Basic English

From Academic Kids

Basic English is a simplified English 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).

Ogden said that it would take seven years to learn English, seven months for Esperanto, and seven weeks for Basic English. 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 words into Basic English that could be said with a few other words, and worked to make the words work in any country. He put his set of words through a large number of tests and adjustments. He also made the grammar simpler, but tried to keep the grammar normal for English users.

The concept gained its greatest publicity just after the Second World War as a tool for world peace. Although it was not built into a program, similar simplifications were devised for various international uses.


Rules of grammar

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

  1. Make plurals with an "S" on the end of the word. If there are special ways to make a plural word, such as "ES" and "IES", use them.
  2. There are four wordends to change each of the 300 nouns: -"ER" and -"ING", and the two adjective wordends, -"ING" and -"ED".
  3. Make qualifiers from adverbs with the wordend -"LY".
  4. Talk about amounts with "MORE" and "MOST." Use and know -"ER" and -"EST."
  5. Make opposite adjectives with "UN"-
  6. Make questions with opposite word order, and "DO".
  7. Operators and pronouns conjugate as in normal English.
  8. Make combined words from two nouns (for example "milkman" or "wordend") or a noun and a directive (sundown).
  9. Measures, numbers, money, months, days, years, clock time, and international words are in English forms.
  10. Use the words of an industry or science. For example, in this grammar, some special words are for teaching languages, and not part of Basic English: grammar, plural, conjugate, noun, adjective, adverb, qualifier, operator, pronoun, and directive.

Criticisms, misunderstandings and answers

One criticism of Basic English is that in order to reduce word count, it uses large numbers of idiomatic expressions which are non-obvious to non-native English speakers. For example the term "make good" is used for "succeed" while the term "make bad" is not used for "fail."

Answer: "Make good" is not necessary in Basic English. Ogden gives a suggestion to make use of "do well." For "fail" it will be enough to make use of "don't do well" or "doesn't do well."

Criticism: English relies heavily on idioms, of which there are about 4000 presently recognized by most idiom dictionaries - requiring nearly 2000 words, more than twice the vocabulary of Basic English, to define. A counter-argument is that English speakers will eventually need to learn this larger vocabulary, and the idioms, at some point, so little or no harm is done by introducing asymmetric idioms early on.

Answer: Basic English, in fact, makes little use of idioms. Any sense of the word or word groups are kept within the limit of expansion from the root sense.

Criticism: Note also that the size of the word list also eliminates a considerable number of common English words, such as "world".

Answer: Words like "world," however common and frequent, are not on the list, because they are not truly necessary. Other words like "earth," "space," or "International society" will do the work.

Another criticism is that it is a form of linguistic imperialism, because it attempts to make English, and by extension, Anglophone cultures, into the default international culture. It also preserves other irregularities of the English language in the interest of backward compatibility.

Answer: Basic English does not put a special weight on being British or English. "Home," for example, is not on the list. By limiting, in addition, the number of "verbs" as much as possible, it makes the word changes far more regular than "regular" English.

One other criticism is that it is not as effective as E-Prime at enabling non-judgemental communication, since "to be" is permitted but other words required to indicate states of being (e.g. "equals", "become") are not.

Answer: Basic English does make use of words like "become" by joining "be" and "come." "Equal" is used as an adjective, or a quality word. So it is possible to make a statement like "This is equal to that." A non-judgemental statement is made using "seem."

Historical references

Winston Churchill supported the idea of Basic English's use as an international language at first, mentioning it in a speech at Harvard in 1944, but according to one story was put off it when he was told that "blood, toil, tears and sweat" translates into Basic English as "blood, hard work, eyewash and body water."

According to the Times Educational Supplement's Talking To series (, George Orwell might have parodied Basic English in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. The references to Newspeak could be interpreted as a hidden critique against the "universal languages" which had been proposed during the period of the writing of the book.

Orwell's Newspeak, in fact, is more like languages for machines or the Internet, unclear to the readers with no connection to the Net. Ogden's Basic English, on the other hand, is completely clear to any reader of general English, but only to be used as a second language.

Word List

These are the 850 core words of Basic English.

OPERATIONS - 100 words

come, get, give, go, keep, let, make, put, seem, take, be, do, have, say, see, send, may, will
about, across, after, against, among, at, before, between, by, down, from, in, off, on, over, through, to, under, up, with, as, for, of, till, than,
a, the, all, any, every, no, other, some, such, that, this, I, he, you, who,
and, because, but, or, if, though, while, how, when, where, why,
again, ever, far, forward, here, near, now, out, still, then, there, together, well
almost, enough, even, little, much, not, only, quite, so, very, tomorrow, yesterday
north, south, east, west, please, yes.

THINGS - 400 General words

account, act, addition, adjustment, advertisement, agreement, air, amount, amusement, animal, answer, apparatus, approval, argument, art, attack, attempt, attention, attraction, authority, back, balance, base, behaviour/behavior, belief, birth, bit, bite, blood, blow, body, brass, bread, breath, brother, building, burn, burst, business, butter, canvas, care, cause, chalk, chance, change, cloth, coal, colour/color, comfort, committee, company, comparison, competition, condition, connection, control, cook, copper, copy, cork, cotton, cough, country, cover, crack, credit, crime, crush, cry, current, curve, damage, danger, daughter, day, death, debt, decision, degree, design, desire, destruction, detail, development, digestion, direction, discovery, discussion, disease, disgust, distance, distribution, division, doubt, drink, driving, dust, earth, edge, education, effect, end, error, event, example, exchange, existence, expansion, experience, expert, fact, fall, family, father, fear, feeling, fiction, field, fight, fire, flame, flight, flower, fold, food, force, form, friend, front, fruit, glass, gold, government, grain, grass, grip, group, growth, guide, harbour/harbor, harmony, hate, hearing, heat, help, history, hole, hope, hour, humour/humor, ice, idea, impulse, increase, industry, ink, insect, instrument, insurance, interest, invention, iron, jelly, join, journey, judge, jump, kick, kiss, knowledge, land, language, laugh, law, lead, learning, leather, letter, level, lift, light, limit, linen, liquid, list, look, loss, love, machine, man, manager, mark, market, mass, meal, measure, meat, meeting, memory, metal, middle, milk, mind, mine, minute, mist, money, month, morning, mother, motion, mountain, move, music, name, nation, need, news, night, noise, note, number, observation, offer, oil, operation, opinion, order, organization/organisation, ornament, owner, page, pain, paint, paper, part, paste, payment, peace, person, place, plant, play, pleasure, point, poison, polish, porter, position, powder, power, price, print, process, produce, profit, property, prose, protest, pull, punishment, purpose, push, quality, question, rain, range, rate, ray, reaction, reading, reason, record, regret, relation, religion, representative, request, respect, rest, reward, rhythm, rice, river, road, roll, room, rub, rule, run, salt, sand, scale, science, sea, seat, secretary, selection, self, sense, servant, sex, shade, shake, shame, shock, side, sign, silk, silver, sister, size, sky, sleep, slip, slope, smash, smell, smile, smoke, sneeze, snow, soap, society, son, song, sort, sound, soup, space, stage, start, statement, steam, steel, step, stitch, stone, stop, story, stretch, structure, substance, sugar, suggestion, summer, support, surprise, swim, system, talk, taste, tax, teaching, tendency, test, theory, thing, thought, thunder, time, tin, top, touch, trade, transport, trick, trouble, turn, twist, unit, use, value, verse, vessel, view, voice, walk, war, wash, waste, water, wave, wax, way, weather, week, weight, wind, wine, winter, woman, wood, wool, word, work, wound, writing, year

THINGS - 200 Picturable words

angle, ant, apple, arch, arm, army, baby, bag, ball, band, basin, basket, bath, bed, bee, bell, berry, bird, blade, board, boat, bone, book, boot, bottle, box, boy, brain, brake, branch, brick, bridge, brush, bucket, bulb, button, cake, camera, card, cart, carriage, cat, chain, cheese, chest, chin, church, circle, clock, cloud, coat, collar, comb, cord, cow, cup, curtain, cushion, dog, door, drain, drawer, dress, drop, ear, egg, engine, eye, face, farm, feather, finger, fish, flag, floor, fly, foot, fork, fowl, frame, garden, girl, glove, goat, gun, hair, hammer, hand, hat, head, heart, hook, horn, horse, hospital, house, island, jewel, kettle, key, knee, knife, knot, leaf, leg, library, line, lip, lock, map, match, monkey, moon, mouth, muscle, nail, neck, needle, nerve, net, nose, nut, office, orange, oven, parcel, pen, pencil, picture, pig, pin, pipe, plane, plate, plough/plow, pocket, pot, potato, prison, pump, rail, rat, receipt, ring, rod, roof, root, sail, school, scissors, screw, seed, sheep, shelf, ship, shirt, shoe, skin, skirt, snake, sock, spade, sponge, spoon, spring, square, stamp, star, station, stem, stick, stocking, stomach, store, street, sun, table, tail, thread, throat, thumb, ticket, toe, tongue, tooth, town, train, tray, tree, trousers, umbrella, wall, watch, wheel, whip, whistle, window, wing, wire, worm.

QUALITIES - 100 General

able, acid, angry, automatic, beautiful, black, boiling, bright, broken, brown, cheap, chemical, chief, clean, clear, common, complex, conscious, cut, deep, dependent, early, elastic, electric, equal, fat, fertile, first, fixed, flat, free, frequent, full, general, good, great, grey/gray, hanging, happy, hard, healthy, high, hollow, important, kind, like, living, long, male, married, material, medical, military, natural, necessary, new, normal, open, parallel, past, physical, political, poor, possible, present, private, probable, quick, quiet, ready, red, regular, responsible, right, round, same, second, separate, serious, sharp, smooth, sticky, stiff, straight, strong, sudden, sweet, tall, thick, tight, tired, true, violent, waiting, warm, wet, wide, wise, yellow, young.

QUALITIES - 50 Opposites

awake, bad, bent, bitter, blue, certain, cold, complete, cruel, dark, dead, dear, delicate, different, dirty, dry, false, feeble, female, foolish, future, green, ill, last, late, left, loose, loud, low, mixed, narrow, old, opposite, public, rough, sad, safe, secret, short, shut, simple, slow, small, soft, solid, special, strange, thin, white, wrong.

See also


External links

de:Basic English eo:Baza Angla fr:Langue anglaise simplifie ia:Basic English it:Basic English hu:Egyszerű angol nyelv pl:Basic English ru:Бейсик инглиш simple:Basic English sl:Osnovna angleščina fi:Basic English


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