World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

A General Service List of English Words

Article Id: WHEBN0020768595
Reproduction Date:

Title: A General Service List of English Words  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Swadesh list, Most common words in English, Michael Philip West, Academic Word List
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

A General Service List of English Words

The General Service List (GSL) is a list of roughly 2000 words published by Michael West in 1953.[1] The words were selected to represent the most frequent words of English and were taken from a corpus of written English. The target audience was English language learners and ESL teachers. To maximize the utility of the list, some frequent words that overlapped broadly in meaning with words already on the list were omitted. In the original publication the relative frequencies of various senses of the words were also included.


The list is important because a person who knows all the words on the list and their related families would understand approximately 90-95 percent of colloquial speech and 80-85 percent of common written texts. The list consists only of headwords, which means that the word "be" is high on the list, but assumes that the person is fluent in all forms of the word, e.g. am, is, are, was, were, being, and been.

Researchers have expressed doubts about the adequacy of the GSL because of its age and the relatively low coverage provided by the words not in the first 1000 words of the list.[2] Engels was, in particular, critical of the limited vocabulary chosen by West (1953), and while he concurred that the first 1000 words of the GSL were good selections based on their high frequency and wide range, he was of the opinion that the words beyond the first 1000 of the GSL could not be considered general service words because the range and frequency of these words were too low to be included in the list. Recent research by Billuroğlu and Neufeld (2005) confirmed that the General Service List was in need of minor revision, but the headwords in the list still provide approximately 80% text coverage in written English. The research showed that the GSL contains a small number of archaic terms, such as shilling, while excluding words that have gained currency since the first half of the twentieth century, such as plastic, television, battery, okay, victim, and drug.

The GSL evolved over several decades before West’s publication in 1953. The GSL is not a list based solely on frequency, but includes groups of words on a semantic basis.[3] Today there is no version of the GSL in print; it only exists in virtual form via the Internet. Various versions float around the Internet, and attempts have been made to improve it.[4]

A major update of the GSL, known as the New General Service List (NGSL),[5] was published in March 2013 by Browne, Culligan and Phillips. The NGSL was based on a 273 million word subsection of the 2 billion word Cambridge English Corpus. Preliminary results show that the new list provides a substantially higher degree of coverage with fewer words.[6]

See also

  • The New General Service List a major update of the GSL which provides higher coverage with fewer words than the GSL, developed by Charles Browne, Brent Culligan and Joe Phillips
  • International English
  • Globish developed by Jean-Paul Nerrière
  • Basic English developed by Charles Kay Ogden.
  • Academic word list developed as an extension to the General Service List by Averil Coxhead
  • Swadesh list



  • Bauer, L. and Nation, I.S.P. (1993). Word families, International Journal of Lexicography 6, 3 (1993) 1-27.
  • Billuroğlu, A. & Neufeld, S. (2005). The Bare Necessities in Lexis: a new perspective on vocabulary profiling. Retrieved September 2007 from
  • Dickins, J. (n.d.). Extended Version of Rank Frequency List: Spoken English, retrieved 3 December 2007 from
  • Engels, L.K. (1968). The fallacy of word counts. IRAL 6: 213-231.
  • Hancioglu, N., Neufeld, S., & Eldridge, J. (2008). Through the looking glass and into the land of lexico-grammar. English for Specific Purposes 27/4, 459-479 10.1016/j.esp.2008.08.001
  • Nation, P., & Waring, R. (2004). Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists. Retrieved September 2007 from

External links

  • Bauman's revised GSL A 1995 revised version of the GSL with minor changes, along with a more detailed discussion about the problems in the GSL.
  • PC-based vocabulary profiling software that includes the GSL:
    • Heatley, Nation, and Coxhead's RANGE and FREQUENCY programs, including the GSL and the AWL as TXT files for vocabulary profiling
    • AntWordProfiler, a free vocabulary profiler, also including the GSL as a TXT file.
  • Lextutor Vocabulary Profilers provided free by Tom Cobb includes several web-based vocabulary profilers, in which you can paste any text and the words are then 'coloured' according to frequency band profiles. Here are two:
    • Academic word list, and red for words that are not in any of the lists
    • BNL profiler is a revised word list for students learning English which overcomes the problems of treating the GSL and AWL as separate and distinct constructs.
  • Other web-based vocabulary profilers include:
    • OGTE (Online Graded Text Editor) provided free by Charles Browne and Rob Waring. The tool allows teachers and authors to analyze and edit texts to a specific level using the GSL, NGSL, AWL and other important vocabulary lists.
    • OUP3000 text checker.
    • OKAPI will return formatted CBA probes or a readability analysis, with bands for Grades 1-3 (US) and Grades 4+
    • WORDLE provides a graphic representation of words by frequency in any text, but is not as yet linked to any specific vocabulary profiling bands.

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.