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Basic English 

Excerpted from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Look up Appendix:Basic English word list

Basic English is a constructed language with a small number of words created by Charles Kay Ogden and described in his book Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar (1930). The language is based on a simplified version of English, in essence a subset of it. 

Ogden said that it would take seven years to learn English, seven months for Esperanto, and seven weeks for Basic English, comparable with Ido. Thus Basic English is used by companies who need to make complex books for international use, and by language schools that need to give people some knowledge of English in a short time.

Ogden did not put any words into Basic English that could be paraphrased with other words, and he strove to make the words work for speakers of any other language. He put his set of words through a large number of tests and adjustments. He also simplified the grammar but tried to keep it normal for English users.

Rules of grammar

Ogden's rules of grammar for Basic English allows people to use the 850 words to talk about things and events in the normal English way.

  • 1. Words are pluralised by adding an ~s on the end of the word. If there are special ways to make a plural word in English, such as ~es and ~ies, they should be used instead.
  • 2. Words like change, turn, and use are used as verbs, but the 300 of them may be turned into different forms by adding the ending ~er or ~ing; or into adjectives by adding ~ing and ~ed. Only act is to be turned into actor rather than acter.
  • 3. Some adjectives can be turned into adverbs with the ending ~ly.
  • 4. For comparatives and superlatives, either more and most or ~er and ~est may be used.
  • 5. Some adjectives can be inverted with un~.
  • 6. Yes/no questions are formed by adding do at the beginning or changing the word order.
  • 7. Operators and pronouns conjugate as in normal English.
  • 8. Combined words can be formed from two operators (for example become), from two nouns (for example newspaper or headline) or from a noun and a direction (sundown).
  • 9. Measures, numbers, money, months, days, years, clock time, and international words are in English forms.
  • 10. The wordlist can be augmented by the jargon of an industry or science. For example, in a grammar, words such as grammar or noun might be used, even though they are not on Ogden's wordlist.

Word Lists

These are the 850 core words of Basic English. (See Appendix:Basic English word list) In addition to the core 850, there are lists used to expand the vocabulary used in any given piece to 1,000 words. This is accomplished by adding a word list of 100 words particularly useful in a general field (e.g., science, verse, business, etc.), along with a 50-word list from a more specialized subset of that general field. 


A well-known American linguist, Robert A. Hall, Jr., has written:

Deliberate reductions of existing tongues have been even less successful than artificially created international languages; the worst such fiasco in modern times has been Basic English, a restricted variety of English constructed by the philosophers C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards. This language is strictly limited in vocabulary to 850 words, chosen by the sponsors of the language, plus 18 special auxiliary verbs or "operators" such as get, do, be, etc. The lexical items were chosen with a view to their use in expressing (no matter with how much circumlocution) every possible idea, rather than to their frequency or practicality in everyday usage. Ordinary English spelling is used, and little attention has been paid to the phonetic side of the problem; apparently it was assumed that foreigners' difficulties in learning English sounds were of little or no weight, and the language seems to have been envisaged primarily as a means of written communication. Despite its professed limitation to 850 words, the actual number of possible combinations and the range of meaning covered by Basic English vocabulary is very great, and they all follow the patterns of standard English. The auxiliary verbs or "operators" constitute one of the hardest parts of Basic English for any non-native speaker of English, since such words as get and do are among the trickiest things in the English language. In short, Basic English is quite without the ease and simplicity that has been claimed for it, and has been put together naively and without realization of the linguistic problems involved.

 • This page was last modified 01:56, 28 August 2007.
• All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.) Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) tax-deductible nonprofit charity.
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