Humanities › English The 100 Most Important Words in English From 'How to Read a Page' by I.A. Richards Share Flipboard Email Print Jonathan Knowles / Getty Images English English Grammar An Introduction to Punctuation Writing By Richard Nordquist English and Rhetoric Professor Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester B.A., English, State University of New York Dr. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks. our editorial process Richard Nordquist Updated July 18, 2019 This list of important words was drawn up by British rhetorician I.A. Richards, author of several books including "Basic English and Its Uses" (1943). However, these 100 words are not a part of the simplified version of the language that he and C.K. Ogden called Basic English. Also, we're not talking about the 100 most frequently used words in English (a list that contains far more prepositions than nouns). And unlike the 100 words chosen by David Crystal to tell "The Story of English," Richards' words are primarily significant for their meanings, not their etymologies. Richards introduced his list of words in the book "How to Read a Page: A Course in Effective Reading" (1942), and he called them "the most important words" for two reasons: They cover the ideas we can least avoid using, those which are concerned in all that we do as thinking beings.They are words we are forced to use in explaining other words because it is in terms of the ideas they cover that the meanings of other words must be given. Here are those 100 important words: AmountArgumentArtBeBeautifulBeliefCauseCertainChanceChangeClearCommonComparisonConditionConnectionCopyDecisionDegreeDesireDevelopmentDifferentDoEducationEndEventExamplesExistenceExperienceFactFearFeelingFictionForceFormFreeGeneralGetGiveGoodGovernmentHappyHaveHistoryIdeaImportantInterestKnowledgeLawLetLevelLivingLoveMakeMaterialMeasureMindMotionNameNationNaturalNecessaryNormalNumberObservationOppositeOrderOrganizationPartPlacePleasurePossiblePowerProbablePropertyPurposeQualityQuestionReasonRelationRepresentativeRespectResponsibleRightSameSayScienceSeeSeemSenseSignSimpleSocietySortSpecialSubstanceThingThoughtTrueUseWayWiseWordWork All these words carry multiple meanings, and they can say quite different things to different readers. For that reason, Richards' list could just as well have been labeled "The 100 Most Ambiguous Words:" The very usefulness which gives them their importance explains their ambiguity. They are the servants of too many interests to keep to single, clearly defined jobs. Technical words in the sciences are like adzes, planes, gimlets, or razors. A word like "experience," or "feeling," or "true" is like a pocketknife. In good hands it will do most things—not very well. In general we will find that the more important a word is, and the more central and necessary its meanings are in our pictures of ourselves and the world, the more ambiguous and possibly deceiving the word will be. In an earlier book, "The Making of Meaning" (1923), Richards (and co-author C.K. Ogden) had explored the fundamental notion that meaning doesn't reside in words themselves. Rather, meaning is rhetorical: It's fashioned out of both a verbal context (the words surrounding the words) and the experiences of the individual reader. No surprise, then, that miscommunication is often the result when the "important words" come into play. It's this idea of miscommunicating through language that led Richards to conclude that all of us are developing our reading skills all the time: "Whenever we use words in forming some judgment or decision, we are, in what may be a painfully sharp sense, 'learning to read'" ("How to Read a Page.") There are actually 103 words on Richards' top-100 list. The bonus words, he said, are meant "to incite the reader to the task of cutting out those he sees no point in and adding any he pleases, and to discourage the notion that there is anything sacrosanct about a hundred, or any other number." Your List So with those thoughts in mind, it's now time to create a list of what you think are the most important words. Sources Crystal, David. "The Story of English." St. Martin's Press, 2012, New York.Richards, I.A. "Basic English and Its Uses." W.W. Norton & Co., 1943, New York. Richards, I.A. "How to Read a Page: A Course in Effective Reading." Beacon Press, 1942, Boston.Ogden, C.K. and Richards, I.A. "The Making of Meaning." Harcourt, 1923, New York.