The most commonly-used word in English might only have three letters – but it packs a punch.

By Helen Schumacher for

English words can be divided into 2 broad categories – content (most nouns and verbs) and non-content words (words like the, of and but). The reason for this is that the non-content words occupy a very special place in our language. There are only about 100 commonly used non-content words, but those words occupy 60% of every page of text in the English language.

Moreover, these powerful words are essential to our system of grammar, and they help to:

– identify nouns: the boy, some toys, etc.

– identify verbs: is running, are playing, etc.

– identify singular: a girl, his home, etc.

– identify plural: they ran, these boxes, etc.

– establish tense: is here, was here, will be here, etc.

– form questions: What is? Did she? Are they? etc.

– negate: but, not, etc.

– indicate space: in the corner, on the box, etc.

That is why the Reading Kingdom is the only program that focuses on these non-content words and includes a variety of unique teaching formats specifically designed  to leverage the power of these words to unlock literacy.

Here is a very interesting article about the word “the.”

‘The’. It’s omnipresent; we can’t imagine English without it. But it’s not much to look at. It isn’t descriptive, evocative or inspiring. Technically, it’s meaningless. And yet this bland and innocuous-seeming word could be one of the most potent in the English language.

“The” tops the league tables of most frequently used words in English, accounting for 5% of every 100 words used. “‘The’ really is miles above everything else,” says Jonathan Culpeper, professor of linguistics at Lancaster University. But why is this? The answer is two-fold, according to the BBC Radio 4 programme Word of Mouth. George Zipf, a 20th-Century US linguist and philologist, expounded the principle of least effort. He predicted that short and simple words would be the most frequent – and he was right.

The second reason is that ‘the’ lies at the heart of English grammar, having a function rather than a meaning. Words are split into two categories: expressions with a semantic meaning and functional words like ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘for’, with a job to do. ‘The’ can function in multiple ways. This is typical, explains Gary Thoms, assistant professor in linguistics at New York University: “a super high-usage word will often develop a real flexibility”, with different subtle uses that make it hard to define. Helping us understand what is being referred to, ‘the’ makes sense of nouns as a subject or an object. So even someone with a rudimentary grasp of English can tell the difference between ‘I ate an apple’ and ‘I ate the apple’.

Read more here.

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