Red and black words

The most important feature of all is the clear distinction that the Macmillan English Dictionary makes between high-frequency core vocabulary and the less common words needed mainly for reference. The Macmillan English Dictionary is the only advanced learner’s dictionary to highlight effectively the most important 7,500 words an advanced learner needs to be able to use. Extensive research from a 200 million word corpus, and advice from experts has shown us that 7,500 words is an appropriate vocabulary for advanced learners to aspire to, so that they can become as fluent in English as native speakers.

By identifying these essential 7,500 words in red, the Macmillan English Dictionary helps give students the confidence and ability to write and speak accurate English.

The red words are in turn graded with stars to show at a glance how important the word is:

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We call this core vocabulary ‘productive’ – which many users will need to ‘encode’ as well as ‘decode’ – and contrast it with the tens of thousands of more specialised, less frequent words (‘receptive vocabulary’) which few users will ever need to use actively. We print these words in black.

We have also varied the treatment we give to these red and black words:
The explanations of the red words are broken up into easy-to-read paragraphs. For this vocabulary, advanced learners need a wide range of information so that they can use it accurately: not only information about meaning, but also about how words combine (collocations), what registers they usually appear in, and what they tell us about the speaker’s attitude. On the other hand, for infrequent, or ‘receptive’ words, users need just a simple explanation of meaning. Consequently most of the definitions of the black words are short. This approach has great benefits for the users: productive vocabulary is described in depth, while the brevity of the receptive entries enables us to include much more vocabulary overall. We have therefore taken special account of the differences between the receptive and productive needs of advanced learners, and this is one of the major innovations of the Macmillan English Dictionary.

Find out more about the corpus used to create the Macmillan English Dictionary.

Did you know?
While there are up to one million words in the English language, native speakers only use a very small vocabulary when they write or speak English – they actually use about 7,500 words 90% of the time. Look to the stars for the words you really need….


  • @lizunga @MerriamWebster @Dictionarycom @CollinsDict Oh yes! It's been in our dictionary since 2016 😏

    Retweet Reply Favorite (about 2 hours ago)
  • @Typical_hbk No app, Folaranmi.

    Retweet Reply Favorite (about 2 hours ago)

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