Would knowing 850 words in another language be enough to get by?

In the 1930’s, C. K. Ogden wrote a book on basic English in which he listed 850 words that would get you by if learning English as a second language.

Subsequent writers have suggested that you could use these words to learn any language. Translate them into French, for example, and you would know enough to get by in that language.

You could only be very basically fluent, with little capacity for writing and reading. But this is frequently the case with multi-lingual people. Communication may be manageable but culture is a bit ambitious.

These are the 850 words together with their subject heading, presumable to aid learning. I’m always trying to improve my very basic French and will gradually translate these words. If you want a copy when they are done, email me.


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

 Things – General

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


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

Qualities – General

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


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

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