The Most Common Words in Movies

As I said in my last post, finding out the 100 most common (and/or most important) words in English is not a simple task. If you want to know which words a new student of English is likely to hear the most, you might want to look to Hollywood for the answer.

For one thing, most movies try to approximate real, natural, conversation. Since a large number of scripts (or better yet, transcripts) are available online, this is a relatively easy way to build a corpus of conversational data for American English. And anyway, a large portion of those studying English are doing so at least in part because they want to be able to understand American movies!

I built a relatively small corpus from transcripts of the following movies: American Splendor, Election, Enemy of the State, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Fargo, Garden State, Igby Goes Down, and Jumanji. I tried to find a variety of recent movies with believable dialogue and no weird dialects. My selection was limited; several files I downloaded had technical problems, so I had to throw them out.

Anyway, I broke the scripts down and sorted the individual words by the number of times they occurred in all the movies combined. Unlike the frequency lists I mentioned in my last post, I merged different forms of the same word to try and get a feel for the importance of the root word. That's not the only way to do it, but it's the way I did it, so live with it!

I think it's a pretty good representation of the 100 most common words in everyday speech. It's actually 101 because I thought you might need to edit out a certain curse word that occurred with surprising frequency overall.

Those words listed inside of curly braces were counted toward more than one entry, usually because they're a combination of two or more words (or morphemes anyway). To be consistent, I really would've liked to break down words like "talking" into "talk" and "-ing", but I just didn't have the time to be so picky. You can try it if you want, but you'll need to find a good text editor that can sort alphabetically, use regular expressions, and so on.

  1. be / am / 'm / is / 's / are / 're / being / beings / was / were / been
  2. me / I / {my / mine / myself}
  3. you / ya / {your / yours / yourself / yourselves}
  4. the
  5. to
  6. a[n]
  7. '[s] / {my / mine / our / ours / your / yours / its / his / her / hers / their / theirs / whose}
  8. it / {its}
  9. do / does / doing / did / done
  10. not / -n't
  11. have / has / having / had / {'d}
  12. that / those
  13. and
  14. us / we / {our / ours / ourselves}
  15. what / {somewhat / whatever / whatsoever}
  16. of
  17. this / these
  18. him / he / {his / himself}
  19. get / gets / getting / got / gotten / {gotta} / getter
  20. in
  21. go / goes / going / {gonna} / went / gone
  22. know / knows / knowing / knew / known
  23. on
  24. no / no-
  25. yes / yeah / yep / yup
  26. for
  27. thing / things / {anything / everything / nothing / something}
  28. them / they / {their / themselves}
  29. just
  30. like / likes / liked / likely
  31. her / she / {herself}
  32. so
  33. can / {cannot}
  34. one / ones / {anyone / everyone / someone} / only / once
  35. some / some-
  36. oh
  37. here
  38. all
  39. come / comes / coming / came
  40. there
  41. think / thinks / thinking / thought / thoughts
  42. will / 'll
  43. with
  44. but
  45. OK
  46. right / rights / righto
  47. want / wants / wanting / wanted
  48. up
  49. about
  50. at
  51. good / better / best / goodness
  52. out / {outta}
  53. uh / um
  54. how / {anyhow / somehow / however}
  55. real / really / reality / realize / realized
  56. any / any-
  57. hi / hello / hey / hiya
  58. see / sees / seeing / saw / seen
  59. fuck / fucking / fucked / fucker / {motherfucking / motherfucker / motherfuckers / fuckwit}
  60. if
  61. now
  62. say / says / saying / said
  63. look / looks / looking / looked
  64. would / {'d}
  65. well
  66. time / times / {anytime / sometime / sometimes}
  67. make / makes / making / made
  68. who / whom / {whose}
  69. where / {anywhere / everywhere / nowhere / somewhere / wherever}
  70. man / men / mannish
  71. or
  72. tell / tells / telling / told
  73. take / takes / taking / took / taken
  74. back
  75. mean / means / meaning / meant
  76. could
  77. let / lets / letting
  78. work / works / working / workings / worked / worker / workers
  79. every / every-
  80. Mr. / mister / Mrs. / Miss
  81. thank / thanks
  82. person / people / persons / personal / personally / personality / personalized
  83. call / calls / calling / called
  84. need / needs / needing / needed
  85. from
  86. guy / guys
  87. as
  88. when / {whenever}
  89. god / gosh / god-
  90. why
  91. sorry
  92. way / ways / {anyway / anyways}
  93. day / days / {everyday / someday}
  94. down
  95. talk / talks / talking / talked
  96. then
  97. more / {anymore}
  98. little
  99. should
  100. life / {lives}
  101. may / {maybe}

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