Welcome to version 6 of 12dicts, a collection of English word lists. It differs in several important ways from most of the other free word lists you can download.

  • The 12dicts lists are oriented towards common words. If you're looking for myriads of archaic, scientific or computer jargon words, you should look elsewhere.
  • The 12dicts lists have been rigorously checked for errors. (This is not to say that they are error-free, merely that enough care has been taken that errors are rather infrequent.)
  • 12dicts contains a variety of lists, of different sizes and characteristics. One size does not fit all. Because each list has different characteristics, I do not recommend combining them, except as noted below.

Originally, 12dicts was composed of lists derived from a specific set of 12 source dictionaries. In addition to these "classic" lists, 12dicts now includes lists derived from other sources. It would perhaps be appropriate to rename 12dicts to something more generic, such as BAWL (Beale's Assorted Word Lists), but I have not done so in order to preserve continuity.

The remainder of this document is organized as follows:

This release

This is release 6.0.1 of 12dicts, released April 2016. This is a major release. The following is a brief rundown of the changes and additions:

  • A number of new lists, based on 6 "advanced learner's" ESL dictionaries, have been added. The sources are reasonably balanced between American and British English. In addition to 3of6game.txt and 3of6all.txt, which are more or less traditional word lists, 6phrase.txt, a list of multi-word phrases, was added.
  • The 5desk.txt list has been augmented with words from two of the advanced learner's dictionaries, and renamed 5d+2a.txt to reflect this change.
  • The lemmatized lists have been augmented by adding words from the new advanced learner list 3of6game.txt along with some commonly-used hyphenated words from both 2of12.txt and 3of6all.txt. These lists have been renamed from 2+2lemma.txt and 2+2gfreq.txt to 2+2+3lem.txt and 2+2+3frq.txt to reflect this change.
  • Word frequency information for the lemmatized frequency list is now obtained from a BYU corpus-derived frequency list rather than from Google web data. A small number of abbreviations and proper names have been added to the list.
  • Two new small lists of especially common or important words have been added: 2of5core.txt and 2+2+3cmn.txt.
  • The annotations of the 6of12.txt list have been reworked.
  • Minor corrections have been made to the "classic" lists.
  • The neologism file, containing words too recent or controversial to be listed in many of the source dictionaries, has been updated.
  • Slight changes were made to the list of 6of12.txt signature words after it was determined that a few of them should have been present as regular (non-signature) words in the main body of the list but were omitted due to compilation errors.
  • The files were organized into directories to make them more manageable given their increased number.
  • The 2of4brif.txt list is being "deprecated". I will continue to distribute it, but will not be changing or maintaining it. I consider the 3of6game.txt list to be a complete replacement.

Some general observations

With the exception of the neol2016 list, all the 12dicts lists were assembled in a similar fashion. Words were extracted from a set of source dictionaries and, in most cases, a list was assembled by selecting all words and phrases present in some number of the sources meeting certain criteria. For instance, the 2of12 list comprises lower-case and hyphenated words present in at least two of twelve source dictionaries. For some lists, rules are added establishing exceptions for certain words or classes of words - for instance, the 2of12 list contains the upper-case words I and O as exceptions to its general exclusion of upper-case words and names.

Some lists contain annotations, which are special characters appended to certain words. For instance, the ":" character is used in some lists to identify abbreviations which are ordinarily used without a terminating period. This annotation allows these abbreviations to be distinguished from possibly similar regular words. Another annotation, used in the 3of6game and 3of6all lists, is the "$" character, indicating a word that was placed in the list even though fewer than three of the sources mention it. The "+" and "!'" annotations are used to identify signature words and neologisms, as described below. Note that is it possible for a word to have more than one annotation, though this is uncommon. For instance, in the 6of12 list, the word boldfaced~= has both a "~" and a "=" annotation, signifying that the word was an arbitrary choice between two equally attested forms (boldfaced and bold-faced), and that it was not given a separate definition in a majority of the sources listing it.

A number of the lists contain signature words. These are words (or phrases) which do not meet the formal criteria for inclusion in a list, but which I have chosen to add anyway, as words which "ought to be" present. Whether a list contains signature words depends on the specific list. Usually, but not always, a signature word is present in some of the sources used for a list, but not enough of them to qualify for inclusion on that basis. Some lists may "inherit" signature words from other lists from which they were assembled. For instance, the 6phrase list includes the signature words from the 3of6all list. In most cases, signature words are marked with the "+" annotation.

The neol2016 list contains neologisms, words which are not listed in some or all of the source dictionaries for 12dicts, generally for one of two reasons. First, many of the words are recent coinages which were not yet fully recognized by mainstream lexicographers when the 12dicts sources were published. Examples of such words are selfie, Obamacare, emoji and snarky. Other so-called neologisms are well-established, often well-known, words which are considered scandalous, such as sexual slang and ethnic slurs, and which are often deliberately omitted from dictionaries. (I will not give any examples of this sort of word here, but you will find some in the neol2016 list.) Note that the neologism list has been accumulating for about fifteen years now, and some of its words have become almost old-fashioned, such as spam and dotcom. The neologism list is provided so that some or all of its words can be added to the other lists where the intended usage makes that appropriate. However, I have added the single-word neologisms to the 2of12inf and 3of6game, as these lists are the most likely to be used in coding word games, where it is desirable to recognize the very latest hot vocabulary. In these lists, neologisms are annotated with the "!" character.

One other observation worth making is about diacritics. Some dictionaries will tell you that there are English words correctly spelled café, naïve, façade and piñata, and I do not wish to disagree with these authorities. But as a practical matter, Americans do not like to use diacritics. Furthermore they use keyboards which do not contain accented letters, and are often unfamiliar with the often clumsy techniques that their software provides to use such characters. For this reason, 12dicts drops all the accents from its English vocabulary. This is particularly valuable for coding word games, where expecting players to accent the e in cafe is not going to make them happy. (I cannot help pointing out that Scrabble® contains no É tiles.) I apologize to those who consider it a matter of some emotional importance that resume and résumé should be differently spelled.

The organization of 12dicts

The 12dicts lists are organized into four directories, grouping lists with similar characteristics together. The remainder of this document follows this organization as well. For each directory, a section of the documentation describes in detail the lists it contains.

Most users of 12dicts end up using only a single list. If it is clear which directory will contain the list you need, you can go directly to the appropriate documentation.

The four directories are:

  • American. The lists in this directory contain primarily American English words.
  • International. The lists in this directory contain words from both American English and British English.
  • Lemmatized. The lists in this directory combine other lists, and are formatted in a way that clarifies word relationships.
  • Special. The lists in this directory are special-purpose lists that do not fit into the other directories.

Picking a list to use

If you are not certain which directory might contain the kind of list you are looking for, here is a breakdown of the 12dicts lists by size and purpose which may be helpful. If it does not help you find what you are looking for, you might want to check out this table, which summarizes the characteristics of all the 12dicts files, put together by Kevin Atkinson. Also, I suggest reading the introduction to each directory presented in the previous paragraph, each of which contains a table summarizing exactly what you can expect from each list in that directory.

  • Lists for use in word games: 2of12inf (American), 3of6game (International).
  • A list ordered by word frequency: 2+2+3frq (Lemmatized).
  • Small lists of common words: 2of5core (Special, very small), 3esl (American), 2+2+3cmn (Lemmatized).
  • Medium-sized lists: 6of12 (American, smaller, includes phrases), 2of12 (American, larger, no phrases).
  • Large lists: 3of6all (International, includes phrases), 5d+2a (International, no phrases, many obscure words), 2+2+3lem (Lemmatized, very large).
  • A list of phrases: 6phrase (Special).

The classic (American) 12dicts lists

The 12dicts project began as the n-dicts projects, n being a variable whose value finally stabilized as 12. The purpose of the project was to create a list of words approximating the common core of the vocabulary of American English.

The methodology of the project was to record and correlate the words listed in a number of small dictionaries. The number of dictionaries so recorded ended up as 12, comprising 8 ESL (English as a Second Language) dictionaries and 4 "desk dictionaries". The dictionaries chosen varied widely by publisher, by style, by completeness and by depth. All of them were dictionaries of American English (three from British publishers). The smallest of them contained about 20,000 entries, and the largest 46,000. (All totaled, there are about 75,000 entries, many of which appeared in only a single dictionary.) All but two of the sources were published between 1992 and 1999, when 12dicts was first released.

The following table summarizes the contents of each of the classic lists, located in the American directory, ordered by size in words:

3esl 6of12 2of12 2of12inf
Size (Words) 22,000 32,000 41,000 82,000
Number of Sources 3 12 12 12
American English Y Y Y Y
British English
Ordinary words Y Y Y Y
Inflections Y
Hyphenations Y Y Y
Phrases Y Y
Names Y Y
Abbreviations Y Y
Acronyms Y Y
Signature words Y Y *
Neologisms Y
Annotations Y Y Y Y

A * in the "Signature Words" row means that signature words associated with some other list may be present, but there are no signature words associated specifically with that list.

The 6of12 and 2of12 lists

I initially tried two different ways of winnowing the 12dicts data to produce lists of common words. Both produced interesting results. One list, the 6of12 list, contained all words and phrases listed in 6 of the 12 dictionaries. One way of describing this list is that it contains those words and phrases which a (seeming) majority of lexicographers believe are relevant to people learning English, and/or to everyday usage. This list contained about 32,000 words and phrases. The other list, the 2of12 list, was more inclusive in that it included words listed in as few as two of the source dictionaries, but less inclusive in that it excluded items of various sorts, including multi-word phrases, proper names and abbreviations. This list contained about 41,000 words. It was likely more suitable for use in areas like spell checking or word games than the 6of12 list. (Honesty compels me to admit that neither of these lists is, by itself, a good choice for spell checking, due to the absence of inflections, proper names, Roman numerals, etc.)

A third list, 2of12inf.txt, developed later, was of a rather different character, and is discussed in a later section.

A more precise description of the criteria by which the above lists were composed is as follows:

6of12 list word selection

  • The 6of12 list contains all non-excluded words and phrases which appear in 6 or more of the source dictionaries.
  • Prefixes and suffixes are excluded. Abbreviations are included; however, if they are entirely lower-case and alphabetic, they are terminated with a colon (":") so they can be easily distinguished from regular words.
  • Inflections of included words are not themselves included unless they are separately defined or irregular.
  • It sometimes occurs that a word is listed in several forms (e.g., with and without hyphenation) in 6 or more dictionaries, even though no single form is so listed. In this case, if one spelling is clearly more accepted, this spelling and this spelling only is listed. If all spellings seem equally accepted, one spelling has been selected arbitrarily for inclusion.
  • The 6of12 list contains a significant number of signature words, as discussed below. All of these words are listed in at least one of the source dictionaries.
  • In addition to the ":" suffix discussed above, other annotations are used to mark words with certain characteristics, as discussed below.

2of12 list word selection

  • The 2of12 list contains all non-excluded words which appear in at least 2 of the source dictionaries.
  • This list excludes capitalized words, multi-word phrases, and abbreviations, as well as prefixes and suffixes. It does not exclude hyphenated words or contractions. If a word occurs in both a hyphenated and an unhyphenated form, the unhyphenated form is listed, even if the hyphenated form is generally preferred.
  • The list excludes spellings which are considered (by a majority of the dictionaries listing it) to be non-American usage. It also excludes secondary spellings which are mentioned by fewer than four of the source dictionaries.
  • Inflections of included words are not themselves included unless they are separately defined, or irregular.
  • Several of the source dictionaries include listings for obscure currencies, such as ringgit, khoum and ngwee. I was unable to regard such words as part of the English "core vocabulary", and so I required citation in over a third of the dictionaries for inclusion of such monetary units. A side-effect was the elimination of the word lepton, which, in addition to its use in particle physics, is also .01 Greek drachmas.
  • This list also includes a small number of signature words, as discussed below.

Signature words

As indicated, both lists have been augmented with words (and, in the case of the 6of12 list, phrases) which fail to meet the formal requirements for inclusion. In the case of the 6of12 list, 1024 words were added (about 3 % of the total). These are all words which, in the judgment of the compiler, are as familiar as many of the words which did meet the criteria for inclusion. Examples of some of the sorts of words which were added are:
  • Words of the same category as other included words. An example is the astrological sign Cancer, which alone of all the astrological signs fails to appear in 6 or more of the dictionaries. Similarly added was the omitted holiday Christmas Eve.
  • Vulgarities, sexual terms and insults. Some such words were already included, but most of the source dictionaries were quite squeamish about them. These words are very widely known indeed; I hold that any list of "common" words which does not include the infamous f-word is simply discredited thereby. Some may feel that it would have been better to leave some or all of these terms unmentioned. Nevertheless, the expression of blasphemy, unwarranted contempt and perverse lust, whether in words or in deeds, is a very human trait. Suppressing the evidence of these aspects of the human condition in our language makes no more sense than excluding leprosy, gangrene and dementia, no matter how unpleasant they may be to contemplate.
  • Conventional conversational phrases so common as to be practically invisible to native speakers. Examples are thank you, good night, uh-huh, of course and gesundheit.
  • Sports terminology, especially for football and baseball. (If I, who am practically sports-blind, noticed this deficiency, it must be of major proportions indeed.)
Note that the signature words in the 6of12 list can be identified via the annotation "+", and eliminated if desired.

A much smaller set of words (49) was added to the 2of12 list. These were of two sorts:

  • Signature words from the 6of12 list which were not already present in the 2of12 list, and which are not excluded due to being abbreviations, phrases, etc.
  • Inflections of irregular verbs not explicitly mentioned in 2 source dictionaries, such as outfought and reheard.
These words are not marked with suffix characters.


Some of the 6of12 list entries are annotated with a suffix character, giving additional information about the associated word. The annotations can be easily removed with an editor or a script if they are unwanted.

These annotations are:

: The word is an otherwise unmarked abbreviation. This suffix always occurs before any other suffix.
& The word is primarily a non-American usage.
# The word is generally held to be a variant or less preferred form of another word.
= Roughly, this indicates a "second class" word, as described below.
< This form of a word is held to be the primary form by fewer dictionaries than some other form of the word.
^ This form of the word was selected as the most commonly listed of a set of variant spellings.
~ This form of a word is one of a set of variant spellings, none of which was clearly preferred.
+ The word is a signature word.

The reasons a word might be marked with the = annotation are:

  • The word is an inflection which was defined in the same entry as the base word.
  • The word is a derived word (usually ending with -ly, -ness or -er/or) which was not defined in a separate entry.
  • The word appeared in a list of undefined words with a common prefix, such as un- or re-.
Note that, in the determination of the "<", "^", and "^" suffixes, only certain very close spelling variations are considered, namely single word vs. hyphenated word vs. multi-word, differences in capitalization, and presence or absence of a terminating period for abbreviations. The words tenderhearted and tender-hearted are close variants by this definition, but judgment and judgement are not.

The words in the 2of12 list are not annotated.

The 2of12inf list

The 2of12inf list is of a rather different character from the two original "classic" lists. Conceptually, it is simple. It consists of all the unhyphenated words in the 2of12 list, plus their inflections, amounting to about 82,000 words. This list may be more useful than the other lists for applications like word games. It was created to help Kevin Atkinson in his Aspell and SCOWL projects (for which, follow these links). Unlike the 6of12 and 2of12 lists, this list was not based exclusively on the contents of my 12 source dictionaries, and for this reason it has, I feel, less authority than the other classic 12dicts lists. It also probably has a significantly higher error rate than the other lists, for reasons explained below.

The criteria defining the 2of12inf list are as follows:

  • The 2of12inf list contains all non-excluded words which appear in at least 2 of the source dictionaries.
  • This list excludes capitalized words, multi-word phrases, abbreviations, contractions, hyphenated words and single-letter words, as well as prefixes and suffixes.
  • The list does not exclude secondary spellings, non-American usages or monetary units.
  • The list includes inflections of all included words. Any inflection mentioned or clearly implied by any of the source dictionaries is included (i.e., two citations are not required). Additionally, some inflections have been added from other sources.
  • Plurals of "uncountable" nouns were included, annotated with the "%" suffix character. See below for an extended discussion of the inclusion of these words.
  • Qualifying signature words from the other lists, plus their inflections, were added. No other signature words were added.
  • Qualifying neologisms from the neol2016 list, including their inflections, were added. The neologisms are indicated by a '!' prefix.

Though the 2of12inf list still consists mostly of very common words, criteria 3 through 5 above cause the 2of12inf list to contain a greater proportion of unfamiliar and unusual words than the other classic 12dicts lists.

The 2of12inf list was not derived directly from the 12 source dictionaries. The starting point was a subset of Kevin Atkinson's AGID list, a list of words, parts of speech and inflections derived from public-domain sources, notably Moby Words and WordNet. (See the file agid.txt in the 12dicts archive, which is a copy of the AGID "readme", for more information on the antecedents of AGID.) 2of12inf was created by a process of editing the AGID subset to remove spurious entries and those which reflected a more esoteric English vocabulary than the other 12dicts lists, and to add inflections which AGID failed to identify. This process required significantly less effort than would have been needed to derive the list directly from the source dictionaries. Unfortunately, a side effect of the process was that the result is probably somewhat less reliable than the other 12dicts lists. In particular, Moby Words is notoriously unreliable, and I find it unlikely that I have successfully identified all the spurious inflections its use has introduced. It would be nice to release another edition of 2of12inf which is not derived from AGID, and therefore not "infected" by Moby Words, but I haven't done so in 15 years, and so it probably won't happen.

After the first version of the 2of12inf list was released, I replaced one of the source dictionaries, officially an international dictionary but in actuality rather British in its orientation, with a more American dictionary by the same publisher. It was not practical (nor necessarily desirable) for me to go through the list removing inflections endorsed only by the superseded dictionary. For this reason, the 2of12inf list has a slightly more international character than the other 12dicts lists. It is not altogether clear that this is a bad thing.

Selection of inflections

Ideally, the 2of12inf list would contain only inflections listed in one of the 12dicts source dictionaries. This proved not to be practical. The reason for this has to do with the nature of these sources, which are mostly ESL dictionaries. An ESL dictionary might well list the word esophagus, but, because an English learner is unlikely to need to talk about this organ in the plural, it will probably not bother to list the plural form esophagi. For words of this sort, I therefore needed to obtain their inflections from other sources. Obviously, the decisions on when to include additional inflections were judgment calls, as were the choices of which inflections to add.

Adjectival inflections (comparatives and superlatives) proved to be an especially annoying problem. Only 2 of my 12 source dictionaries provided remotely reliable information of this sort. In fact, such information is sparse and inconsistent in most dictionaries of any size. I relied on a small set of additional dictionaries for this information, which was mostly disjoint from the sources for plurals and verb forms. Several of these sources were Scrabble®-related, and therefore inclined to include forms of little plausibility such as iller/illest or fertiler/fertilest. Accordingly, I ended up rejecting some of the documented inflections on grounds of implausibility. I have no doubt that, in the process, I made a number of errors of both inclusion and exclusion and, in any case, many of the forms listed have no connection with any of the 12dicts source dictionaries.

One additional problem in the creation of the 2of12inf list was that of "uncountable" nouns and their plurals. Some English dictionaries, especially ESL dictionaries, as well as other linguistic sources attest to the existence of nouns which cannot be counted or used in the plural. Examples of such nouns include mud, rayon, oregano, chess, fairness, wisdom, aluminum, training, materialism and chickenpox. This is an entirely commonsense notion, but a difficulty is the fact that the boundary between the countable and the uncountable is extremely vague and ill-defined. For example, the word coffee is ordinarily uncountable, but not when ordering in a restaurant, as is the word symmetry, except in physics or math. In general, it is possible to contrive a context where use of the plural of any noun whatsoever is reasonable.

An alternate position, therefore, is that in fact no nouns are uncountable, and that any noun which is not already plural possesses a plural. This position is especially useful in the context of word games, where words such as zeals and anthraxes may produce large scores. For this reason, the official Scrabble dictionaries list words such as thens, onces and mankinds, which most people find rather implausible. The fact that the 2of12inf list might well be useful in gaming contexts, together with the fact that the boundary between countable and uncountable nouns is so ill-defined, served as a powerful argument for inclusion of all plural forms, whether commonly used or not, while its derivation from ESL sources argued for including only the plurals of countable nouns, however distinguished.

As I prepared the list for release, I was unable to resolve this dilemma, and adopted a compromise. The 2of12inf list includes all plurals, but with the plurals of uncountable nouns marked, making it easy to remove them if they are not wanted. That left the issue of how to establish countability. Six of my source dictionaries included information on countability, which was adequate to decide the status of most of the included nouns. As for the rest, as usual, I used my best judgment. I will confess to occasionally overriding the source dictionaries when I believed they were clearly incorrect. (For instance, I chose not to mark the word hatreds as an uncountable plural, in defiance of the opinion of all my sources, on the grounds that it has been used in too many news stories from Bosnia to be considered unusual.) It is interesting to note that most of the plurals I added from auxiliary sources were of words considered uncountable. I also note that at some point after the release of the 2of12inf list, I decided that it would have been better to have left the Scrabble plurals out, and, while I was not comfortable with removing them, no list I've created since then which lists inflections includes them.

The difficulties listed above, and the fact that I was forced to exercise personal judgment frequently in creating it, emphasizes a fundamental difference between this list and the other classic 12dicts lists. I have tried to make the 6of12 and 2of12 lists reflect only the source dictionaries, and to keep my own judgments and opinions out of the picture (except for my addition of signature words). This has proved impossible to achieve for the 2of12inf list, which accordingly represents a less authoritative and more arbitrary collection. Additionally, the 2of12inf list has undergone less proofreading and validation than the other lists, and I suspect the error rate is somewhat higher than the idealistic goal of 0.02% I adopted for this project. Nevertheless, I hope it may prove to be of some use and interest.

I wish to offer my special thanks to Kevin Atkinson, for supplying me with the AGID list, and for encouraging me to add the inflections. Of course, any errors that remain in the 2of12inf list are my own responsibility, and should not be blamed on Kevin, AGID, or even on Moby.

The 3esl list

The 3esl list represents another attempt to produce an English "core vocabulary" list. It is about 2/3 of the size of the 6of12 list, which it resembles in terms of the sorts of words included.

The 3esl list is a far more subjective list than any of the classic 12dicts lists. It was compiled from 3 small ESL dictionaries, using the same criteria for eligibility as the 6of12 list. I started with a list composed of all words from the smallest of the 3 sources, plus all words contained in both of the others. This list was then edited in the following ways:

  1. I removed alternate spellings for included words, such as grey and off-stage. I also removed very similar synonyms for the same concept, for instance, removing cable television as a duplicate of cable TV.
  2. I added one form of each word which would have been included if the sources had agreed on spelling, such as shortchange and back seat.
  3. I removed some words which were present in the smallest of the sources but seemed too esoteric, such as the symbols of chemical elements. I did this only for words which were not present in the other sources.
  4. I added some words which were present in only one of the two larger sources, but which seemed appropriate to add. These words were frequently of the sort added to the 6of12 list as signature words, as well as some inflections that often function as words with meanings of their own, such as comforting and notes.

All of these changes were quite subjective in nature, and quite numerous. Probably more than 10 % of the candidate words were added or removed in this way. For this reason, it is pointless to speak of signature words for this list; the composition of the list is too arbitrary for the term to make any sense. (I will note that the list is still not entirely arbitrary, as I added only words found in some form in one of the sources, and removed no words present in two of the sources other than duplicates. Thus, words like front page were not added, no matter how familiar, and words such as lugubrious were not removed, despite clearly not being part of anyone's "core vocabulary".)

Like the 6of12 list, the 3esl list marks lower-case abbreviations with a ":" suffix, to prevent them from being mistaken for regular English words.

One final note on this list. The 3esl list contains about 1500 words not present in the 6of12 list. Because these two lists have the same rules for the kinds of words included, one could easily combine the two to produce a slightly larger list including a number of words whose omission from 6of12 is rather surprising. Be warned that in a few cases, the spelling chosen for words with multiple spellings is different in the two lists, and I would recommend that the duplicates be removed. (I'll be happy to provide a list of the duplicates if anyone wants one.)

The international 12dicts lists

Four 12dicts lists contain a more cosmopolitan vocabulary than the classic lists. Two of these lists, 2of4brif and 5d+2a (previously called 5desk), were released over ten years ago. The 2of4brif list was derived from four British dictionaries, and has now been deprecated, as I believe the 3of6game list to be a superior implementation of the same concept, compiled from more recent sources. The 5d+2a list was originally compiled from a variety of sources, but was extensively revised for this release by addition of several fairly recently published sources.

For release 6, two new international lists were added to 12dicts: 3of6game and 3of6all. These were based on 6 "advanced learner's" ESL dictionaries, released by both American and British publishers, most of which covered both strains of English. The 3of6game list is intended primarily for use in word games, and can be compared to 2of12inf in its general approach. The 3of6all list includes more forms of words (hyphenated, capitalized, multi-word phrases, etc.), and can be compared to 6of12 in its general approach.

Two other more unusual lists were derived from these sources: 6phrase and 2of5core. 6phrase is a collection of all the multi-word phrases from any of the six dictionaries. Five of the six international sources flag some words as being the most important words for an English beginner to master. The 2of5core list collects those words that are flagged in at least two of these dictionaries. Both of these lists are discussed in a little more detail in the "Specialized Lists" section of this document.

The following table summarizes the contents of each of the lists in the International directory, ordered by size in words:

2of4brif 3of6game 5d+2a 3of6all
Size (Words) 60,000 65,000 68,000 83,000
Number of Sources 4 6 7 (+5 minor) 6
American English Some Y Y Y
British English Y Y Y Y
Ordinary words Y Y Y Y
Inflections Y Y Y
Hyphenations Y
Phrases Y
Names Y Y
Abbreviations Y
Acronyms Y Y
Prefixes/Suffixes Y
Signature words Y Y
Neologisms Y
Annotations Y Y

The 2of4brif list

All of the classic 12dicts lists are unabashedly oriented towards American English. After receiving a few expressions of interest in a British English list, I put together the 2of4brif list. This list was compiled from 4 large "international" ESL dictionaries, published by British publishers. To this American, they are more British than they are international; quite possibly, they seem more American than international to British readers. It is interesting to note that, although there were only a third as many sources for this list as for the 12dicts lists, these dictionaries resembled each other far more closely than their American counterparts, which could mean that the 2of4brif list is as good an approximation of a "core" British English vocabulary as the 6of12 list is for American English. (Or, alternately, it may simply mean that my choice of sources was too narrow.)

This criteria for inclusion in this list were basically those of the 2of12inf list. In particular, inflections are included for all words, but hyphenated words, contractions, phrases, proper names and abbreviations are all excluded. One important difference between the two is the way in which inflections were determined for inclusion. The 2of12inf list includes some inflections found in one (or even none) of its sources. Further, as discussed in detail above, it includes plurals for words which are not normally considered to have plurals. The 2of4brif list differs in both of these regards. It includes only inflections endorsed by two or more of the sources, specifically excluding any plural forms for nouns listed as uncountable.

The 2of4brif list includes no signature words as such. I made a small number of adjustments for consistency, such as making sure that -ise and -ize spellings were equally represented, and adding plurals for ordinal numbers. (Why fourteenth would be defined as a fraction, but not seventeenth, I must simply regard as a mystery.) These edits were so few, and so clearly harmless, that I have not marked them.

Prospective users of the 2of4brif list should realize that it was compiled by an American. If my sources contained any glaring errors (and most dictionaries have a few), I might well not have noticed, and perpetuated them in the list. The fact that two citations were required is some protection against such an event, but no guarantee.

As the 2of4brif list is very similar in makeup to the 2of12inf list, a user who wants a larger, more international list than either could reasonably merge the two. If you do this, you should remove the unusual plurals (marked with a "%") from the 2of12inf list in the process, for consistency.

Note that I have deprecated the 2of4brif list. I believe that any applications of this list would be better off using the 3of6game list in its place.

The 3of6 lists

The lists 3of6game and 3of6all are new with version 6 of 12dicts. Both were derived from a set of six advanced learner's ESL dictionaries. The dictionaries can be broken down as follows:

  • One strongly American-oriented dictionary.
  • Two somewhat British-oriented dictionaries.
  • Three international dictionaries, one from an American publisher, two from a British publisher.

This provided a good balance between British and American usage. My goal was to produce lists that contained blancmange and swede as well as applesauce and boysenberry. Note that some of the British dictionaries include words from Australian, Indian, African and Caribbean English, and a fraction of this vocabulary made it into the 3of6 lists.

In previous versions of 12dicts, I asked users to tell me what they were doing with the lists. The most common answer was that they were used to supply the vocabulary for a word game. The 3of6game list was designed to fulfill this purpose. It contains only the sort of words likely to be used in a word game (no hyphenated words, proper names, abbreviations, contractions or phrases), but does contain inflections. In general, words must appear in three of the sources to be included. The rules, however, do provide for a number of (annotated) exceptions, including uncommon inflections and words whose most common form is either hyphenated or phrasal. Details are below.

The 3of6all list is a larger list, basically containing any kind of word you can imagine, if found in three of the sources. As with 3+3game, some additional words were added as exceptions, but there are not as many of them, as the goal of this list is to be as faithful as reasonable to the sources.

Both the 3of6game and 3of6all lists contain signature words/phrases. The 3of6game list also contains neologisms, as game players are likely to want to play recently coined or popularized words.

The 3of6game list

The 3of6game list contains words which are listed in 3 of the 6 advanced learners dictionaries described above. Only words suitable for play in most word games are included, excluding hyphenated words, multi-word phrases, capitalized words, abbreviations and contractions. There are no restrictions on length - in particular, it contains four one-letter words: a, x (a verb meaning to cross out), I and O, the last two of which are included despite their capitalization (which is an English spelling phenomenon entirely disconnected from logic). In certain cases, words are present in this list despite being listed in fewer than three sources. This serves the purpose of offering game players more words in situations where lexicographers differ about what word forms are correct. Some exceptional situations are:

  • A word is one of a set of close variants, none of which is present in three of the sources. These words are marked with a "^" suffix. An example is the word aqualung, which is sometimes capitalized or hyphenated.
  • The word is a British spelling of an American word listed in three sources, or an American spelling of a British word from three sources. These words are marked with a "&" suffix. Examples include prolog, an American form of the British prologue, and hyaena, a British spelling of the American hyena.
  • A word is a plural of a word which only two of the sources describe as countable, such as boyhoods. Similarly, adjectival inflections are added if as few as two of the sources attest to it, as with frillier and frilliest.
  • A word is an unusual inflection of a word where at least three sources agree that some inflection is called for, such as the less common plural planetaria of planetarium.
  • A word is an inflection for a word used as an unusual part of speech, whose meaning is closely related to a more common meaning. Examples are the verb forms autopsied and autopsying, whose meanings are closely related to the common meaning of the noun autopsy.
  • A word is a unhyphenated form of a word normally hyphenated or written phrasally such as ballgame, which is more commonly written ball game.
Words not present in three of the source dictionaries are marked with the "$" suffix character if the "^" and "&" annotations do not apply.

The 3of6game list includes both signature words and neologisms, marked with a "+" or "!" respectively. There are 520 signature words for this list, representing words that I feel "ought to be" included. Each signature word is present in at least one of the source dictionaries. Virtually all of these words are American English, as I am not qualified to tell whether a interesting Britishism like tosspot is used often enough to justify its addition as a signature word. Note that the presence of annotations allows a user to remove these extra words if she finds their addition unjustified.

The 3of6game list could be combined with the 2of12inf list (minus the uncountable plurals) and/or 2of4brif if a larger list is required. Note that because 2of2inf is very strongly American, such a combination will be less balanced between American and British English than 3of6game itself.

The 3of6all list

The 3of6all list contains words which are listed in three of the six advanced learner's dictionaries. In contrast to the 3of6game list, no words are excluded, not even abbreviations, prefixes or suffixes. Most words have their inflections included. An exception is made for phrasal verbs and other verb phrases, whose inflections are completely predictable from the initial word of the phrase.

The 3of6all list contains many phrasal verbs, such as let down, take after, sound off and make out, whose meanings are often quite hard for inexperienced students of English to guess. Phrasal verbs are marked by the ";" suffix character. Only four of the six source dictionaries provide phrasal verb information in an easy-to-collect way. For this reason, I put a phrasal verb into the 3of6all list even if I found it in only two of the sources.

The 3of6all list contains some other words present in fewer than three of the dictionaries, though not as many as 3of6game. All such words are marked. The cases where this occurs are as follows:

  • As described for the 3of6game list, a word is one of a set of close variants, none of which is present in three of the sources. These words are marked with a "^" suffix. For this list, in addition to differences in hyphenation or single/multi-word format, variants only in capitalization or (for abbreviations) the presence or absence of a period are considered close.
  • As described for the 3of6game list, a word is a British spelling of an American word listed in three sources, or an American spelling of a British word from three sources. These words are marked with a "&" suffix.
  • A few other words present in fewer than three of the dictionaries are added. Usually, this occurs when a word is found by three sources to have the same part of speech, but the sources fail to agree on the spelling of the inflection(s). An example is the word Grammy, whose plural is claimed by two sources to be Grammies, and by two others to be Grammys. These words are annotated with the "$" suffix.
There is one other situation where an annotation suffix is used. This occurs when a word is shown by a majority of the sources as being used only in a few specific phrases, even though other dictionaries may give it a regular definition. An example is the word bated, which is shown by most of the sources as used only in the phrase with bated breath. In this case, the word is flagged with a ">" suffix. A search on a word so flagged will reveal the key phrase(s) elsewhere in the list.

Recall that, sometimes, a word may have more than one suffix. An abbreviation shown with the ":" suffix (indicating the absence of a final period) may be followed by another suffix, and the combination ">^" appears upon occasion.

The 3of6all list contains signature phrases, but no neologisms. The signature phrases are marked with the "+" suffix. The 629 3of6all signatures are all basic conversational idioms and common connective phrases, like I told you so, in front of and on the other hand. Though these phrases often show up in the sources in lists of idioms, they generally do not appear as separate headwords, which kept me from easily recording their presence. I believe, however, that all of these phrases are extremely common, and deserve to be included in this list. The signature phrases are all marked with the "+" suffix.

The 5d+2a list

I created the 5d+2a list (originally called 5desk) in an attempt to do a better /usr/dict/words (the failings of which were a large part of my motivation for doing 12dicts in the first place). The sorts of words admitted are the same sorts that /usr/dict/words traditionally contains. Though somewhat larger in size than many versions of /usr/dict/words, this is still a short word list, striving for inclusion of words one is likely to encounter rather than the complete jargon of every possible scientific, artistic or occult endeavor.

The original 5desk list was assembled primarily from five "desk dictionaries". It was augmented by words from five minor sources, including a "vocabulary builder" and a collection of proper names. It excluded prefixes, suffixes, phrases, hyphenated words, contractions and most abbreviations and acronyms. There was no requirement for multiple listings; all qualifying words from each of the sources were included. Inflections of included words were not included themselves except when irregular, or separately defined. Variant and non-American spellings were not excluded, and no signature words were added.

Words commonly considered to be abbreviations/acronyms were included if they contained at least one upper case character, and were defined with an explicit part of speech. This excluded items like Mr and Feb, which are abbreviations in the classic sense, but allowed words like DNA and ATM, which are used far more frequently than that which they abbreviate. While there is a trend in modern dictionaries to list such words as nouns (or occasionally verbs, adverbs, etc.), it is a trend in progress, and rather inconsistently applied. For this reason, the set of such words in the 5desk list is somewhat incoherent, including SPCA but not PETA, AIDS but not SAD, KGB but not CIA, and PDQ but not ASAP.

When version 6 of 12dicts was released, the 5desk list was augmented by adding qualifying words from two advanced learner's ESL dictionaries, and as a result renamed to 5d+2a.txt. Both of the additional dictionaries had a strongly international vocabulary, causing the new list to have a less American and more cosmopolitan character. This increased the size of the list by about 20% to about 68,000 words.

One class of commonly-used words is regrettably absent from the 5desk list, because I was unable to find a satisfactory source for them. This is the class of commercial names such as Exxon, Tylenol, Pepsi and Chevy. This is probably forgivable, as this class of names is as ephemeral and transitory as teenage slang. The one-time household words Kool, Ovaltine, Philco and Ipana serve now only as answers to trivia questions, with modern wonders like Starbucks, Google, Ritalin and TiVo taking their place on the tongues of the trendy.

The 5d+2a list contains no signature words. I did take the liberty of adding the personal names of around thirty well-known individuals, mostly statesmen and politicians. Though the original 5desk list contained many such names from all periods of human history, I have not found a useful source to bring the list into the twenty-first century. At the same time, I felt that distributing a list full of names that did not include Cheney and Obama was not reasonable. So I compromised by adding a few names whose historical significance was clear to me, until such time as a better source than my own memories of the last 15 years can be found.

The 5d+2a list has clearly moved beyond any "core vocabulary" concept. It includes quite esoteric words (ogee, pleonastic), very uncommon spellings (thiamine, yuppy), and obscure geographical and historical names (Paricutin, Nevelson). Like the traditional /usr/dict/words, it is frequently inconsistent and arbitrary, but I hope at the least I have avoided including spelling errors, and overlooking the stuff of everyday conversation. Perhaps it will be useful as a compromise between basic lists such as 3esl, and truly massive lists like Mendel Cooper's ENABLE.

The lemmatized 12dicts lists

Version 6 of 12dicts provides three lemmatized lists combining words from the 2of12inf, 3of6game and 2of4brif lists. The word "lemmatized" is a rare word, which you will find in none of these lists, but what it means is that these lists are formatted as a collection of word sets, called lemmas (or lemmata, if you're into irregular plurals), each set composed of a headword and some number (possibly zero) of closely related words. Two of these lists were introduced in version 5 of 12dicts, but they have undergone major revisions since then.

The three lists are 2+2+3lem (originally 2+2lemma), 2+2+3frq (originally 2+2gfreq) and 2+2+3cmn. 2+2+3lem simply arranges the words of the three source lists into lemmas and lists them alphabetically by headword. 2+2+3frq arranges the same lemmas by approximate order of their frequency of usage, computed with the help of a frequency list obtained from Brigham Young University (BYU), omitting those words and lemmas whose usage is so small that they fail to show up in the BYU material. 2+2+3cmn extracts a subset of the lemmas of 2+2+3lem, namely those lemmas with a certain minimum level of usage (approximately the level of the word butterscotch), and lists them alphabetically by headword. This is yet another attempt in 12dicts to generate a core English vocabulary.

The advantage of a lemmatized presentation of words is that it puts related words together, even when spellings differ greatly, as for be, are, is and were. A moderate disadvantage is that the same word can appear in more than one lemma, such as putting, which is present in the lemmas headed by both put and putt. Overall, I find the lemmatized format to be clearer and more useful than a simple alphabetized list, and I rather wish I had released the other lists which include inflections in that format.

The following table summarizes the contents of each of the lists in the Lemmatized directory, ordered by size in words:

2+2+3cmn 2+2+3frq 2+2+3lem
Size (Words) 25,000 34,000 84,000
Number of Sources 21 21 21
American English Y Y Y
British English Some Some Y
Ordinary words Y Y Y
Inflections Some Some Y
Hyphenations Some Some Y
Names Some Some
Abbreviations Some Some
Acronyms Some Some
Signature words Y * *
Neologisms A few A few Y
Annotations Y Y Y

A * in the "Signature Words" row means that signature words associated with some other list may be present, but there are no signature words associated specifically with that list.

The 2+2+3lem list

The list 2+2+3lem.txt contains the words in the 2of12inf, 2of4brif and 3of3game lists. Also, the new words from the neol2016.txt list have been added, marked with a "!" if they would not have otherwise been included. (Marking the new words permits them to be removed if it is preferred for this list to be in synch with the other 12dicts lists.) Furthermore, some high-frequency hyphenated words from 2of12.txt and 3of6all have been added. These words were originally added to the lemmatized frequency list (see below), and I liked the results so much that I added them to this list as well. Finally, British forms of words in the 2of12inf list not already in the other lists have been added. Words marked with a % in the 2of12inf list ("Scrabble plurals") have however been omitted.

In the previous version of 12dicts, the 2+2+3lem list was called 2+2lemma. The only significant changes were the addition of new words, and switching from "+" to "!" to mark neologisms in the list.

The 2+2+3lem list is not formatted as a simple list of words. It is composed of entries of 1 or 2 lines each. The first line contains a headword, and the second line, which is indented if present, contains an alphabetized list of related words. A simple example:

    funnier, funnies, funniest, funnily, funniness

The list of related words contains three sorts of entries.

  1. Inflections.

  2. Variant spellings.

  3. Words formed with certain suffixes.

In addition to true variant spellings such as grey for gray and thru for through, item 2 also includes words which, though pronounced differently, are clearly variants of the headword. Thus, hooray is considered a variant of hurrah (but mere synonyms like furze and gorse remain independent).

Item 3 is based on a small list of suffixes, producing closely and consistently related words. These suffixes are -ful, -ish, -less, -like, -ly, -most and -ness. -ally is also allowed, if there is no -al word to apply the -ly suffix to. (For instance, basically is considered to be derived from basic, because there is no word basical.) When one of these suffixes is used in an unusual way, the resulting word is considered independent. For instance, likely is not considered to be derived from like, nor bashful from bash. There are some rather difficult questions here, such as how closely slavish is related to slave, or sluggish to slug. In general, I have chosen the course of least surprise by treating such pairs as independent.

Here are some other notes on the determination of what words are related.

Certain uses of the suffixes -ed and -s are treated as inflections, even though technically they are not. Thus, talented is treated as derived from talent, and optics from optic.

Words ending with the suffix -ability/ibility are treated as relatives of the corresponding -able/ible word.

Sometimes, the choice of which variant to treat as the headword is somewhat arbitrary. I have consistently chosen an American spelling over a British spelling here. This has some effect on the number of headwords. I treat cheque as a variant of check, whereas, to an observer with a British bias, they would no doubt be separate headwords.

No distinction is made of different meanings of the same word, even when they are so different that dictionaries list them separately. wind the noun and wind the verb are considered as a single word, as are second the adjective, second the noun and second the verb.

It may sometimes happen that two different words have the same inflection (putting derives both from putt and put; holier relates to holey as well as holy), or that an inflection is a headword in its own right (as with wound, the past tense of wind, or crooked, the past tense of crook). These situations are noted in the 2+2+3lem list as cross-references to the alternate headword. There are two specific situations which might not be obvious where inflections are treated as different words. These occur when a present tense form or a -ness word has a plural inflection, as with meaning and weakness. Such words are always made headwords, even when the relationship to the original root is very close. Here is an example showing how cross-references are indicated:

    based, baseless, basely, baseness, baser, bases -> [basis], basest, basing

Almost always, a given word has only one cross-reference - the biggest exception is the incredible tangle shown in the example below:

slue -> [slough]
    slew -> [slay, slew, slough], slewed, slewing, slews -> [slew, slough], slued, slues -> [slough], sluing

where 4 uncommon words mostly pronounced sloo have become thoroughly confused.

The 2+2+3frq list

In the previous version of 12dicts, there was a file called 2+2gfreq.txt. This file has been completely replaced by a new implementation of the same idea. Like the older list, the 2+2+3frq list presents the lemmas of 2+2+3lem in bands of lemmas with about the same frequency of use. However, there are the following major differences from what was done before:
  • In the previous version, word frequency information was obtained from data collected from the World Wide Web supplied by Google. This data was very voluminous, but was quite distorted by the Web's emphasis on computerese, pornography and marketing. I am now using a commercial word frequency database, supplied by Brigham Young University, based on its Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). This data is less voluminous than the Google data, but is far more balanced and seemingly trustworthy. It has some other advantages, discussed below.
  • High-frequency hyphenated words from 2of12inf and 3of6all have been added. I liked the effect of this so much that I added the same words to the 2+2+3lem list.
  • A certain number of high frequency abbreviations, contractions and capitalized words were added. Some of these words were not to be found in any other 12dicts list, for which reason I did not also add them to 2+2+3lem.
  • The list was shortened by omitting all lemmas which did not appear at all in the BYU data.
  • Individual lemmas were shortened by omitting very infrequent words and all regular inflections, except when they were used frequently as a part of speech different from the headword, such as disappointed as an adjective rather than a verb form.
The lemmas of 2+2+3frq are grouped into bands by the combined number of occurrences in the BYU data of the words in the lemmas. Band 21 contains lemmas whose words together appear between 16 and 31 times in the BYU data. Each other band contains lemmas of twice the frequency of the following band, that is, each lemma in band 20 appears in the BYU data between 32 and 63 times, and so on. The first band contains the three lemmas most frequently used in the English language (according to BYU), namely the, be (plus its inflections) and to. As already noted, some words are found in multiple lemmas. One helpful aspect of the BYU data is that it separates frequency data for a word by parts of speech, and notes the base word for inflected words. This often allows the frequency counts for a word like building to be accumulated under the correct lemma (either build or building). In the event that the BYU data is unable to completely resolve the appropriate lemma for a word, its frequency count is divided equally among the various candidates.

2+2+3frq is divided into bands by lines like this:

----- 5 -----

The lemmas in each band are presented in alphabetical order, not by the frequency of the individual lemma.

Note that because the BYU data was extracted from a corpus of American English, the 2+2+3frq file tilts in an American direction, though some British words like bloke, colour and lorry have made it through.

A useful attribute of the BYU data is that it, unlike the Google data, includes hyphenated words, as well as some abbreviations, contractions and capitalized words. The two cases are rather different. The inclusion of hyphenated words is explicitly intended. However, the BYU documentation states that proper names have been excluded where possible, while admitting that, in many cases, the software processing the data was unable to be sure whether a word was a proper name or not, in which case the word was included. The effect is that there are many words generally considered to be proper names present, notably the names of months of the year and days of the week, plus those of religions, nationalities and ideologies. You will not find names like linda, picasso, vladivostok, microsoft or rumpelstiltskin in the data, but you will find november, buddhist, peruvian and marxist, to the extent that I wonder if BYU might have used a different definition of "proper name" than the one I was taught in school. As for abbreviations, the BYU documentation makes no mention of them, but there are some very familiar abbreviations in the data. There are not a lot of them, which makes me wonder whether their presence was intentional or a processing error. Either way, I have no reason to doubt their frequency counts.

I decided that I wanted to add high-frequency hyphenated words, proper names and abbreviations to the frequency list, as I consider this data to be very interesting. When I did so, I discovered in band 17 the words atlantean and klingon. I really don't think that these words have anywhere close to the same frequency as armband and carpool, which are also present in band 17. This makes me suspect that, for words of this frequency or less, the BYU data is starting to become less reliable. For this reason, I decided to stop adding hyphenated words, capitalized words, contractions and abbreviations after band 17.

In the case of hyphenated words, I added them to the 2+2+3frq list only if they were present in either 2of12.txt or 3of6all.txt. I also added these words to the 2+2+3lem list. In the case of abbreviations and capitalized words, there were not all that many of them, and some of them were not present in any other 12dicts list, such as Americanist, Thatcherism and, of course, Klingon. For this reason, when I added capitalized words, contractions and abbreviations to 2+2+3frq, I parenthesized them to indicate that their presence had nothing to do with any source but the BYU data. The same consideration led me to omit these words from the 2+2+3lem list.

The 2+2+3frq list is considerably smaller than the previous 2+2gfreq list due to my decision to drop lemmas which were absent from the BYU data, especially since the BYU data was considerably less voluminous and so left out many more words than the Google data. In addition, I observed that many high-frequency lemmas contained unusual spellings and archaic forms that were not present in the BYU data, such as cocoanut, iodin and didst, and decided to drop non-headwords from the lemmas unless their frequency was at or above the level of band 17. A similar decision was made to drop regular inflections from the lemmas in the 2+2+3frq list unless they had high frequency with a different part of speech, for example, loving as an adjective or fighting as a noun. Finally, I chose to drop the word/lemma cross-references from the 2+2+3frq list, replacing them with a * indicating that a word was to be found under another headword (though it might have been suppressed if it was a regular inflection).

As an example of how this works out in practice, here is the lemma for time from 2+2+3lem:

    timed, timeless, timelessly, timelessness, times, timing -> [timing]

and here is the condensed version from 2+2+3frq.

    timed, timeless

The words timelessly and timelessness are not used often enough (according to BYU) to mention in the frequency list, while the word times was not frequently used except as a form of time, and, while the word timing was frequently used as a noun, its counts were collected under the lemma timing rather than time.

The 2+2+3cmn list

The 2+2+3cmn list is a relatively simple transformation of the 2+2+3frq list, in yet another attempt to produce a "core English" word list. It is composed of the lemmas of the 2+2+3frq list from bands 1 through 17, sorted in alphabetical order by headword. Minor formatting differences are that the "!" is removed from neologisms, and the parentheses are removed from capitalized words, abbreviations and contractions.

I have added 67 signature words to 2+2+3cmn, which are abbreviations, contractions and capitalized words (mostly contractions) which I know to be extremely high frequency, but which were not present in the BYU data, words such as can't, Mr. and DVD. These words are marked with a + to indicate their absence from the 2+2+3frq source data.

Like 2+2+3frq, 2+2+3cmn tilts strongly in the direction of American English.

Because all the words of 2+2+3cmn are of moderately high frequency (assuming the BYU data is to be trusted), it probably is a better claimant than either 2of5core or 3esl to truly representing a core English vocabulary, at least of the American variety.

Specialized 12 dicts lists

The following table summarizes the contents of each of the lists in the Special directory, ordered by size in words:
neol2016 2of5core 6phrase
Size (Words) 600 4,700 22,000
Number of Sources 0 5 6
American English Y Y Y
British English A little Y Y
Ordinary words Y Y
Inflections Y
Hyphenations Y A few
Phrases Y A few Y
Names Y A few A few
Abbreviations Y A few A few
Acronyms Y A few
Signature words *
Neologisms Y
Annotations Y N Y

A * in the "Signature Words" row means that signature words associated with some other list may be present, but there are no signature words associated specifically with that list.

The neol2016 list

The neol2016 list is a very simple list of new or newly recognized words, as described above. It is comprised of three parts, separated by blank lines.

The first part lists regular (non-hyphenated, non-capitalized) words together with their inflections and variants, laid out similarly to the 2+2+3lem list. It includes plurals for uncountable nouns, marked with a "%" suffix. These words (except for the uncountable plurals) have been pre-added to the 2of12inf and 3of6game lists, suffixed with "!", allowing them to be easily removed if desired.

The second part of the file is a small set of words for which additional inflections have been added. This portion of the file is in the same format as the first list. These inflections have also been added to the 2of12inf and 3of6game lists.

The third part of the file contains new words and phrases which are not regular words: hyphenated words, multi-word phrases, proper names, abbreviations and acronyms. These words have not been pre-added to any other list.

In all cases, users are encouraged to add some or all of these words to any of the other lists, as they feel appropriate.

The 2of5core list

Five of the six advanced learner's ESL dictionaries from which the 3of6 lists were compiled mark a subset of their words as being important words which every student of English should master. These subsets vary widely from dictionary to dictionary. As one of the original goals of the 12dicts project was to compile a list representing the English core vocabulary, I thought it would be interesting to combine these lists. My original thought was to provide a list that was simply the union of the marked subsets for each source. However, one particular dictionary had at least twice as many words in its subset as any of the others, and in many cases the words seemed to me to be poorly chosen. (Do moor and cash flow seem like key English language concepts to you?) So I chose when assembling my list to require that all words be marked as important words by at least two of the sources. The result was the 2of5core list, which contains about 4,700 words.

While most words selected in this way were the same in American and British English, some belonged to one variant or the other. In some cases, a word appeared in two forms, such as center and centre. When I observed that a word was present in two forms, I combined them into a single line, for example center/centre. No other changes were made to the list.

Due to the way in which the list was constructed, it seems somewhat haphazard. You may want to check out the Oxford 3000™, a list of 3000 words available from Oxford University, which is a core vocabulary created by lexicographers, to my eye superior to the 2of5core list.

The 6phrase list

When I was compiling the 3of6all list, I noticed something interesting. There were an extraordinary number of phrases listed by only one of the sources. Many of these were extremely common phrases, which I would expect most experienced English speakers to understand. So, naturally, I decided to compile them all into a list.

The 6phrase list contains all multi-word phrases from any of the six advanced learner's dictionaries which were used as sources for 3of6all, all 22,000 of them. The list does not include inflections, except in a few cases where a plural cannot easily be guessed from the words in a phrase. Usually, this happens for phrases of non-English origin, such as eau de cologne, whose plural is eaux de cologne. The list includes phrasal verbs, which are suffixed by the ";" character, as in the 3of6all list. The list is sorted in a different order than the lexicographical ordering used by the other lists, in order to group all phrases starting with the same word together.

You will observe that the same phrase will often be repeated several times in the list, with slightly different spelling, capitalization and/or hyphenation. No attempt was made to edit the list to remove or reduce such "clutter".

The 6phrase list includes the 3of6all signature phrases. These are not marked with a suffix.

In contrast to most of the other lists, I am unable to think of any applications of the 6phrase list. But I find it rather interesting, which is why I'm bothering to include it. At the very least, it may serve as an illustration of the incredible richness of the English language, without even venturing into vocabulary too esoteric to be included in a learner's dictionary.

How 12dicts came to be

It may have occurred to some to wonder about how something like the 12dicts project came to be (though I assume that anyone who bothers to download this archive must already have some idea that such a project could be of interest).

Many years ago, there was a post to the sci.crypt Usenet newsgroup, on the subject of creating PGP passphrases using randomly selected entries from a supplied list of very short words. (If this sounds interesting, follow this link for an expanded version of the post.) The word list, which was extracted from /usr/dict/words on some UNIX system, seemed to me ill-suited to its intended purpose. It included arcane acronyms (bstj, fmc), misspellings (diety, ouvre) and words of amazing obscurity (bhoy, kombu). I decided I could do better, and eventually did. This caused me to start downloading English word lists, of which there were many, from the Internet. I was not impressed by the overall quality of these lists, and the few which were high-quality were all-inclusive, burying the everyday words under a mountain of archaisms and esoterica.

This was a long time ago, and an Internet search for word lists now turns up lists of higher quality than back then (thanks in part to the influence of 12dicts), so I will limit myself to two brief criticisms of the various lists available at that time. First, they contained far too many misspellings and typos, and had obviously never been proofread. Additionally, their approach to vocabulary was scattershot, omitting common words while adding a random selection of highly technical words, often associated with UNIX and academic computer science. (My favorite is the list which included bremsstrahlung, but omitted log and beer.) Due to my original purpose of finding a list of short, common words, I found this sort of thing particularly frustrating.

One result of my frustration with this situation was my working with Mendel Cooper on ENABLE, a large Scrabble®-oriented list, which was close to unique in having an active caretaker who was clearly concerned with quality, and in being oriented towards American rather than British English. But ENABLE was an all-encompassing list and, even if it had been complete at the time I started my search for a list of common words, it would not have been what I wanted for that reason. (The ENABLE web site is no longer online, but a Google search will turn up places where you can still download it.)

I finally decided that only starting from scratch with a systematic approach was likely to get me what I was looking for, and that dictionaries intended for non-native speakers of English were the best possible source for words that are in some cases so familiar that we never think of them. This has led to the 12dicts lists, which I hope have managed to avoid the flaws recited above.

My other projects

During the intervals between releases of 12dicts, I have been fooling around with English spelling reform. One of the results of this activity is the development of CAAPR and ABCD, both of which may be downloaded from my website, www.wyrdplay.org. CAAPR is the Combined Anglo-American Pronunciation Reference, a fancy name for a bi-dialectal pronunciation dictionary whose word list is derived primarily from the 12dicts 6of12 list. ABCD, Alan's Basic Codes with Diacritics, is also a pronunciation dictionary, of a somewhat different sort - the notation is designed to clarify when a word is spelled in accordance with normal English spelling patterns (as with fault or tunnel), and when it is not (as with fought or colonel). Though these files were developed as a result of my interest in spelling reform, they may be of interest to other "word nerds" unconcerned with that particular quixotic pastime.

Click the following links to CAAPR and ABCD if interested.


When I released the first version of 12dicts in 1999, I assumed I was done with it. It hasn't worked out that way. I now think I'm pretty much done with it again, though an occasional update to neol20xx.txt might be called for. Perhaps in ten more years I'll have reached version 9, and be laughing uncontrollably at the thought that I might have finished earlier, but for the present I don't see what else might be both useful and fun to add.

Feel free to send comments, suggestions, inquiries and/or large sums of money to me at 12dicts@pobox.com. (Actually, the bit about money is a joke. Do not send me even small amounts of money; 12dicts is free wordware.) After making this request in previous versions, I have been delighted to see the interest in these lists for projects ranging from interactive games to literacy programs. And I have been particularly pleased to occasionally hear of first-year Computer Science assignments specifying a 12dicts list rather than /usr/dict/words for their input. Keep up the good work, and do let me know what you're doing. (Oh, and please put "12dicts" in the subject line when you email me. This will allow me to easily notice your mail even if it is misclassified by an overzealous filter as spam. Speaking of spam, the publication of my email address in this package has led to a marked increase in the amount of spam I receive and, ironically, much of it contains subject lines which appear to have been extracted at random from my own lists. This is a use of 12dicts of which I do not approve!)

The 12dicts lists were compiled by Alan Beale. I explicitly release them to the public domain, but request acknowledgment of their use. (Actually, the dependency of the 2of12inf list and the 2+2+3 lists on AGID prevents their release into the public domain. However, I do not impose any additional requirements on their use beyond those imposed by AGID and its sources, as described in agid.txt.)

- Alan Beale -