ASK DOCTOR DOROTHY PASTENSE FULLSTOP:
Are there really over one million words in the English alphabet (according to your book?)
So we should start by what it actually says in the book:
"[English] is a language that contains more words than any other. And as of January 2012 (according to the Global Language Monitor, a website that gives you the statistics on the English language), it now contains over one million words.
And if you are interested, it was on 10th June, 2009, at 10.22pm (GMT) that the millionth word was declared as Web 2.0
Now did that make you go OH!! or …oh. Yes, I was disappointed too.
Indeed, if all the statistics we read are to be believed, the English language is adding one new word every 98 minutes, or 14.7 words every day."
So it wasn't us who actually stated the fact. Even so, some explanation is surely needed as the question is valid - that is - it does need answering.
First, an update: according to the Global Language Monitor, as of November 24 2016, there are now 1,005,366 words in the English dictionary. Many new words have, of course, emerged from within English-speaking lands, but they have also been emerging from Silicon Valley (an area in the US where they speak their own language, otherwise known as jargon), but also from other countries around the world where they have been absorbed into English: kielbasa and pierogi from Poland, for example. The future of English may have been in doubt over a hundred years ago, but thanks to modern communications it is now used by some 1.53 billion people as a primary, auxiliary, or business language. According to Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst of the Global Language Monitor, around 250 million people in China have now acquired the language.
But as regards the word count, the reality is this. First, there is no official organisation or committee - like they have in France and Italy - that sets out to monitor and control the language, although in reality these places simply play a symbolic role and they can't really arrest you for saying computer instead of ordinateur. But they are, perhaps, able to tell you how many words there are, officially, in their languages.
For English, the main problem lies in what we would consider to be a word. As an example, should the word reach be counted as one word, or should it be counted as twenty-one words as, according to the American dictionary, there are 21 different definitions? And what about inflexions - that is, those extra letters we add depending on the context the word is being used, such as reaches (3rd person plural)? Is bright with 'ly' two separate words, even though in meaning and in grammar their use of adverbs is exactly the same (the sun shone bright/the sun shone brightly)? And then you get those other words which can be inflected in many ways - bore, bored, boring, for example? Do these count as three words or should only the root word (bore) count? Is this whole article now a bore-fest? Does that hyphenated compound variation count as another word?
Then there are the boundaries of the language that we should think about. By what rules should we apply when it comes to foreign words entering into common English usage such as au revoir, kaput, passé, non sequitur, faux-pas? What about technical terms? Words used in dialect, chemicals, acronyms and intialisms?
Do people really think that Web 2.0 is a real word?
According to en.oxforddictionaries.com, the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 words that are no longer in regular use. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter are adjectives, and about a seventh of these verbs are verbs. Then there are the exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. They do not include words that can fit into more than one class (Paint the walls with blue paint - verb and noun), along with inflexions, technical and regional vocabulary, and new words that have not yet been added to the dictionary. If all these examples were added, then maybe the total would be closer to three quarters of a million.
Then we add Merriam-Webster - a major American dictionary - into the mix, and they claim 450,000 words. But they include several of the examples that the Oxford book does not.
As to the number of words the average native speaker knows and uses, the figures are considerably less.
So basically, there is no real answer to the question.
What do we really count as a word?