptable to use phrases like "man on the moon" as if they actually existed. He wanted to revise the surface grammar of the English language because it was wrong and "didn't provide a good guide to the logic of the language," explains Smith. Since then, this topic has been discussed in a philosophical context. "Despite the simplicity of the word," Thoms notes, "it has long eluded a very precise definition."

Lynne Murphy, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex, spokeBoring conference2019, an event that celebrates issues that are mundane, mundane and overlooked, but prove fascinating. He pointed out how strange it is that our most commonly used word is one that many of the world's languages ​​don't have. And how amazing it is for English speakers to struggle with the myriad of uses.

Scandinavian languages ​​such as Danish or Norwegian and some Semitic languages ​​such as Hebrew or Arabic use an affix (or a short addition at the end of a word) to identify whether the speaker is referring to a specific topic or using some other general expression. A Latvian or Indonesian uses demonstrative words like "this" and "that" to do the work of "that". There is another group of languages ​​that do not use either of these sources, such as Urdu or Japanese.

Function words are very specific to each language.

mouth to mouth

This story is adapted by BBC Radio 4Word of mouth: The strongest word, produced by Melvin Rickarby.

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So someone who speaks Hindi or Russian as a mother tongue would have to think very differently when constructing a sentence in English. Murphy says she's noticed, for example, that her Chinese students sometimes play it safe and put "it" where it's not needed. In contrast, Smith describes Russian friends who are so unsure of when to use "the" that they sometimes stop: "I went to the . . . bank." I have . . . a pen. English speakers learning a language without an equivalent for "the" also have difficulties and can compensate by using words like "this" and "this".

the Atlantic watershed

Even within languages, there are subtle differences in the use of "the" in British and American English, for example when referring to playing a musical instrument. An American is more likely to say "I play guitar" while a Brit is more likely to say "I play guitar". But there are some instruments where both nationalities like to omit the "it", such as "I play drums". Likewise, the same person can alternately refer to playing any instrument with or without a specific member—because either is correct and both have meaning.

Is that the most powerful word in the English language? (4)

Americans are more likely to say, "I play the piano," while a Brit is more likely to say, "I play the piano" (Source: Alamy)

And yet, depending on the musical atmosphere, there is a subtle difference in the meaning of the word "the" in the expressions "I play the piano" and "I clean the piano". We instinctively understand that the former means piano playing is general and not limited to one instrument, and yet with the latter we know it's a specific piano that turns into sharpness.

According to Culpeper, "that" is about a third less common in spoken language. Of course, it depends on the topic in question whether it is used more frequently in the text or in the language. A more personal, emotional topic might contain fewer instances of "it" than something more formal. "The" appears most often in academic prose and provides a useful word for conveying information - be it academic papers, legal contracts, or news. Novels use "das" less often, partly because they involve conversation.

(Video) The most powerful word in the English language | Dr. John NG | Weill Cornell Medicine

Deborah Tannen, an American linguist, suggests that men are more concerned with reporting and women are more concerned with relationships - this may explain why men use "the" more often

According to Culpeper, men are much more likely to say "it." Deborah Tannen, an American linguist, suggests that men are more concerned with reporting and women are more concerned with relationships - this may explain why men use "the" more often. Depending on the context and background, a woman in more traditional power structures can also be brought up not to accept the voice of authority, so she uses “she” less often. Although all of these gender generalizations also depend on the type of subject being studied.

People in higher positions also use "es" more often - this can be a sign of their prestige and (self-)importance. And when we speak of "Prime Minister" or "President," it gives more power and authority to that role. It can also add credibility to an idea or move a plan forward. The discussion of the "greenhouse effect" or the "immigration problem" clarifies these ideas and assumes their existence.

"The" can be a "very unstable" word, says Murphy. Someone who speaks of "Americans" and not just "Americans" is more likely to criticize that nationality in some way. When people started talking about "Jews" in the creation of the Holocaust, it became different and objectified. According to Murphy, "'The' makes the group seem like a large, unified mass rather than a diverse group of individuals." That's what Trump was there forcriticized for using the word in this contextduring the 2016 US presidential debate.


We don't know exactly where "the" came from - there is no exact ancestor in Old English grammar. The Anglo-Saxons didn't say "the", they had their own versions. According to historical linguist Laura Wright, they have not entirely disappeared. In parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland there is a remnant of Old English inflected forms of the definite article - t' (as in "going t' pub").

The letter y in expressions like "ye olde tea shop" comes from the ancient rune Thorn, which is part of a script used in northern Europe for centuries. Only relatively recently, with the introduction of the Roman alphabet, was “th” created.

"It" deserves a celebration. The three-letter word outweighs its weight in impact and breadth of contextual meaning. It can be political, it can be dramatic - it can even lead to the creation of non-existent concepts.

You can hear more about "the" on BBC Radio 4Word of mouth: The strongest word.

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What is the most powerful word in English? ›

Why is yet the most powerful word in the English language? Because when you add yet to the end of a sentence, you completely change the connotation of that sentence. You can say, “I don't understand it,” or you can say, “I don't understand it YET”.

What are the 2 most powerful words in the English language? ›

The 2 most powerful words in the english language are “I AM” Because what comes after I AM will shape your life. What you speak after “I AM” … What you BELIEVE after “I AM” will control your decisions and shape your life.

What are the 3 most powerful words in the world? ›

Award-winning journalist Michele Weldon used to ask her students at Northwestern University what the most powerful three words are. No, they are not I love you, as many would have guessed. They are “I don't know.” This was how she taught the future reporters the importance of finding answers by asking questions.

What is the #1 longest word in English? ›

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is the longest word entered in the most trusted English dictionaries.

What is the rarest word? ›

Do you know what a quincunx is? Here are 15 of the most unusual words in the English dictionary
  • ​Deliquescent. Adjective: Becoming liquid, or having a tendency to become liquid.
  • Flabbergast. Verb: Surprise someone greatly.
  • Flimflam. ...
  • Floccinaucinihilipilification. ...
  • Limerence. ...
  • Loquacious. ...
  • Obdurate. ...
  • Omnishambles.

What are the 5 powerful words? ›

5 Powerful Words That Will Make Your Day More Productive
  • #1: "Draft". (As in "Just do a draft...")
  • #2: "Now". ( As in "Do it now...")
  • #3: "Why". (As in "Tell me why you want to meet?)
  • #4: "No." (As in "No, I choose not to do this.)
  • #5: "Enough". (As in "I've done enough for today...")
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What are the 12 powerful word in English? ›

What are the twelve powerful words? Trace, Analyze, Infer, Evaluate, Formulate, Describe, Support, Explain, Summarize, Compare, Contrast, Predict. Why use the twelve powerful words? These are the words that always give students more trouble than others on standardized tests.

What is power words in English? ›

What are Power Words? Power words are strong words that smart copywriters use to trigger a psychological or emotional response. They're called “power words” because they are so persuasive that people simply can't resist being influenced by them!

What are some eye catching words? ›

25 attention-grabbing words
  • Immediately. The word "immediately" conveys a sense of urgency that you should do something right now. ...
  • Sharp. The word "sharp" may create different visual images depending on the other words in the sentence. ...
  • Renewed. ...
  • Instantly. ...
  • Invigorated. ...
  • Unleashed. ...
  • Unlimited. ...
  • Personalized.
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What are the 8 powerful words? ›

#163: 8 Power Words to Use in Your English Job Interview (and 1...
  • team player.
  • honest.
  • hardworking.
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  • loyal.
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What's the most used word in America? ›

Here's the List of the 1000 Most Common English Words
  • be – “Will you be my friend?”
  • and – “You and I will always be friends.”
  • of – “Today is the first of November.”
  • a – “I saw a bear today.”
  • in – “She is in her room.”
  • to – “Let's go to the park.”
  • have – “I have a few questions.”
  • too – “I like her too.”

What are the 3 big words? ›

Have you ever wondered what the three biggest words in the Bible are?

What are the 3 golden words? ›

Please, sorry and thank you are known as the Golden Words. Using these three words means you have good manners.

What is more powerful than words? ›


What word has 190 000 letters? ›

The longest English word is also the longest word in the world, with almost 190,000 letters. It is the chemical name for titin, the largest protein known. The longest word in the English dictionary however, is the 45-letter word "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis", which refers to a lung disease.

What word has 52 letters? ›

Aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic (52 letters) In the 17th century, Dr. Edward Strother coined the 52-letter word aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic. The word is used to describe the spa waters in Bath, England.

Is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious a real word? ›

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a nonsensical word that is sometimes used to describe something as being great or extraordinary. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is used especially by children and fans of Disney movies to describe something as being really good.

What is the oldest word of all time? ›

Mother, bark and spit are just three of 23 words that researchers believe date back 15,000 years, making them the oldest known words.

What is the most old word? ›

The Oldest Word in the World. It is believed the first spoken word was “Aa,” which meant hey. “Aa” is thought to have first been spoken by an australopithecine in Ethiopia over a million years ago.

What is the most mysterious word in the world? ›

Consent is probably the most confusing, puzzling, and incomprehensible words in the world.

What's a powerful word? ›

A power word (also sometimes confused as a trigger word) is a word that evokes an emotion and a response. It instills in people the desire or need to respond to whatever you're presenting them with. That's great for entrepreneurs and marketers.

Do words have powers? ›

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

What are the 10 important words? ›

Here are those 100 important words:
  • Amount.
  • Argument.
  • Art.
  • Be.
  • Beautiful.
  • Belief.
  • Cause.
  • Certain.
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What is the best word for love? ›

  • affection.
  • passion.
  • devotion.
  • respect.
  • fondness.
  • enthusiasm.
  • desire.
  • longing.

What words excite the brain? ›

They are: joy, surprise, trust, fear, anticipation, anger, sadness, and disgust.

What words make people feel good? ›

How to Crank Up Emotion with Encouragement Words
59 more rows
May 6, 2023

How can I improve my English word power? ›

7 Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary
  1. Develop a reading habit. Vocabulary building is easiest when you encounter words in context. ...
  2. Use the dictionary and thesaurus. ...
  3. Play word games. ...
  4. Use flashcards. ...
  5. Subscribe to “word of the day” feeds. ...
  6. Use mnemonics. ...
  7. Practice using new words in conversation.
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What is a big word for love? ›

affection, appreciation, devotion, emotion, fondness, friendship, infatuation, lust, passion, respect, tenderness, yearning, lover, admire, care for, cherish, choose, go for, prefer, prize.

What is a catchy word? ›

/ˈkætʃi/ us. MARKETING. catchy music or words are pleasing and easy to remember, like the sort often used in advertising: a catchy slogan/jingle/name The best ads attract World Wide Web surfers with snappy graphics and catchy slogans.

What to say to get everyones attention? ›

Let's break it down:
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  • 2) “Here's the thing” ...
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What is the most universal words? ›

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What are the meaningful 7 words? ›

From his centuries of experience, Merlin has discovered that the answer to these cosmic questions are seven simple words: gratitude, courage, knowledge, belief, wonder, generosity, hope, and love.

Who created the 12 powerful words? ›

Holly M. Larry Bell is a national speaker who talks to schools about closing the achievement gap. There are 12 Powerful Words he feels every student should know starting in kindergarten.

What is America's most mispronounced word? ›

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  • Library (Say: lai-bruh-ree)
  • Wednesday (Say: WENZ-day)
  • Stomach (Say: Stum-uk )
  • Clothes (Say: Clo-oze or Clohthz)
  • Iron (Say: Eye-urn)
  • Sixth (Say: Siksth)
  • Yolk (Say: Yowk)
  • Mischievous (Say: MIS-chuh-vuhs)
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Why do Americans say Gee? ›

gee in American English

used to signify surprise, wonder, etc.

What is the least used word? ›

Least Common English Words
  • abate: reduce or lesson.
  • abdicate: give up a position.
  • aberration: something unusual, different from the norm.
  • abhor: to really hate.
  • abstain: to refrain from doing something.
  • adversity: hardship, misfortune.
  • aesthetic: pertaining to beauty.
  • amicable: agreeable.

What word needs 3 hours to say? ›

The longest word in English has 189,819 letters and takes 3 hours to pronounce. This is a technical term for the chemical composition of titin. Titin is the largest known protein responsible for maintaining the passive elasticity of the muscles.

Do smart people use big words? ›

A study by the education platform Preply, found that nearly three in five people have used complex vocabulary to appear smarter. Often, it's to make an impression. The survey found that seven in 10 said they had used complex vocabulary to impress someone in a professional setting, most often their boss and colleagues.

What word has three C's? ›

Are you ready? The 3Cs are Certainty, Curiosity, and Consistency. There are so many other C words that can be used in this context: Creativity.

What are the 5 magic words? ›

The five magic words are; Please, Thank you, I'm sorry, Pardon me and Excuse me. These five magic words are words that must be infused in every growing child's vocabulary. Magic words are important because it would help children learn polite language and the appropriate situations in which to use them.

What is 3 magical words? ›

What are the three magic words? They are: Are. You. Correct.

What are the three magical words say that? ›

"Please, Sorry, and Thank You" are the three magic words. The significance of these three magical phrases is sometimes overlooked.

What speaks better than words? ›

Action speaks louder than words” is an old-age proverb with a deep hidden meaning. Truly, a person's action will tell you everything you need to know. Action is defined as the work which we do and is visible to everyone, whereas words are merely spoken words which are heard by everyone.

What is more powerful words or weapons? ›

Words are definitely more powerful than guns. Think of other particularly powerful words: thank you; I'm sorry; I love you; hope; trust; courage; peace. It is through words that we create our lives and our world, that we choose what to pay attention to and make real.

Who speak louder than words? ›

Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

What is the number 1 most used word? ›

'The' is the most used word in the English-speaking world because it's an essential part of grammar and communication. It would be difficult to speak English without repeatedly using 'the. ' Other frequently used words include 'of,' 'to,' 'and' and 'a.

What is power word 1? ›

What are Power Words? Power words are strong words that smart copywriters use to trigger a psychological or emotional response. They're called “power words” because they are so persuasive that people simply can't resist being influenced by them!

How many pure English words are there? ›

If we want to talk about how many words there are in English, there are three key numbers to remember: more than a million total words, about 170,000 words in current use, and 20,000-30,000 words used by each individual person.

What was the very 1st word? ›

The Oldest Word in the World. It is believed the first spoken word was “Aa,” which meant hey. “Aa” is thought to have first been spoken by an australopithecine in Ethiopia over a million years ago.

What is the popular first word? ›

Some of the most common first words around the world include: Mama, Dada, and Papa. These words all follow the same pattern - (consonant + vowel) repeated. This pattern of combining sounds into words is often the first that babies learn, which is why many of the most common first words sound very similar.

What are the eight powerful words? ›

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  • team player.
  • honest.
  • hardworking.
  • confident.
  • loyal.
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What are strong words in writing? ›

Strong words put a clear, specific image in the reader's mind, forcing her to visualize something pleasant or painful, evoking an emotion that affects her thoughts, mood, and eventually, her actions. Weak words are more abstract.


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