Monday, September 5, 2011

Secret life of pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions

One surprise about how we use language comes when we look at our frequency of word use. I just saw a table in an article by the psychologist James W. Pennebaker based on his new book, The Secret Life of Pronouns. His Top Twenty words list is shown above. (Click on it for a larger, clearer version).

It only has pronouns, articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and verbs. (I have color coded them). There are no nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. The most common verb, is, doesn’t even make it into the Top Ten. Together the Top Ten make up slightly more than a fifth (21.4%) of what we write or say, while the Top Twenty make up almost thirty percent (29.1%.).

He notes that these “function” words are what determines style. They have a supporting role as background for our other content words.

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