Nouns (3)

lovely, pin-up, cover girl
n. a very pretty girl who works as a photographer's model

Verbs (0)

There are no items for this category

Adverbs (0)

There are no items for this category

Adjectives (4)

adj. appealing to the emotions as well as the eye
lovely, endearing, adorable
adj. lovable especially in a childlike or naive way

Fuzzynyms (33)

fascinating, entrancing, enthralling, enchanting, captivating, bewitching
adj. capturing interest as if by a spell; "bewitching smile"; "Roosevelt was a captivating speaker"; "enchanting music"; "an enthralling book"; "antique papers of entrancing design"; "a fascinating woman"
fascinating, entrancing, enthralling, enchanting, captivating, bewitching
adj. capturing interest as if by a spell; "bewitching smile"; "Roosevelt was a captivating speaker"; "enchanting music"; "an enthralling book"; "antique papers of entrancing design"; "a fascinating woman"
cute, cunning
adj. attractive especially by means of smallness or prettiness or quaintness; "a cute kid with pigtails"; "a cute little apartment"; "cunning kittens"; "a cunning baby"
adj. (of persons) pleasant in appearance and personality
adj. charming in a childlike or naive way
adj. pleasing by delicacy or grace; not imposing; "pretty girl"; "pretty song"; "pretty room"
tasteful, refined, neat
adj. free from what is tawdry or unbecoming; "a neat style"; "a neat set of rules"; "she hated to have her neat plans upset"
adj. characterized by beauty of movement, style, form, or execution
adj. displaying effortless beauty and simplicity in movement or execution; "an elegant dancer"; "an elegant mathematical solution -- simple and precise"
dear, darling, beloved
adj. dearly loved
wanted, treasured, precious, cherished
adj. characterized by feeling or showing fond affection for; "a cherished friend"; "children are precious"; "a treasured heirloom"; "so good to feel wanted"
delicious, delightful
adj. greatly pleasing or entertaining; "a delightful surprise"; "the comedy was delightful"; "a delicious joke"
adj. capable of allaying suspicion or hostility and inspiring confidence; "a disarming smile"
adj. having or showing or conforming to good taste

Synonyms (39)

sightly, attractive, fair
adj. very pleasing to the eye; "my bonny lass"; "there's a bonny bay beyond"; "a comely face"; "young fair maidens"
adj. (poetic )beautiful, especially to the sight
bonnie, sightly, fair, comely, bonny
adj. very pleasing to the eye; "my bonny lass"; "there's a bonny bay beyond"; "a comely face"; "young fair maidens"
braw, fine
adj. "`braw' is Scottish: 'tis a braw bricht moonlict nicht"; "a fine evening"
splendiferous, splendid, resplendent, glorious
adj. having great beauty and splendor; "a glorious spring morning"; "a glorious sunset"; "splendid costumes"; "a kind of splendiferous native simplicity"
adj. pleasing or delighting; "endowed with charming manners"; "a charming little cottage"; "a charming personality"
well-favoured, well-favored, better-looking, good-looking, fine-looking, handsome
adj. pleasing in appearance especially by reason of conformity to ideals of form and proportion; "a fine-looking woman"; "a good-looking man"; "better-looking than her sister"; "very pretty but not so extraordinarily handsome"- Thackeray; "our southern women are well-favored"- Lillian Hellman
adj. of extreme beauty; "her exquisite face"
adj. dazzlingly beautiful; "a gorgeous Victorian gown"
adj. suggesting or suitable for a picture; pretty as a picture; "a picturesque village"
adj. pleasing by delicacy or grace; not imposing; "pretty girl"; "pretty song"; "pretty room"
adj. ostentatiously or inappropriately pretty
adj. used of persons only; having great physical beauty; "pulchritudinous movie stars"
adj. stunningly beautiful; "a ravishing blonde"
adj. used of locations; having beautiful natural scenery; "scenic drives"
angelical, sweet, seraphic, cherubic, angelic
adj. having a sweet nature befitting an angel or cherub; "an angelic smile"; "a cherubic face"; "looking so seraphic when he slept"; "a sweet disposition"
cuddly, cuddlesome
adj. inviting cuddling or hugging; "a cuddlesome baby"; "a cuddly teddybear"
likeable, likable
adj. easy to like; agreeable; "an attractive and likable young man"

Antonyms (5)

adj. not able to attract favorable attention; "they have made the place as unappealing as possible"; "was forced to talk to his singularly unappealing hostess"
adj. displeasing to the senses; "an ugly face"; "ugly furniture"
adj. disagreeable to the senses, to the mind, or feelings ; "an unpleasant personality"; "unpleasant repercussions"; "unpleasant odors"
unpleasant, offensive
adj. disagreeable to the sense


Love encompasses a variety of different emotional and mental states, typically strongly and positively experienced, ranging from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection and to the simplest pleasure.[1][2] An example of this range of meanings is that the love of a mother differs from the love of a spouse differs from the love of food. Most commonly, love refers to a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment.[3] Love can also be a virtue representing human kindness, compassion, and affection—"the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another".[4] It may also describe compassionate and affectionate actions towards other humans, one's self or animals.[5]

Ancient Greek philosophers identified four forms of love: essentially, familial love (in Greek, storge), friendly love (philia), romantic love (eros), and divine love (agape). Modern authors have distinguished further varieties of love: infatuated love, self-love, and courtly love. Non-Western traditions have also distinguished variants or symbioses of these states.[6][7] Love has additional religious or spiritual meaning. This diversity of uses and meanings combined with the complexity of the feelings involved makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, compared to other emotional states.

Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.[8]

Love has been postulated to be a function to keep human beings together against menaces and to facilitate the continuation of the species.[9]


Romeo and Juliet parting on the balcony in Act III.

The word "love" can have a variety of related but distinct meanings in different contexts. Many other languages use multiple words to express some of the different concepts that in English are denoted as "love"; one example is the plurality of Greek words for "love" which includes agapeand eros.[10] Cultural differences in conceptualizing love thus doubly impede the establishment of a universal definition.[11]

Although the nature or essence of love is a subject of frequent debate, different aspects of the word can be clarified by determining what isn't love (antonyms of "love"). Love as a general expression of positive sentiment (a stronger form of like) is commonly contrasted with hate (or neutral apathy). As a less sexual and more emotionally intimate form of romantic attachment, love is commonly contrasted with lust. As an interpersonal relationship with romantic overtones, love is sometimes contrasted with friendship, although the word love is often applied to close friendships. (Further possible ambiguities come with usages "girlfriend", "boyfriend", "just good friends").

Abstractly discussed love usually refers to an experience one person feels for another. Love often involves caring for, or identifying with, a person or thing (cf. vulnerability and care theory of love), including oneself (cf. narcissism). In addition to cross-cultural differences in understanding love, ideas about love have also changed greatly over time. Some historians date modern conceptions of romantic love to courtly Europe during or after the Middle Ages, although the prior existence of romantic attachments is attested by ancient love poetry.[12]

The complex and abstract nature of love often reduces discourse of love to a thought-terminating cliché. Several common proverbs regard love, from Virgil's "Love conquers all" to The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love". St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, defines love as "to will the good of another."[13] Bertrand Russell describes love as a condition of "absolute value," as opposed to relative value.[14] Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz said that love is "to be delighted by the happiness of another."[15]Meher Baba stated that in love there is a "feeling of unity" and an "active appreciation of the intrinsic worth of the object of love."[16] Biologist Jeremy Griffith defines love as "unconditional selflessness".[17]

Impersonal love

People can be said to love an object, principle, or goal to which they are deeply committed and greatly value. For example, compassionate outreach and volunteer workers' "love" of their cause may sometimes be born not of interpersonal love but impersonal love, altruism, and strong spiritual or political convictions.[18] People can also "love" material objects, animals, or activities if they invest themselves in bonding or otherwise identifying with those things. If sexual passion is also involved, then this feeling is called paraphilia.[19] A common principle that people say they love is life itself.

Interpersonal love

Interpersonal love refers to love between human beings. It is a much more potent sentiment than a simple liking for a person. Unrequited love refers to those feelings of love that are not reciprocated. Interpersonal love is most closely associated with interpersonal relationships.[18] Such love might exist between family members, friends, and couples. There are also a number of psychological disorders related to love, such as erotomania.

Pair of Lovers. 1480–1485

Throughout history, philosophy and religion have done the most speculation on the phenomenon of love. In the 20th century, the science of psychology has written a great deal on the subject. In recent years, the sciences of psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, and biology have added to the understanding the concept of love.

Biological basis

Biological models of sex tend to view love as a mammalian drive, much like hunger or thirst.[20] Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and human behavior researcher, divides the experience of love into three partly overlapping stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust is the feeling of sexual desire; romantic attraction determines what partners mates find attractive and pursue, conserving time and energy by choosing; and attachment involves sharing a home, parental duties, mutual defense, and in humans involves feelings of safety and security.[21] Three distinct neural circuitries, including neurotransmitters, and three behavioral patterns, are associated with these three romantic styles.[21]

Lust is the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, and involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months. Attraction is the more individualized and romantic desire for a specific candidate for mating, which develops out of lust as commitment to an individual mate forms. Recent studies in neuroscience have indicated that as people fall in love, the brain consistently releases a certain set of chemicals, including the neurotransmitter hormones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, the same compounds released by amphetamine, stimulating the brain's pleasure center and leading to side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetiteand sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Research has indicated that this stage generally lasts from one and a half to three years.[22]

Since the lust and attraction stages are both considered temporary, a third stage is needed to account for long-term relationships. Attachment is the bonding that promotes relationships lasting for many years and even decades. Attachment is generally based on commitments such as marriage and children, or on mutual friendship based on things like shared interests. It has been linked to higher levels of the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin to a greater degree than short-term relationships have.[22] Enzo Emanuele and coworkers reported the protein molecule known as the nerve growth factor (NGF) has high levels when people first fall in love, but these return to previous levels after one year.[23]

Psychological basis

Grandmother and grandchild in Sri Lanka

Psychology depicts love as a cognitive and social phenomenon. Psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated a triangular theory of love and argued that love has three different components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy is a form in which two people share confidences and various details of their personal lives, and is usually shown in friendships and romantic love affairs. Commitment, on the other hand, is the expectation that the relationship is permanent. The last form of love is sexual attraction and passion. Passionate love is shown in infatuation as well as romantic love. All forms of love are viewed as varying combinations of these three components. Non-love does not include any of these components. Liking only includes intimacy. Infatuated love only includes passion. Empty love only includes commitment. Romantic love includes both intimacy and passion. Companionate love includes intimacy and commitment. Fatuous love includes passion and commitment. Lastly, consummate love includes all three.[24] American psychologist Zick Rubin sought to define love by psychometrics in the 1970s. His work states that three factors constitute love: attachment, caring, and intimacy.[25][26]

Following developments in electrical theories such as Coulomb's law, which showed that positive and negative charges attract, analogs in human life were developed, such as "opposites attract". Over the last century, research on the nature of human mating has generally found this not to be true when it comes to character and personality—people tend to like people similar to themselves. However, in a few unusual and specific domains, such as immune systems, it seems that humans prefer others who are unlike themselves (e.g., with an orthogonal immune system), since this will lead to a baby that has the best of both worlds.[27] In recent years, various human bonding theories have been developed, described in terms of attachments, ties, bonds, and affinities. Some Western authorities disaggregate into two main components, the altruistic and the narcissistic. This view is represented in the works of Scott Peck, whose work in the field of applied psychology explored the definitions of love and evil. Peck maintains that love is a combination of the "concern for the spiritual growth of another," and simple narcissism.[28] In combination, love is an activity, not simply a feeling.

Psychologist Erich Fromm maintained in his book The Art of Loving that love is not merely a feeling but is also actions, and that in fact, the "feeling" of love is superficial in comparison to one's commitment to love via a series of loving actions over time.[18]In this sense, Fromm held that love is ultimately not a feeling at all, but rather is a commitment to, and adherence to, loving actions towards another, oneself, or many others, over a sustained duration.[18] Fromm also described love as a conscious choice that in its early stages might originate as an involuntary feeling, but which then later no longer depends on those feelings, but rather depends only on conscious commitment.[18]

Evolutionary basis

Wall of Love in Paris: "I love you" in 250 languages

Evolutionary psychology has attempted to provide various reasons for love as a survival tool. Humans are dependent on parental help for a large portion of their lifespans compared to other mammals. Love has therefore been seen as a mechanism to promote parental support of children for this extended time period. Furthermore, researchers as early as Charles Darwinhimself identified unique features of human love compared to other mammals and credit love as a major factor for creating social support systems that enabled the development and expansion of the human species.[29] Another factor may be that sexually transmitted diseasescan cause, among other effects, permanently reduced fertility, injury to the fetus, and increase complications during childbirth. This would favor monogamous relationships over polygamy.[30]

Comparison of scientific models

Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive, similar to hunger or thirst.[20] Psychology sees love as more of a social and cultural phenomenon. Certainly love is influenced by hormones (such as oxytocin), neurotrophins (such as NGF), and pheromones, and how people think and behave in love is influenced by their conceptions of love. The conventional view in biology is that there are two major drives in love: sexual attraction and attachment. Attachment between adults is presumed to work on the same principles that lead an infant to become attached to its mother. The traditional psychological view sees love as being a combination of companionate love and passionate love. Passionate love is intense longing, and is often accompanied by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate); companionate love is affection and a feeling of intimacy not accompanied by physiological arousal.

Cultural views

Ancient Greek

Roman copy of a Greek sculpture by Lysippus depicting Eros, the Greek personification of romantic love

Greek distinguishes several different senses in which the word "love" is used. Ancient Greeks identified four forms of love: kinship or familiarity (in Greek, storge), friendship and/or platonic desire (philia), sexual and/or romantic desire (eros), and self-emptying or divine love (agape).[31][32] Modern authors have distinguished further varieties of romantic love.[33]However, with Greek (as with many other languages), it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words totally. At the same time, the Ancient Greek text of the Bible has examples of the verb agapo having the same meaning as phileo.

Agape (ἀγάπη agápē) means love in modern-day Greek. The term s'agapo means I love you in Greek. The word agapo is the verb I love. It generally refers to a "pure," ideal type of love, rather than the physical attraction suggested by eros. However, there are some examples of agape used to mean the same as eros. It has also been translated as "love of the soul."[34]

Eros (ἔρως érōs) (from the Greek deity Eros) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Greek word erota means in love. Plato refined his own definition. Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros. Some translations list it as "love of the body".[34]

Philia (φιλία philía), a dispassionate virtuous love, was a concept addressed and developed by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics Book VIII.[35] It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity. Philia is motivated by practical reasons; one or both of the parties benefit from the relationship. It can also mean "love of the mind."

Storge (στοργή storgē) is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.

Xenia (ξενία xenía), hospitality, was an extremely important practice in ancient Greece. It was an almost ritualized friendship formed between a host and his guest, who could previously have been strangers. The host fed and provided quarters for the guest, who was expected to repay only with gratitude. The importance of this can be seen throughout Greek mythology—in particular, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

Ancient Roman (Latin)

The Latin language has several different verbs corresponding to the English word "love." amō is the basic verb meaning I love, with the infinitive amare (“to love”) as it still is in Italian today. The Romans used it both in an affectionate sense as well as in a romantic or sexual sense. From this verb come amans—a lover, amator, "professional lover," often with the accessory notion of lechery—and amica, "girlfriend" in the English sense, often being applied euphemistically to a prostitute. The corresponding noun is amor (the significance of this term for the Romans is well illustrated in the fact, that the name of the City, Rome—in Latin: Roma—can be viewed as an anagram for amor, which was used as the secret name of the City in wide circles in ancient times),[36] which is also used in the plural form to indicate love affairs or sexual adventures. This same root also produces amicus—"friend"—and amicitia, "friendship" (often based to mutual advantage, and corresponding sometimes more closely to "indebtedness" or "influence"). Cicero wrote a treatise called On Friendship (de Amicitia), which discusses the notion at some length. Ovid wrote a guide to dating called Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), which addresses, in depth, everything from extramarital affairs to overprotective parents.

Latin sometimes uses amāre where English would simply say to like. This notion, however, is much more generally expressed in Latin by the terms placere or delectāre, which are used more colloquially, the latter used frequently in the love poetry of Catullus. Diligere often has the notion "to be affectionate for," "to esteem," and rarely if ever is used for romantic love. This word would be appropriate to describe the friendship of two men. The corresponding noun diligentia, however, has the meaning of "diligence" or "carefulness," and has little semantic overlap with the verb. Observare is a synonym for diligere; despite the cognate with English, this verb and its corresponding noun, observantia, often denote "esteem" or "affection." Caritas is used in Latin translations of the Christian Bible to mean "charitable love"; this meaning, however, is not found in Classical pagan Roman literature. As it arises from a conflation with a Greek word, there is no corresponding verb.

Chinese and other Sinic cultures

"Ai," the traditional Chinese character for love () consists of a heart (, middle) inside of "accept," "feel," or "perceive," () which shows a graceful emotion. It can also be interpreted as a hand offering one's heart to another hand.

Two philosophical underpinnings of love exist in the Chinese tradition, one from Confucianism which emphasized actions and duty while the other came from Mohism which championed a universal love. A core concept to Confucianism is Ren ("benevolent love", ), which focuses on duty, action and attitude in a relationship rather than love itself. In Confucianism, one displays benevolent love by performing actions such as filial piety from children, kindness from parent, loyalty to the king and so forth.

The concept of Ai () was developed by the Chinese philosopher Mozi in the 4th century BC in reaction to Confucianism's benevolent love. Mozi tried to replace what he considered to be the long-entrenched Chinese over-attachment to family and clan structures with the concept of "universal love" (jiān'ài兼愛). In this, he argued directly against Confucians who believed that it was natural and correct for people to care about different people in different degrees. Mozi, by contrast, believed people in principle should care for all people equally. Mohism stressed that rather than adopting different attitudes towards different people, love should be unconditional and offered to everyone without regard to reciprocation, not just to friends, family and other Confucian relations. Later in Chinese Buddhism, the term Ai () was adopted to refer to a passionate caring love and was considered a fundamental desire. In Buddhism, Ai was seen as capable of being either selfish or selfless, the latter being a key element towards enlightenment.

In contemporary Chinese, Ai () is often used as the equivalent of the Western concept of love. Ai is used as both a verb (e.g. wo ai ni 我愛你, or "I love you") and a noun (such as aiqing 愛情, or "romantic love"). However, due to the influence of Confucian Ren, the phrase 'Wo ai ni' (I love you) carries with it a very specific sense of responsibility, commitment and loyalty. Instead of frequently saying "I love you" as in some Western societies, the Chinese are more likely to express feelings of affection in a more casual way. Consequently, "I like you" (Wo xihuan ni我喜欢你) is a more common way of expressing affection in Chinese; it is more playful and less serious.[37] This is also true in Japanese (suki da好きだ). The Chinese are also more likely to say "I love you" in English or other foreign languages than they would in their mother tongue.


Ohatsu and Tokubei, characters of Sonezaki Shinjū

The Japanese language uses three words to convey the English equivalent of "love". Because "love" covers a wide range of emotions and behavioral phenomena, there are nuances distinguishing the three terms.[38][39] The term ai (), which is often associated with maternal love[38] or selfless love,[39] originally referred to beauty and was often used in religious context. Following the Meiji Restoration 1868, the term became associated with "love" in order to translate Western literature. Prior to Western influence, the term koi () generally represented romantic love, and was often the subject of the popular Man'yōshū Japanese poetry collection.[38] Koi describes a longing for a member of the opposite sex and is typical interpreted as selfish and wanting.[39] The term's origins come from the concept of lonely solitude as a result of separation from a loved one. Though modern usage of koi focuses on sexual love and infatuation, the Manyō used the term to cover a wider range of situations, including tenderness, benevolence, and material desire.[38] The third term, ren'ai (恋愛), is a more modern construction that combines the kanji characters for both ai and koi, though its usage more closely resembles that of koi in the form of romantic love.[38][39]


Indian king enjoying Kamasutraposition

Kama in Indian literature means “desire, wish or longing”.[40] In contemporary literature, kama refers usually to sexual desire.[41] However, the term also refers to any sensory enjoyment, emotional attraction and aesthetic pleasure such as from arts, dance, music, painting, sculpture and nature.[42][43]

The concept kama is found in some of the earliest known verses in Vedas. For example, Book 10 of Rig Veda describes the creation of the universe from nothing by the great heat. There in hymn 129, it states:

कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः परथमं यदासीत |
सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन हर्दि परतीष्याकवयो मनीषा ||[44]

Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire the primal seed and germ of Spirit,
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.

— Rig Veda, ~ 15th Century BC[45]


The children of Adam are limbs of one body
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others
You are not worthy to be called by the name of "man".

Sa'di, Gulistan

Rumi, Hafiz and Sa'di are icons of the passion and love that the Persian culture and language present. The Persian word for love is Ishq, which is derived from Arabic language,[46] however it is considered by most to be too stalwart a term for interpersonal love and is more commonly substituted for "doost dashtan" ("liking"). In the Persian culture, everything is encompassed by love and all is for love, starting from loving friends and family, husbands and wives, and eventually reaching the divine love that is the ultimate goal in life.

Religious views

Abrahamic religions


The Christian understanding is that love comes from God. The love of man and woman—eros in Greek—and the unselfish love of others (agape), are often contrasted as "descending" and "ascending" love, respectively, but are ultimately the same thing.[47]

There are several Greek words for "love" that are regularly referred to in Christian circles.

  • Agape: In the New Testament, agapē is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. It is parental love, seen as creating goodness in the world; it is the way God is seen to love humanity, and it is seen as the kind of love that Christians aspire to have for one another.[34]
  • Phileo: Also used in the New Testament, phileo is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. Also known as "brotherly love."
  • Two other words for love in the Greek language, eros (sexual love) and storge (child-to-parent love), were never used in the New Testament.[34]

Christians believe that to Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself are the two most important things in life (the greatest commandment of the Jewish Torah, according to Jesus; cf. Gospel of Mark chapter 12, verses 28–34). Saint Augustine summarized this when he wrote "Love God, and do as thou wilt."

Sacred and Profane Love(1602–03) by Giovanni Baglione. Intended as an attack on his hated enemy the artist Caravaggio, it shows a boy (hinting at Caravaggio's homosexuality) on one side, a devil with Caravaggio's face on the other, and between an angel representing pure, meaning non-erotic, love.[48]

The Apostle Paul glorified love as the most important virtue of all. Describing love in the famous poetic interpretation in 1 Corinthians, he wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres." (1 Cor. 13:4–7, NIV)

The Apostle John wrote, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16–17, NIV) John also wrote, "Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7–8, NIV)

Saint Augustine says that one must be able to decipher the difference between love and lust. Lust, according to Saint Augustine, is an overindulgence, but to love and be loved is what he has sought for his entire life. He even says, “I was in love with love.” Finally, he does fall in love and is loved back, by God. Saint Augustine says the only one who can love you truly and fully is God, because love with a human only allows for flaws such as “jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and contention.” According to Saint Augustine, to love God is “to attain the peace which is yours.” (Saint Augustine's Confessions)

Augustine regards the duplex commandment of love in Matthew 22 as the heart of Christian faith and the interpretation of the Bible. After the review of Christian doctrine, Augustine treats the problem of love in terms of use and enjoyment until the end of Book I of De Doctrina Christiana(1.22.21-1.40.44;).[49]

Christian theologians see God as the source of love, which is mirrored in humans and their own loving relationships. Influential Christian theologian C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves. Benedict XVI wrote his first encyclical on "God is love". He said that a human being, created in the image of God, who is love, is able to practice love; to give himself to God and others (agape) and by receiving and experiencing God's love in contemplation (eros). This life of love, according to him, is the life of the saints such as Teresa of Calcutta and the Blessed Virgin Mary and is the direction Christians take when they believe that God loves them.[47]

And so Pope Francis taught that "True love is both loving and letting oneself be loved..what is important in love is not our loving, but allowing ourselves to be loved by God."[50] And so, in the analysis of a Catholic theologian, for Pope Francis, "the key to not our activity. It is the activity of the greatest, and the source, of all the powers in the universe: God’s."[51]

In Christianity the practical definition of love is best summarised by St. Thomas Aquinas, who defined love as "to will the good of another," or to desire for another to succeed.[13] This is the explanation of the Christian need to love others, including their enemies. As Thomas Aquinas explains, Christian love is motivated by the need to see others succeed in life, to be good people.

Regarding love for enemies, Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of Matthew chapter five:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” - Matthew 5: 43-48

Tertullian wrote regarding love for enemies: “Our individual, extraordinary, and perfect goodness consists in loving our enemies. To love one's friends is common practice, to love one's enemies only among Christians.”[52]


In Hebrew, אהבה (ahava) is the most commonly used term for both interpersonal love and love between God and God's creations. Chesed, often translated as loving-kindness, is used to describe many forms of love between human beings.

The commandment to love other people is given in the Torah, which states, "Love your neighbor like yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). The Torah's commandment to love God "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5) is taken by the Mishnah (a central text of the Jewish oral law) to refer to good deeds, willingness to sacrifice one's life rather than commit certain serious transgressions, willingness to sacrifice all of one's possessions, and being grateful to the Lord despite adversity (tractate Berachoth 9:5). Rabbinic literature differs as to how this love can be developed, e.g., by contemplating divine deeds or witnessing the marvels of nature. As for love between marital partners, this is deemed an essential ingredient to life: "See life with the wife you love" (Ecclesiastes 9:9). The biblical book Song of Solomon is considered a romantically phrased metaphor of love between God and his people, but in its plain reading, reads like a love song. The 20th-century Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler is frequently quoted as defining love from the Jewish point of view as "giving without expecting to take" (from his Michtav me-Eliyahu, Vol. 1).


Love encompasses the Islamic view of life as universal brotherhood that applies to all who hold faith. Amongst the 99 names of God (Allah), there is the name Al-Wadud, or "the Loving One," which is found in Surah [Quran 11:90] as well as Surah [Quran 85:14]. God is also referenced at the beginning of every chapter in the Qur'an as Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, or the "Most Compassionate" and the "Most Merciful", indicating that nobody is more loving, compassionate and benevolent than God. The Qur'an refers to God as being "full of loving kindness."

The Qur'an exhorts Muslim believers to treat all people, those who have not persecuted them, with birr or "deep kindness" as stated in Surah [Quran 6:8-9]Birr is also used by the Qur'an in describing the love and kindness that children must show to their parents.

Ishq, or divine love, is the emphasis of Sufism in the Islamic tradition. Practitioners of Sufism believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe. God desires to recognize beauty, and as if one looks at a mirror to see oneself, God "looks" at himself within the dynamics of nature. Since everything is a reflection of God, the school of Sufism practices to see the beauty inside the apparently ugly. Sufism is often referred to as the religion of love. God in Sufism is referred to in three main terms, which are the Lover, Loved, and Beloved, with the last of these terms being often seen in Sufi poetry. A common viewpoint of Sufism is that through love, humankind can get back to its inherent purity and grace. The saints of Sufism are infamous for being "drunk" due to their love of God; hence, the constant reference to wine in Sufi poetry and music.

Bahá'í Faith

In his Paris Talks, `Abdu'l-Bahá described four types of love: the love that flows from God to human beings; the love that flows from human beings to God; the love of God towards the Self or Identity of God; and the love of human beings for human beings.[53]

Indian religions


In Buddhism, Kāma is sensuous, sexual love. It is an obstacle on the path to enlightenment, since it is selfish. Karuṇā is compassion and mercy, which reduces the suffering of others. It is complementary to wisdom and is necessary for enlightenment. Adveṣa and mettā are benevolent love. This love is unconditional and requires considerable self-acceptance. This is quite different from ordinary love, which is usually about attachment and sex and which rarely occurs without self-interest. Instead, in Buddhism it refers to detachment and unselfish interest in others' welfare.

The Bodhisattva ideal in Mahayana Buddhism involves the complete renunciation of oneself in order to take on the burden of a suffering world. The strongest motivation one has in order to take the path of the Bodhisattva is the idea of salvation within unselfish, altruistic love for all sentient beings.


In Hinduism, kāma is pleasurable, sexual love, personified by the god Kamadeva. For many Hindu schools, it is the third end (Kama) in life. Kamadeva is often pictured holding a bow of sugar cane and an arrow of flowers; he may ride upon a great parrot. He is usually accompanied by his consort Rati and his companion Vasanta, lord of the spring season. Stone images of Kamadeva and Rati can be seen on the door of the Chennakeshava temple at Belur, in Karnataka, India. Maara is another name for kāma.

In contrast to kāmaprema – or prem – refers to elevated love. Karuna is compassion and mercy, which impels one to help reduce the suffering of others. Bhakti is a Sanskrit term, meaning "loving devotion to the supreme God." A person who practices bhakti is called a bhakta. Hindu writers, theologians, and philosophers have distinguished nine forms of bhakti, which can be found in the Bhagavata Purana and works by Tulsidas. The philosophical work Narada Bhakti Sutras, written by an unknown author (presumed to be Narada), distinguishes eleven forms of love.

In certain Vaishnava sects within Hinduism, attaining unadulterated, unconditional and incessant love for Godhead is considered the foremost goal of life. Gaudiya Vaishnavas who worship Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the cause of all causes consider Love for Godhead (Prema) to act in two ways: sambhoga and vipralambha (union and separation)—two opposites .[54]

In the condition of separation, there is an acute yearning for being with the beloved and in the condition of union there is supreme happiness and nectarean. Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider that Krishna-prema (Love for Godhead) is not fire but that it still burns away one's material desires. They consider that Kṛṣṇa-prema is not a weapon, but it still pierces the heart. It is not water, but it washes away everything—one's pride, religious rules, and one's shyness. Krishna-prema is considered to make one drown in the ocean of transcendental ecstasy and pleasure. The love of Radha, a cowherd girl, for Krishna is often cited as the supreme example of love for Godhead by Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Radha is considered to be the internal potency of Krishna, and is the supreme lover of Godhead. Her example of love is considered to be beyond the understanding of material realm as it surpasses any form of selfish love or lust that is visible in the material world. The reciprocal love between Radha (the supreme lover) and Krishna (God as the Supremely Loved) is the subject of many poetic compositions in India such as the Gita Govindaand Hari Bhakti Shuddhodhaya.

In the Bhakti tradition within Hinduism, it is believed that execution of devotional service to God leads to the development of Love for God (taiche bhakti-phale krsne prema upajaya), and as love for God increases in the heart, the more one becomes free from material contamination (krishna-prema asvada haile, bhava nasa paya). Being perfectly in love with God or Krishna makes one perfectly free from material contamination. and this is the ultimate way of salvation or liberation. In this tradition, salvation or liberation is considered inferior to love, and just an incidental by-product. Being absorbed in Love for God is considered to be the perfection of life.[55]

Political views

Free love

The term free love has been used[56] to describe a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social bondage. The Free Love movement's initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery. It claimed that such issues were the concern of the people involved, and no one else.[57]

Many people in the early 19th century believed that marriage was an important aspect of life to "fulfill earthly human happiness." Middle-class Americans wanted the home to be a place of stability in an uncertain world. This mentality created a vision of strongly defined gender roles, which provoked the advancement of the free love movement as a contrast.[58]

The term "sex radical" is also used interchangeably with the term "free lover", and was the preferred term by advocates because of the negative connotations of "free love". By whatever name, advocates had two strong beliefs: opposition to the idea of forceful sexual activity in a relationship and advocacy for a woman to use her body in any way that she pleases.[59] These are also beliefs of Feminism.[60]

Philosophical views

The philosophy of love is a field of social philosophy and ethics that attempts to explain the nature of love.[61] The philosophical investigation of love includes the tasks of distinguishing between the various kinds of personal love, asking if and how love is or can be justified, asking what the value of love is, and what impact love has on the autonomy of both the lover and the beloved.[60]

Many different theories attempt to explain the nature and function of love. Explaining love to a hypothetical person who had not himself or herself experienced love or being loved would be very difficult because to such a person love would appear to be quite strange if not outright irrational behavior. Among the prevailing types of theories that attempt to account for the existence of love are: psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider love to be very healthy behavior; evolutionary theories which hold that love is part of the process of natural selection; spiritual theories which may, for instance consider love to be a gift from a god; and theories that consider love to be an unexplainable mystery, very much like a mystical experience.

There were many attempts to find the equation of love. One such attempt was by Christian Rudder, a mathematician and co-founder of online dating website OKCupid, one of the largest online dating sites. The mathematical approach was through the collection of large data from the dating site. Another interesting equation of love is found by in the philosophical blog 'In the Quest of Truth'.[62] Love is defined as a measure of selfless give and take, and the author attempted to draw a graph that shows the equation of love. Aggregately, dating resources indicate a nascent line of variables effectively synchronising couples in naturally determined yearning.

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of Love in English". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  2. ^ "Definition of "Love" - English Dictionary". Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  3. ^ Oxford Illustrated American Dictionary (1998) + Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2000)
  4. ^ "Love - Definition of love by Merriam-Webster".
  5. ^ Fromm, Erich; The Art of Loving, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN 978-0-06-095828-2
  6. ^ Liddell and Scott: φιλία
  7. ^ Mascaró, Juan (2003). The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin Classics. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044918-3. (J. Mascaró, translator)
  8. ^ "Article On Love". Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  9. ^ Helen Fisher. Why We Love: the nature and chemistry of romantic love. 2004.
  10. ^ Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros.
  11. ^ Kay, Paul; Kempton, Willett (March 1984). "What is the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis?". American Anthropologist. New Series. 86 (1): 65–79. doi:10.1525/aa.1984.86.1.02a00050.
  12. ^ "Ancient Love Poetry". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
  13. a b "St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 26, 4, corp. art". Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  14. ^ Love. PediaPress.
  15. ^ Leibniz, Gottfried. "Confessio philosophi". Wikisource edition. Retrieved 25 March 2009.
  16. ^ Baba, Meher (1995). Discourses. Myrtle Beach: Sheriar Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-1880619094.
  17. ^ What is love?. In The Book of Real Answers to Everything! Griffith, J. 2011. ISBN 9781741290073.
  18. a b c d e Fromm, Erich; The Art of Loving, Harper Perennial (5 September 2000), Original English Version, ISBN 978-0-06-095828-2
  19. ^ DiscoveryHealth. "Paraphilia". Archived from the original on 12 December 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  20. a b Lewis, Thomas; Amini, F.; Lannon, R. (2000). A General Theory of Love. Random House. ISBN 0-375-70922-3.
  21. a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2011. Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction, and Attachment by Fisher et. al
  22. a b Winston, Robert (2004). Human. Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-03-093780-9.
  23. ^ Emanuele, E.; Polliti, P.; Bianchi, M.; Minoretti, P.; Bertona, M.; Geroldi, D. (2005). "Raised plasma nerve growth factor levels associated with early-stage romantic love". Psychoneuroendocrinology31 (3): 288–94. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2005.09.002. PMID 16289361.
  24. ^ Sternberg, R. J. (1986). "A triangular theory of love". Psychological Review93 (2): 119–135. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.
  25. ^ Rubin, Zick (1970). of romantic love-Z Rubin.pdf "Measurement of Romantic Love" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology16 (2): 265–27. doi:10.1037/h0029841. PMID 5479131.
  26. ^ Rubin, Zick (1973). Liking and Loving: an invitation to social psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  27. ^ Berscheid, Ellen; Walster, Elaine H. (1969). Interpersonal Attraction. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. ISBN 0-201-00560-3. CCCN 69-17443.
  28. ^ Peck, Scott (1978). The Road Less Traveled. Simon & Schuster. p. 169. ISBN 0-671-25067-1.
  29. ^ Loye, David S. (2000). Darwin's Lost Theory of Love: A Healing Vision for the 21st Century. iUniverse. p. 332. ISBN 0595001319.
  30. ^ The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, edited by David M. Buss, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. Chapter 14, Commitment, Love, and Mate Retention by Lorne Campbell and Bruce J. Ellis.
  31. ^ C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960.
  32. ^ Kristeller, Paul Oskar (1980). Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02010-8.
  33. ^ Stendhal, in his book On Love ("De l'amour"; Paris, 1822), distinguished carnal love, passionate love, a kind of uncommitted love that he called "taste-love", and love of vanity. Denis de Rougemont in his book Love in the Western World traced the story of passionate love (l'amour-passion) from its courtly to its romantic forms. Benjamin Péret, in the introduction to his Anthology of Sublime Love (Paris, 1956), further identified "sublime love", a state of realized idealisation perhaps equatable with the romantic form of passionate love.
  34. a b c d Anders Theodor Samuel Nygren, Eros and Agape (first published in Swedish, 1930-1936).
  35. ^ "Philosophy of Love | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  36. ^ Thomas Köves-Zulauf, Reden und Schweigen, Munich, 1972.
  37. ^ JFK Miller, "Why the Chinese Don't Say I Love You Archived 24 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine."
  38. a b c d e Ryang, Sonia (2006). Love in Modern Japan: Its Estrangement from Self, Sex and Society. Routledge. pp. 13–14.
  39. a b c d Abe, Namiko. "Japanese Words for "Love": The Difference between "Ai" and "Koi"". Retrieved 5 November2014.
  40. ^ Monier Williams, काम, kāma Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary, pp 271, see 3rd column
  41. ^ James Lochtefeld (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Volume 1, Rosen Publishing, New York, ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, pp 340
  42. ^ See:
  43. ^ R. Prasad (2008), History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, Volume 12, Part 1, ISBN 978-8180695445, pp 249-270
  44. ^ Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 129 Verse 4
  45. ^ Ralph Griffith (Translator, 1895), The Hymns of the Rig veda, Book X, Hymn CXXIX, Verse 4, pp 575
  46. ^ Mohammad Najib ur Rehman, Hazrat Sakhi Sultan. Day of Alast-The start of creation. Sultan ul Faqr Publications Regd. ISBN 9789699795084.
  47. a b Pope Benedict XVI. "papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est".
  48. ^ Description of Sacred and Profane Love
  49. ^ Woo, B. Hoon (2013). "Augustine's Hermeneutics and Homiletics in De doctrina christiana". Journal of Christian Philosophy17: 97–117.
  50. ^ "Sri Lanka - Philippines: Meeting with the young people in the sports field of Santo Tomas University (Manila, 18 January 2015) - Francis".
  51. ^ Nidoy, Raul. "The key to love according to Pope Francis".
  52. ^ Swartley, Willard M. (1992). The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament, Studies in peace and scripture; (As Scapulam I) cited by Hans Haas, Idee und Ideal de Feindesliebe in der ausserchristlichen Welt (Leipzig: University of Leipzig, 1927). Westminster John Knox Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780664253547.
  53. ^ "Bahá'í Reference Library - Paris Talks, Pages 179-181".
  54. ^ Gour Govinda Swami. "Wonderful Characteristic of Krishna Prema, Gour Govinda Swami".
  55. ^ A C Bhaktivedanta Swami. "Being Perfectly in Love".
  56. ^ The Handbook Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine. of the Oneida Community claims to have coined the term around 1850, and laments that its use was appropriated by socialists to attack marriage, an institution that they felt protected women and children from abandonment
  57. ^ McElroy, Wendy. "The Free Love Movement and Radical Individualism." Libertarian Enterprise .19 (1996): 1.
  58. ^ Spurlock, John C. Free Love Marriage and Middle-Class Radicalism in America. New York, NY: New York UP, 1988.
  59. ^ Passet, Joanne E. Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women's Equality. Chicago, IL: U of Illinois P, 2003.
  60. a b Laurie, Timothy; Stark, Hannah (2017), "Love's Lessons: Intimacy, Pedagogy and Political Community", Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities22 (4): 69–79, doi:10.1080/0969725x.2017.1406048
  61. ^ Soren Kierkegaard. Works of Love.
  62. ^ "In the Quest of Truth". The Equation of Love.


  • Chadwick, Henry (1998). Saint Augustine Confessions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283372-3.
  • Fisher, Helen. Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. ISBN 0-8050-6913-5.
  • Giles, James (1994). "A theory of love and sexual desire". Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour24 (4): 339–357. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5914.1994.tb00259.x.
  • Kierkegaard, Søren (2009). Works of Love. New York City: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. ISBN 978-0-06-171327-9.
  • Oord, Thomas Jay (2010). Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos. ISBN 978-1-58743257-6.
  • Singer, Irving (1966). The Nature of Love. (in three volumes) (v.1 reprinted and later volumes from The University of Chicago Press, 1984 ed.). Random House. ISBN 0-226-76094-4.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (1986). "A triangular theory of love". Psychological Review93 (2): 119–135. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.119.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (1987). "Liking versus loving: A comparative evaluation of theories". Psychological Bulletin102 (3): 331–345.doi:10.1037/0033-2909.102.3.331.
  • Tennov, Dorothy (1979). Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day. ISBN 0-8128-6134-5.
  • Wood Samuel E., Ellen Wood and Denise Boyd (2005). The World of Psychology (5th ed.). Pearson Education. pp. 402–403.ISBN 0-205-35868-3.

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca.[4][5] Named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Britain that would later take their name, England, both names ultimately deriving from the Anglia peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is closely related to the Frisian languages, but its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse (a North Germanic language), as well as by Latin and French.[6]

English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century, are called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England and was a period in which the language was influenced by French.[7] Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London, the printing of the King James Bibleand the start of the Great Vowel Shift.[8]

Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, Modern English spread around the world from the 17th to mid-20th centuries. Through all types of printed and electronic media, and spurred by the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions and professional contexts such as science, navigation and law.[9]

English is the third most spoken native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish.[10] It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states. There are more people who have learned it as a second language than there are native speakers. English is the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, and it is widely spoken in some areas of the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia.[11] It is a co-official language of the United Nations, the European Union and many other world and regional international organisations. It is the most widely spoken Germanic language, accounting for at least 70% of speakers of this Indo-European branch. English has a vast vocabulary, though counting how many words any language has is impossible.[12][13] English speakers are called "Anglophones".

Modern English grammar is the result of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking pattern with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word order to a mostly analytic pattern with little inflection, a fairly fixed SVO word order and a complex syntax.[14] Modern English relies more on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect and mood, as well as passive constructions, interrogatives and some negation. Despite noticeable variation among the accents and dialects of English used in different countries and regions—in terms of phonetics and phonology, and sometimes also vocabulary, grammar and spelling—English-speakers from around the world are able to communicate with one another with relative ease.


Anglic languages
Anglo-Frisian languages
Anglic and
North Sea Germanic languagesAnglo-Frisian and
  Low German/Low Saxon
West Germanic languages
North Sea Germanic and
Phylogenetic tree showing the historical relations between the languages of the West Germanic branch of the Germanic languages

English is an Indo-European language and belongs to the West Germanic group of the Germanic languages.[15] Old Englishoriginated from a Germanic tribal and linguistic continuum along the coast of the North Sea, whose languages are now known as the Anglo-Frisian subgroup within West Germanic. As such, the modern Frisian languages are the closest living relatives of Modern English. Low German/Low Saxon is also closely related, and sometimes English, the Frisian languages, and Low German are grouped together as the Ingvaeonic (North Sea Germanic) languages, though this grouping remains debated.[16] Old English evolved into Middle English, which in turn evolved into Modern English.[17] Particular dialects of Old and Middle English also developed into a number of other Anglic languages, including Scots[18] and the extinct Fingallian and Forth and Bargy (Yola) dialects of Ireland.[19]

Like Icelandic and Faroese, the development of English on the British Isles isolated it from the continental Germanic languages and influences, and has since undergone substantial evolution. English is thus not mutually intelligible with any continental Germanic language, differing in vocabulary, syntax, and phonology, although some, such as Dutch or Frisian, do show strong affinities with English, especially with its earlier stages.[20]

Unlike Icelandic or Faroese, the long history of invasions of the British Isles by other peoples and languages, particularly Old Norse and Norman French, left a profound mark of their own on the language, such that English shares substantial vocabulary and grammar similarities with many languages outside its linguistic clades, while also being unintelligible with any of those languages. Some scholars have even argued that English can be considered a mixed language or a creole—a theory called the Middle English creole hypothesis. Although the high degree of influence from these languages on the vocabulary and grammar of Modern English is widely acknowledged, most specialists in language contact do not consider English to be a true mixed language.[21][22]

English is classified as a Germanic language because it shares innovations with other Germanic languages such as Dutch, German, and Swedish.[23] These shared innovations show that the languages have descended from a single common ancestor called Proto-Germanic. Some shared features of Germanic languages include the use of modal verbs, the division of verbs into strong and weak classes, and the sound changes affecting Proto-Indo-European consonants, known as Grimm's and Verner's laws. English is classified as an Anglo-Frisian language because Frisian and English share other features, such as the palatalisation of consonants that were velar consonants in Proto-Germanic (see Phonological history of Old English § Palatalization).[24]

  • English singsangsung; Dutch zingenzonggezongen; German singensanggesungen (strong verb)
  • English laughlaughed; Dutch and German lachenlachte (weak verb)
  • English foot, Dutch voet, German Fuß, Norwegian and Swedish fot (initial /f/ derived from Proto-Indo-European *p through Grimm's law)
(Compare Latin pes, stem ped-; Modern Greek πόδι pódi; Russian под pod; Sanskrit पद् pád)
  • English cheese, Frisian tsiis (ch and ts from palatalisation); German Käse and Dutch kaas (k without palatalisation)


Proto-Germanic to Old English

The opening to the Old English epic poem Beowulf, handwritten in half-uncial script:
Hƿæt ƿē Gārde/na ingēar dagum þēod cyninga / þrym ge frunon...
"Listen! We of the Spear-Danes from days of yore have heard of the glory of the folk-kings..."

The earliest form of English is called Old English or Anglo-Saxon (c. 550–1066 CE). Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken along the coasts of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. In the fifth century, the Anglo-Saxons settled Britainas the Roman economy and administration collapsed. By the seventh century, the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in Britain, replacing the languages of Roman Britain (43–409 CE): Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, and Latin, brought to Britain by the Roman occupation.[25][26][27] England and English (originally Ænglaland and Ænglisc) are named after the Angles.[28]

Old English was divided into four dialects: the Anglian dialects, Mercian and Northumbrian, and the Saxon dialects, Kentish and West Saxon.[29] Through the educational reforms of King Alfred in the ninth century and the influence of the kingdom of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect became the standard written variety.[30] The epic poem Beowulf is written in West Saxon, and the earliest English poem, Cædmon's Hymn, is written in Northumbrian.[31] Modern English developed mainly from Mercian, but the Scots language developed from Northumbrian. A few short inscriptions from the early period of Old English were written using a runic script.[32] By the sixth century, a Latin alphabet was adopted, written with half-uncial letterforms. It included the runic letters wynn ⟨ƿ⟩ and thorn ⟨þ⟩, and the modified Latin letters eth ⟨ð⟩, and ash ⟨æ⟩.[32][33]

Old English is very different from Modern English and difficult for 21st-century English speakers to understand. Its grammar was similar to that of modern German, and its closest relative is Old Frisian. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs had many more inflectional endings and forms, and word order was much freer than in Modern English. Modern English has case forms in pronouns (hehimhis) and a few verb endings (I havehe has), but Old English had case endings in nouns as well, and verbs had more person and number endings.[34][35][36]

The translation of Matthew 8:20 from 1000 CE shows examples of case endings (nominative plural, accusative plural, genitive singular) and a verb ending (present plural):

Foxas habbað holu and heofonan fuglas nest
Fox-as habb-að hol-u and heofon-an fugl-as nest-∅ and
"Foxes have holes and the birds of heaven nests"[37]

Middle English

Englischmen þeyz hy hadde fram þe bygynnyng þre manner speche, Souþeron, Northeron, and Myddel speche in þe myddel of þe lond, … Noþeles by comyxstion and mellyng, furst wiþ Danes, and afterward wiþ Normans, in menye þe contray longage ys asperyed, and som vseþ strange wlaffyng, chyteryng, harryng, and garryng grisbytting.

Although, from the beginning, Englishmen had three manners of speaking, southern, northern and midlands speech in the middle of the country, … Nevertheless, through intermingling and mixing, first with Danes and then with Normans, amongst many the country language has arisen, and some use strange stammering, chattering, snarling, and grating gnashing.

John of Trevisa, ca. 1385[38]

In the period from the 8th to the 12th century, Old English gradually transformed through language contact into Middle English. Middle English is often arbitrarily defined as beginning with the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066, but it developed further in the period from 1200–1450.

First, the waves of Norse colonisation of northern parts of the British Isles in the 8th and 9th centuries put Old English into intense contact with Old Norse, a North Germanic language. Norse influence was strongest in the Northeastern varieties of Old English spoken in the Danelaw area around York, which was the centre of Norse colonisation; today these features are still particularly present in Scots and Northern English. However the centre of norsified English seems to have been in the Midlands around Lindsey, and after 920 CE when Lindsey was reincorporated into the Anglo-Saxon polity, Norse features spread from there into English varieties that had not been in intense contact with Norse speakers. Some elements of Norse influence that persist in all English varieties today are the pronouns beginning with th-(they, them, their) which replaced the Anglo-Saxon pronouns with h- (hie, him, hera).[39]

With the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the now norsified Old English language was subject to contact with the Old Norman language, a Romance languageclosely related to Modern French. The Norman language in England eventually developed into Anglo-Norman. Because Norman was spoken primarily by the elites and nobles, while the lower classes continued speaking Anglo-Saxon, the influence of Norman consisted of introducing a wide range of loanwords related to politics, legislation and prestigious social domains.[40] Middle English also greatly simplified the inflectional system, probably in order to reconcile Old Norse and Old English, which were inflectionally different but morphologically similar. The distinction between nominative and accusative case was lost except in personal pronouns, the instrumental case was dropped, and the use of the genitive case was limited to describing possession. The inflectional system regularised many irregular inflectional forms,[41] and gradually simplified the system of agreement, making word order less flexible.[42] By the Wycliffe Bible of the 1380s, the passage Matthew 8:20 was written

Foxis han dennes, and briddis of heuene han nestis[43]

Here the plural suffix -n on the verb have is still retained, but none of the case endings on the nouns are present.

By the 12th century Middle English was fully developed, integrating both Norse and Norman features; it continued to be spoken until the transition to early Modern English around 1500. Middle English literature includes Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. In the Middle English period, the use of regional dialects in writing proliferated, and dialect traits were even used for effect by authors such as Chaucer.

Early Modern English

Graphic representation of the Great Vowel Shift, showing how the pronunciation of the long vowels gradually shifted, with the high vowels i: and u: breaking into diphthongs and the lower vowels each shifting their pronunciation up one level

The next period in the history of English was Early Modern English (1500–1700). Early Modern English was characterised by the Great Vowel Shift (1350–1700), inflectional simplification, and linguistic standardisation.

The Great Vowel Shift affected the stressed long vowels of Middle English. It was a chain shift, meaning that each shift triggered a subsequent shift in the vowel system. Mid and open vowels were raised, and close vowels were broken into diphthongs. For example, the word bite was originally pronounced as the word beet is today, and the second vowel in the word about was pronounced as the word boot is today. The Great Vowel Shift explains many irregularities in spelling since English retains many spellings from Middle English, and it also explains why English vowel letters have very different pronunciations from the same letters in other languages.[44][45]

English began to rise in prestige, relative to Norman French, during the reign of Henry V. Around 1430, the Court of Chancery in Westminster began using English in its official documents, and a new standard form of Middle English, known as Chancery Standard, developed from the dialects of London and the East Midlands. In 1476, William Caxton introduced the printing press to England and began publishing the first printed books in London, expanding the influence of this form of English.[46] Literature from the Early Modern period includes the works of William Shakespeare and the translation of the Bible commissioned by King James I. Even after the vowel shift the language still sounded different from Modern English: for example, the consonant clusters /kn ɡn sw/ in knightgnat, and sword were still pronounced. Many of the grammatical features that a modern reader of Shakespeare might find quaint or archaic represent the distinct characteristics of Early Modern English.[47]

In the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, written in Early Modern English, Matthew 8:20 says:

The Foxes haue holes and the birds of the ayre haue nests[37]

This exemplifies the loss of case and its effects on sentence structure (replacement with Subject-Verb-Object word order, and the use of of instead of the non-possessive genitive), and the introduction of loanwords from French (ayre) and word replacements (bird originally meaning "nestling" had replaced OE fugol).

Spread of Modern English

By the late 18th century, the British Empire had facilitated the spread of English through its colonies and geopolitical dominance. Commerce, science and technology, diplomacy, art, and formal education all contributed to English becoming the first truly global language. English also facilitated worldwide international communication.[48][9] As England continued to form new colonies, these, in turn, became independent and developed their own norms for how to speak and write the language. English was adopted in North America, India, parts of Africa, Australasia, and many other regions. In the post-colonial period, some of the newly created nations that had multiple indigenous languages opted to continue using English as the official language to avoid the political difficulties inherent in promoting any one indigenous language above the others.[49][50][51] In the 20th century the growing economic and cultural influence of the United States and its status as a superpower following the Second World War has, along with worldwide broadcasting in English by the BBC[52] and other broadcasters, significantly accelerated the spread of the language across the planet.[53][54] By the 21st century, English was more widely spoken and written than any language has ever been.[55]

A major feature in the early development of Modern English was the codification of explicit norms for standard usage, and their dissemination through official media such as public education and state-sponsored publications. In 1755 Samuel Johnson published his A Dictionary of the English Language which introduced a standard set of spelling conventions and usage norms. In 1828, Noah Webster published the American Dictionary of the English language in an effort to establish a norm for speaking and writing American English that was independent from the British standard. Within Britain, non-standard or lower class dialect features were increasingly stigmatised, leading to the quick spread of the prestige varieties among the middle classes.[56]

In terms of grammatical evolution, Modern English has now reached a stage where the loss of case is almost complete (case is now only found in pronouns, such as he and himshe and herwho and whom), and where SVO word-order is mostly fixed.[56] Some changes, such as the use of do-support have become universalised. (Earlier English did not use the word "do" as a general auxiliary as Modern English does; at first it was only used in question constructions where it was not obligatory.[57] Now, do-support with the verb have is becoming increasingly standardised.) The use of progressive forms in -ing, appears to be spreading to new constructions, and forms such as had been being built are becoming more common. Regularisation of irregular forms also slowly continues (e.g. dreamed instead of dreamt), and analytical alternatives to inflectional forms are becoming more common (e.g. more polite instead of politer). British English is also undergoing change under the influence of American English, fuelled by the strong presence of American English in the media and the prestige associated with the US as a world power. [58][59][60]

Geographical distribution


Percentage of English native speakers.
Percentage of English speakers by country.
  Not available

As of 2016, 400 million people spoke English as their first language, and 1.1 billion spoke it as a secondary language.[61] English is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin and Spanish.[10] However, when combining native and non-native speakers it may, depending on the estimate used, be the most commonly spoken language in the world.[55][62][63][64] English is spoken by communities on every continent and on oceanic islands in all the major oceans.[65]

The countries in which English is spoken can be grouped into different categories by how English is used in each country. The "inner circle"[66] countries with many native speakers of English share an international standard of written English and jointly influence speech norms of English around the world. English does not belong to just one country, and it does not belong solely to descendants of English settlers. English is an official language of countries populated by few descendants of native speakers of English. It has also become by far the most important language of international communication when people who share no native language meet anywhere in the world.

Three circles of English-speaking countries

Braj Kachru distinguishes countries where English is spoken with a three circles model.[66] In his model, the "inner circle" countries are countries with large communities of native speakers of English, "outer circle" countries have small communities of native speakers of English but widespread use of English as a second language in education or broadcasting or for local official purposes, and "expanding circle" countries are countries where many learners learn English as a foreign language. Kachru bases his model on the history of how English spread in different countries, how users acquire English, and the range of uses English has in each country. The three circles change membership over time.[67]

Braj Kachru's Three Circles of English
Braj Kachru's Three Circles of English.

Countries with large communities of native speakers of English (the inner circle) include Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, where the majority speaks English, and South Africa, where a significant minority speaks English. The countries with the most native English speakers are, in descending order, the United States (at least 231 million),[68] the United Kingdom (60 million),[69][70][71] Canada (19 million),[72] Australia (at least 17 million),[73] South Africa (4.8 million),[74]Ireland (4.2 million), and New Zealand (3.7 million).[75] In these countries, children of native speakers learn English from their parents, and local people who speak other languages or new immigrants learn English to communicate in their neighbourhoods and workplaces.[76] The inner-circle countries provide the base from which English spreads to other countries in the world.[67]

Estimates of the number of English speakers who are second language and foreign-language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to more than 1,000 million depending on how proficiency is defined.[11] Linguist David Crystal estimates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.[62] In Kachru's three-circles model, the "outer circle" countries are countries such as the Philippines,[77] Jamaica,[78] India, Pakistan, Singapore,[79] and Nigeria[80][81] with a much smaller proportion of native speakers of English but much use of English as a second language for education, government, or domestic business, and where English is routinely used for school instruction and official interactions with the government.[82]

Those countries have millions of native speakers of dialect continua ranging from an English-based creole to a more standard version of English. They have many more speakers of English who acquire English in the process of growing up through day by day use and listening to broadcasting, especially if they attend schools where English is the medium of instruction. Varieties of English learned by speakers who are not native speakers born to English-speaking parents may be influenced, especially in their grammar, by the other languages spoken by those learners.[76] Most of those varieties of English include words little used by native speakers of English in the inner-circle countries,[76] and they may have grammatical and phonological differences from inner-circle varieties as well. The standard English of the inner-circle countries is often taken as a norm for use of English in the outer-circle countries.[76]

In the three-circles model, countries such as Poland, China, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Indonesia, Egypt, and other countries where English is taught as a foreign language make up the "expanding circle".[83] The distinctions between English as a first language, as a second language, and as a foreign language are often debatable and may change in particular countries over time.[82] For example, in the Netherlands and some other countries of Europe, knowledge of English as a second language is nearly universal, with over 80 percent of the population able to use it,[84] and thus English is routinely used to communicate with foreigners and often in higher education. In these countries, although English is not used for government business, its widespread use puts them at the boundary between the "outer circle" and "expanding circle". English is unusual among world languages in how many of its users are not native speakers but speakers of English as a second or foreign language.[85]

Many users of English in the expanding circle use it to communicate with other people from the expanding circle, so that interaction with native speakers of English plays no part in their decision to use English.[86] Non-native varieties of English are widely used for international communication, and speakers of one such variety often encounter features of other varieties.[87] Very often today a conversation in English anywhere in the world may include no native speakers of English at all, even while including speakers from several different countries.[88]


Pie chart showing the percentage of native English speakers living in "inner circle" English-speaking countries. Native speakers are now substantially outnumbered worldwide by second-language speakers of English (not counted in this chart).

  US (64.3%)
  UK (16.7%)
  Canada (5.3%)
  Australia (4.7%)
  South Africa (1.3%)
  Ireland (1.1%)
  New Zealand (1%)
  Other (5.6%)

Pluricentric English

English is a pluricentric language, which means that no one national authority sets the standard for use of the language.[89][90][91][92] But English is not a divided language,[93] despite a long-standing joke originally attributed to George Bernard Shaw that the United Kingdom and the United States are "two countries separated by a common language".[94] Spoken English, for example English used in broadcasting, generally follows national pronunciation standards that are also established by custom rather than by regulation. International broadcasters are usually identifiable as coming from one country rather than another through their accents,[95] but newsreader scripts are also composed largely in international standard written English. The norms of standard written English are maintained purely by the consensus of educated English-speakers around the world, without any oversight by any government or international organisation.[96]

American listeners generally readily understand most British broadcasting, and British listeners readily understand most American broadcasting. Most English speakers around the world can understand radio programmes, television programmes, and films from many parts of the English-speaking world.[97] Both standard and non-standard varieties of English can include both formal or informal styles, distinguished by word choice and syntax and use both technical and non-technical registers.[98]

The settlement history of the English-speaking inner circle countries outside Britain helped level dialect distinctions and produce koineised forms of English in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.[99] The majority of immigrants to the United States without British ancestry rapidly adopted English after arrival. Now the majority of the United States population are monolingual English speakers,[100][68] although English has been given official status by only 30 of the 50 state governments of the US.[101][102]

English as a global language

English has ceased to be an "English language" in the sense of belonging only to people who are ethnically English.[103][104] Use of English is growing country-by-country internally and for international communication. Most people learn English for practical rather than ideological reasons.[105] Many speakers of English in Africa have become part of an "Afro-Saxon" language community that unites Africans from different countries.[106]

As decolonisation proceeded throughout the British Empire in the 1950s and 1960s, former colonies often did not reject English but rather continued to use it as independent countries setting their own language policies.[50][51][107] For example, the view of the English language among many Indians has gone from associating it with colonialism to associating it with economic progress, and English continues to be an official language of India.[108] English is also widely used in media and literature, and the number of English language books published annually in India is the third largest in the world after the US and UK.[109] However English is rarely spoken as a first language, numbering only around a couple hundred-thousand people, and less than 5% of the population speak fluent English in India.[110][111] David Crystal claimed in 2004 that, combining native and non-native speakers, India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world,[112] but the number of English speakers in India is very uncertain, with most scholars concluding that the United States still has more speakers of English than India.[113]

Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca,[53][114] is also regarded as the first world language.[115][116] English is the world's most widely used language in newspaper publishing, book publishing, international telecommunications, scientific publishing, international trade, mass entertainment, and diplomacy.[116] English is, by international treaty, the basis for the required controlled natural languages[117]Seaspeak and Airspeak, used as international languages of seafaring[118] and aviation.[119] English used to have parity with French and German in scientific research, but now it dominates that field.[120] It achieved parity with French as a language of diplomacy at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919.[121] By the time of the foundation of the United Nations at the end of World War II, English had become pre-eminent [122] and is now the main worldwide language of diplomacy and international relations.[123] It is one of six official languages of the United Nations.[124] Many other worldwide international organisations, including the International Olympic Committee, specify English as a working language or official language of the organisation.

Many regional international organisations such as the European Free Trade Association, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),[54] and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) set English as their organisation's sole working language even though most members are not countries with a majority of native English speakers. While the European Union (EU) allows member states to designate any of the national languages as an official language of the Union, in practice English is the main working language of EU organisations.[125]

Although in most countries English is not an official language, it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language.[53][54] In the countries of the EU, English is the most widely spoken foreign language in nineteen of the twenty-five member states where it is not an official language (that is, the countries other than the UK, Ireland and Malta). In a 2012 official Eurobarometer poll, 38 percent of the EU respondents outside the countries where English is an official language said they could speak English well enough to have a conversation in that language. The next most commonly mentioned foreign language, French (which is the most widely known foreign language in the UK and Ireland), could be used in conversation by 12 percent of respondents.[126]

A working knowledge of English has become a requirement in a number of occupations and professions such as medicine[127] and computing. English has become so important in scientific publishing that more than 80 percent of all scientific journal articles indexed by Chemical Abstracts in 1998 were written in English, as were 90 percent of all articles in natural science publications by 1996 and 82 percent of articles in humanities publications by 1995.[128]

Specialised subsets of English arise spontaneously in international communities, for example, among international business people, as an auxiliary language. This has led some scholars to develop the study of English as an auxiliary language. Globish uses a relatively small subset of English vocabulary (about 1500 words with highest use in international business English) in combination with the standard English grammar. Other examples include Simple English.

The increased use of the English language globally has had an effect on other languages, leading to some English words being assimilated into the vocabularies of other languages. This influence of English has led to concerns about language death,[129] and to claims of linguistic imperialism,[130] and has provoked resistance to the spread of English; however the number of speakers continues to increase because many people around the world think that English provides them with opportunities for better employment and improved lives.[131]

Although some scholars mention a possibility of future divergence of English dialects into mutually unintelligible languages, most think a more likely outcome is that English will continue to function as a koineisedlanguage in which the standard form unifies speakers from around the world.[132] English is used as the language for wider communication in countries around the world.[133] Thus English has grown in worldwide use much more than any constructed language proposed as an international auxiliary language, including Esperanto.[134][135]


The phonetics and phonology of the English language differ from one dialect to another, usually without interfering with mutual communication. Phonological variation affects the inventory of phonemes (i.e. speech sounds that distinguish meaning), and phonetic variation consists in differences in pronunciation of the phonemes. [136] This overview mainly describes the standard pronunciations of the United Kingdom and the United States: Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA). (See § Dialects, accents, and varieties, below.)

The phonetic symbols used below are from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).[137][138][139]


Most English dialects share the same 24 consonant phonemes. The consonant inventory shown below is valid for Californian American English,[140] and for RP.[141]

Consonant phonemes
  Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal   m     n       ŋ  
Stop p b   t d   k ɡ  
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ     h  
Approximant       l   ɹ*   j   w  

* Conventionally transcribed /r/.

In the table, when obstruents (stops, affricates, and fricatives) appear in pairs, such as /p b//tʃ dʒ/, and /s z/, the first is fortis (strong) and the second is lenis (weak). Fortis obstruents, such as /p tʃ s/ are pronounced with more muscular tension and breath force than lenis consonants, such as /b dʒ z/, and are always voiceless. Lenis consonants are partly voiced at the beginning and end of utterances, and fully voiced between vowels. Fortis stops such as /p/ have additional articulatory or acoustic features in most dialects: they are aspirated [pʰ] when they occur alone at the beginning of a stressed syllable, often unaspirated in other cases, and often unreleased [p̚] or pre-glottalised [ʔp] at the end of a syllable. In a single-syllable word, a vowel before a fortis stop is shortened: thus nip has a noticeably shorter vowel (phonetically, but not phonemically) than nib [nɪˑb̥](see below).[142]

  • lenis stops: bin [b̥ɪˑn]about [əˈbaʊt]nib [nɪˑb̥]
  • fortis stops: pin [pʰɪn]spin [spɪn]happy [ˈhæpi]nip [nɪp̚] or [nɪʔp]

In RP, the lateral approximant /l/, has two main allophones (pronunciation variants): the clear or plain [l], as in light, and the dark or velarised [ɫ], as in full.[143] GA has dark l in most cases.[144]

  • clear l: RP light [laɪt]
  • dark l: RP and GA full [fʊɫ], GA light [ɫaɪt]

All sonorants (liquids /l, r/ and nasals /m, n, ŋ/) devoice when following a voiceless obstruent, and they are syllabic when following a consonant at the end of a word.[145]

  • voiceless sonorants: clay [kl̥eɪ̯]snow RP [sn̥əʊ̯], GA [sn̥oʊ̯]
  • syllabic sonorants: paddle [ˈpad.l̩]button [ˈbʌt.n̩]


The pronunciation of vowels varies a great deal between dialects and is one of the most detectable aspects of a speaker's accent. The table below lists the vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA), with examples of words in which they occur from lexical sets compiled by linguists. The vowels are represented with symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet; those given for RP are standard in British dictionaries and other publications.[146]

RP GA Word
i need
ɪ bid
e ɛ bed
æ back
ɑː ɑ bra
ɒ box
ɔɑ cloth
ɔː paw
u food
ʊ good
ʌ but
ɜː ɜr bird
ə comma
Closing diphthongs
RP GA Word
əʊ road
ɔɪ boy
Centering diphthongs
RP GA word
ɪə ɪɹ peer
ɛɹ pair
ʊə ʊɹ poor

In RP, vowel length is phonemic; long vowels are marked with a triangular colon ⟨ː⟩ in the table above, such as the vowel of need [niːd] as opposed to bid [bɪd]. In GA, vowel length is non-distinctive.

In both RP and GA, vowels are phonetically shortened before fortis consonants in the same syllable, like /t tʃ f/, but not before lenis consonants like /d dʒ v/ or in open syllables: thus, the vowels of rich [rɪtʃ]neat [nit], and safe [seɪ̯f] are noticeably shorter than the vowels of ridge [rɪˑdʒ]need [niˑd], and save [seˑɪ̯v], and the vowel of light [laɪ̯t] is shorter than that of lie [laˑɪ̯]. Because lenis consonants are frequently voiceless at the end of a syllable, vowel length is an important cue as to whether the following consonant is lenis or fortis.[147]

The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables and is closer in quality when followed by a morpheme-internal consonant and opener when morpheme-final or prevocalic.[148][149] Some dialects do not contrast /ɪ/ and /ə/in unstressed positions, so that rabbit and abbot rhyme and Lenin and Lennon are homophonous, a dialect feature called weak vowel merger.[150] GA /ɜr/ and /ər/ are realised as an r-coloured vowel [ɚ], as in further[ˈfɚðɚ] (phonemically /ˈfɜrðər/, which in RP is realised as [ˈfəːðə] (phonemically /ˈfɜːðə/).[151]


An English syllable includes a syllable nucleus consisting of a vowel sound. Syllable onset and coda (start and end) are optional. A syllable can start with up to three consonant sounds, as in sprint /sprɪnt/, and end with up to four, as in texts /teksts/. This gives an English syllable the following structure, (CCC)V(CCCC) where C represents a consonant and V a vowel; the word strengths /strɛŋkθs/ is thus an example of the most complex syllable possible in English. The consonants that may appear together in onsets or codas are restricted, as is the order in which they may appear. Onsets can only have four types of consonant clusters: a stop and approximant, as in play; a voiceless fricative and approximant, as in fly or slys and a voiceless stop, as in stay; and s, a voiceless stop, and an approximant, as in string.[152] Clusters of nasal and stop are only allowed in codas. Clusters of obstruents always agree invoicing, and clusters of sibilants and of plosives with the same point of articulation are prohibited. Furthermore, several consonants have limited distributions: /h/ can only occur in syllable-initial position, and /ŋ/ only in syllable-final position.[153]

Stress, rhythm and intonation

Stress plays an important role in English. Certain syllables are stressed, while others are unstressed. Stress is a combination of duration, intensity, vowel quality, and sometimes changes in pitch. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer and louder than unstressed syllables, and vowels in unstressed syllables are frequently reduced while vowels in stressed syllables are not.[154] Some words, primarily short function words but also some modal verbs such as can, have weak and strong forms depending on whether they occur in stressed or non-stressed position within a sentence.

Stress in English is phonemic, and some pairs of words are distinguished by stress. For instance, the word contract is stressed on the first syllable (/ˈkɒntrækt/ KON-trakt) when used as a noun, but on the last syllable (/kənˈtrækt/ kən-TRAKT) for most meanings (for example, "reduce in size") when used as a verb.[155][156][157] Here stress is connected to vowel reduction: in the noun "contract" the first syllable is stressed and has the unreduced vowel /ɒ/, but in the verb "contract" the first syllable is unstressed and its vowel is reduced to /ə/. Stress is also used to distinguish between words and phrases, so that a compound word receives a single stress unit, but the corresponding phrase has two: e.g. a burnout (/ˈbɜːrnt/) versus to burn out (/ˈbɜːrn ˈt/), and a hotdog (/ˈhɒtdɒɡ/) versus a hot dog (/ˈhɒt ˈdɒɡ/).[158]

In terms of rhythm, English is generally described as a stress-timed language, meaning that the amount of time between stressed syllables tends to be equal. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer, but unstressed syllables (syllables between stresses) are shortened. Vowels in unstressed syllables are shortened as well, and vowel shortening causes changes in vowel quality: vowel reduction.

Regional variation

Dialects and low vowels
Lexical set RP GA Can Sound change
THOUGHT /ɔː/ /ɔ/ or /ɑ/ /ɑ/ cotcaught merger
CLOTH /ɒ/ lotcloth split
LOT /ɑ/ fatherbother merger
PALM /ɑː/
BATH /æ/ /æ/ trapbath split
TRAP /æ/

Varieties of English vary the most in pronunciation of vowels. The best known national varieties used as standards for education in non English-speaking countries are British (BrE) and American (AmE). Countries such as Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa have their own standard varieties which are less often used as standards for education internationally. Some differences between the various dialects are shown in the table "Varieties of Standard English and their features".[159]

English has undergone many historical sound changes, some of them affecting all varieties, and others affecting only a few. Most standard varieties are affected by the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the pronunciation of long vowels, but a few dialects have slightly different results. In North America, a number of chain shifts such as the Northern Cities Vowel Shift and Canadian Shift have produced very different vowel landscapes in some regional accents.

Some dialects have fewer or more consonant phonemes and phones than the standard varieties. Some conservative varieties like Scottish English have a voiceless [ʍ] sound in whine that contrasts with the voiced [w] in wine, but most other dialects pronounce both words with voiced [w], a dialect feature called winewhine merger. The unvoiced velar fricative sound /x/ is found in Scottish English, which distinguishes loch /lɔx/ from lock /lɔk/. Accents like Cockney with "h-dropping" lack the glottal fricative /h/, and dialects with th-stopping and th-fronting like African American Vernacular and Estuary English do not have the dental fricatives /θ, ð/, but replace them with dental or alveolar stops /t, d/ or labiodental fricatives /f, v/.[160][161] Other changes affecting the phonology of local varieties are processes such as yod-dropping, yod-coalescence, and reduction of consonant clusters.

General American and Received Pronunciation vary in their pronunciation of historical /r/ after a vowel at the end of a syllable (in the syllable coda). GA is a rhotic dialect, meaning that it pronounces /r/ at the end of a syllable, but RP is non-rhotic, meaning that it loses /r/ in that position. English dialects are classified as rhotic or non-rhotic depending on whether they elide /r/ like RP or keep it like GA.[162]

There is complex dialectal variation in words with the open front and open back vowels /æ ɑː ɒ ɔː/. These four vowels are only distinguished in RP, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In GA, these vowels merge to three /æ ɑ ɔ/,[163] and in Canadian English, they merge to two /æ ɑ/.[164] In addition, the words that have each vowel vary by dialect. The table "Dialects and open vowels" shows this variation with lexical sets in which these sounds occur.


As is typical of an Indo-European language, English follows accusative morphosyntactic alignment. Unlike other Indo-European languages though, English has largely abandoned the inflectional case system in favor of analytic constructions. Only the personal pronouns retain morphological case more strongly than any other word class. English distinguishes at least seven major word classes: verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, determiners (including articles), prepositions, and conjunctions. Some analyses add pronouns as a class separate from nouns, and subdivide conjunctions into subordinators and coordinators, and add the class of interjections.[165] English also has a rich set of auxiliary verbs, such as have and do, expressing the categories of mood and aspect. Questions are marked by do-support, wh-movement (fronting of question words beginning with wh-) and word order inversion with some verbs.

Some traits typical of Germanic languages persist in English, such as the distinction between irregularly inflected strong stems inflected through ablaut (i.e. changing the vowel of the stem, as in the pairs speak/spoke and foot/feet) and weak stems inflected through affixation (such as love/lovedhand/hands). Vestiges of the case and gender system are found in the pronoun system (he/him, who/whom) and in the inflection of the copula verb to be.

The seven word classes are exemplified in this sample sentence:[166]

The chairman of the committee and the loquacious politician clashed violently when the meeting started.
Det. Noun Prep. Det. Noun Conj. Det. Adj. Noun Verb Advb. Conj. Det. Noun Verb

Nouns and noun phrases

English nouns are only inflected for number and possession. New nouns can be formed through derivation or compounding. They are semantically divided into proper nouns (names) and common nouns. Common nouns are in turn divided into concrete and abstract nouns, and grammatically into count nouns and mass nouns.[167]

Most count nouns are inflected for plural number through the use of the plural suffix -s, but a few nouns have irregular plural forms. Mass nouns can only be pluralised through the use of a count noun classifier, e.g. one loaf of breadtwo loaves of bread.[168]

Regular plural formation:

Singular: cat, dog
Plural: cats, dogs

Irregular plural formation:

Singular: man, woman, foot, fish, ox, knife, mouse
Plural: men, women, feet, fish, oxen, knives, mice

Possession can be expressed either by the possessive enclitic -s (also traditionally called a genitive suffix), or by the preposition of. Historically the -s possessive has been used for animate nouns, whereas the ofpossessive has been reserved for inanimate nouns. Today this distinction is less clear, and many speakers use -s also with inanimates. Orthographically the possessive -s is separated from the noun root with an apostrophe.

Possessive constructions:

With -s: The woman's husband's child
With of: The child of the husband of the woman

Nouns can form noun phrases (NPs) where they are the syntactic head of the words that depend on them such as determiners, quantifiers, conjunctions or adjectives.[169] Noun phrases can be short, such as the man, composed only of a determiner and a noun. They can also include modifiers such as adjectives (e.g. redtallall) and specifiers such as determiners (e.g. thethat). But they can also tie together several nouns into a single long NP, using conjunctions such as and, or prepositions such as with, e.g. the tall man with the long red trousers and his skinny wife with the spectacles (this NP uses conjunctions, prepositions, specifiers, and modifiers). Regardless of length, an NP functions as a syntactic unit. For example, the possessive enclitic can, in cases which do not lead to ambiguity, follow the entire noun phrase, as in The President of India's wife, where the enclitic follows India and not President.

The class of determiners is used to specify the noun they precede in terms of definiteness, where the marks a definite noun and a or an an indefinite one. A definite noun is assumed by the speaker to be already known by the interlocutor, whereas an indefinite noun is not specified as being previously known. Quantifiers, which include onemanysome and all, are used to specify the noun in terms of quantity or number. The noun must agree with the number of the determiner, e.g. one man (sg.) but all men (pl.). Determiners are the first constituents in a noun phrase.[170]


Adjectives modify a noun by providing additional information about their referents. In English, adjectives come before the nouns they modify and after determiners.[171] In Modern English, adjectives are not inflected, and they do not agree in form with the noun they modify, as adjectives in most other Indo-European languages do. For example, in the phrases the slender boy, and many slender girls, the adjective slender does not change form to agree with either the number or gender of the noun.

Some adjectives are inflected for degree of comparison, with the positive degree unmarked, the suffix -er marking the comparative, and -est marking the superlative: a small boythe boy is smaller than the girlthat boy is the smallest. Some adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms, such as goodbetter, and best. Other adjectives have comparatives formed by periphrastic constructions, with the adverb more marking the comparative, and most marking the superlative: happier or more happythe happiest or most happy.[172] There is some variation among speakers regarding which adjectives use inflected or periphrastic comparison, and some studies have shown a tendency for the periphrastic forms to become more common at the expense of the inflected form.[173]

Pronouns, case, and person

English pronouns conserve many traits of case and gender inflection. The personal pronouns retain a difference between subjective and objective case in most persons (I/me, he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them) as well as a gender and animateness distinction in the third person singular (distinguishing he/she/it). The subjective case corresponds to the Old English nominative case, and the objective case is used both in the sense of the previous accusative case (in the role of patient, or direct object of a transitive verb), and in the sense of the Old English dative case (in the role of a recipient or indirect object of a transitive verb).[174][175] Subjective case is used when the pronoun is the subject of a finite clause, and otherwise, the objective case is used.[176] While grammarians such as Henry Sweet[177] and Otto Jespersen[178] noted that the English cases did not correspond to the traditional Latin based system, some contemporary grammars, for example Huddleston & Pullum (2002), retain traditional labels for the cases, calling them nominative and accusative cases respectively.

Possessive pronouns exist in dependent and independent forms; the dependent form functions as a determiner specifying a noun (as in my chair), while the independent form can stand alone as if it were a noun (e.g. the chair is mine).[179] The English system of grammatical person no longer has a distinction between formal and informal pronouns of address (the old 2nd person singular familiar pronoun thou acquired a pejorative or inferior tinge of meaning and was abandoned), and the forms for 2nd person plural and singular are identical except in the reflexive form. Some dialects have introduced innovative 2nd person plural pronouns such as y'all found in Southern American English and African American (Vernacular) English or youse and ye found in Irish English.

English personal pronouns
Person Subjective case Objective case Dependent possessive Independent possessive Reflexive
1st p. sg. I me my mine myself
2nd p. sg. you you your yours yourself
3rd p. sg. he/she/it him/her/it his/her/its his/hers/its himself/herself/itself
1st p. pl. we us our ours ourselves
2nd p. pl. you you your yours yourselves
3rd p. pl they them their theirs themselves

Pronouns are used to refer to entities deictically or anaphorically. A deictic pronoun points to some person or object by identifying it relative to the speech situation—for example, the pronoun I identifies the speaker, and the pronoun you, the addressee. Anaphorical pronouns such as that refer back to an entity already mentioned or assumed by the speaker to be known by the audience, for example in the sentence I already told you that. The reflexive pronouns are used when the oblique argument is identical to the subject of a phrase (e.g. "he sent it to himself" or "she braced herself for impact").[180]


Prepositional phrases (PP) are phrases composed of a preposition and one or more nouns, e.g. with the dogfor my friendto schoolin England. Prepositions have a wide range of uses in English. They are used to describe movement, place, and other relations between different entities, but they also have many syntactic uses such as introducing complement clauses and oblique arguments of verbs. For example, in the phrase I gave it to him, the preposition to marks the recipient, or Indirect Object of the verb to give. Traditionally words were only considered prepositions if they governed the case of the noun they preceded, for example causing the pronouns to use the objective rather than subjective form, "with her", "to me", "for us". But some contemporary grammars such as that of Huddleston & Pullum (2002:598–600) no longer consider government of case to be the defining feature of the class of prepositions, rather defining prepositions as words that can function as the heads of prepositional phrases.

Verbs and verb phrases

English verbs are inflected for tense and aspect and marked for agreement with third person singular subject. Only the copula verb to be is still inflected for agreement with the plural and first and second person subjects.[172] Auxiliary verbs such as have and be are paired with verbs in the infinitive, past, or progressive forms. They form complex tenses, aspects, and moods. Auxiliary verbs differ from other verbs in that they can be followed by the negation, and in that they can occur as the first constituent in a question sentence.[181][182]

Most verbs have six inflectional forms. The primary forms are a plain present, a third person singular present, and a preterite (past) form. The secondary forms are a plain form used for the infinitive, a gerund-participle and a past participle.[183] The copula verb to be is the only verb to retain some of its original conjugation, and takes different inflectional forms depending on the subject. The first person present tense form is am, the third person singular form is and the form are is used second person singular and all three plurals. The only verb past participle is been and its gerund-participle is being.

English inflectional forms
Inflection Strong Regular
Plain present take love
3rd person sg.
takes loves
Preterite took loved
Plain (infinitive) take love
Gerund–participle taking loving
Past participle taken loved

Tense, aspect and mood

English has two primary tenses, past (preterit) and non-past. The preterit is inflected by using the preterit form of the verb, which for the regular verbs includes the suffix -ed, and for the strong verbs either the suffix -t or a change in the stem vowel. The non-past form is unmarked except in the third person singular, which takes the suffix -s.[181]

  Present Preterite
First person I run I ran
Second person You run You ran
Third person John runs John ran

English does not have a morphologised future tense.[184] Futurity of action is expressed periphrastically with one of the auxiliary verbs will or shall.[185] Many varieties also use a near future constructed with the phrasal verb be going to.[186]

First person I will run
Second person You will run
Third person John will run

Further aspectual distinctions are encoded by the use of auxiliary verbs, primarily have and be, which encode the contrast between a perfect and non-perfect past tense (I have run vs. I was running), and compound tenses such as preterite perfect (I had been running) and present perfect (I have been running).[187]

For the expression of mood, English uses a number of modal auxiliaries, such as canmaywillshall and the past tense forms couldmightwouldshould. There is also a subjunctive and an imperative mood, both based on the plain form of the verb (i.e. without the third person singular -s), and which is used in subordinate clauses (e.g. subjunctive: It is important that he run every day; imperative Run!).[185]

An infinitive form, that uses the plain form of the verb and the preposition to, is used for verbal clauses that are syntactically subordinate to a finite verbal clause. Finite verbal clauses are those that are formed around a verb in the present or preterit form. In clauses with auxiliary verbs, they are the finite verbs and the main verb is treated as a subordinate clause. For example, he has to go where only the auxiliary verb have is inflected for time and the main verb to go is in the infinitive, or in a complement clause such as I saw him leave, where the main verb is to see which is in a preterite form, and leave is in the infinitive.

Phrasal verbs

English also makes frequent use of constructions traditionally called phrasal verbs, verb phrases that are made up of a verb root and a preposition or particle which follows the verb. The phrase then functions as a single predicate. In terms of intonation the preposition is fused to the verb, but in writing it is written as a separate word. Examples of phrasal verbs are to get upto ask outto back upto give upto get togetherto hang outto put up with, etc. The phrasal verb frequently has a highly idiomatic meaning that is more specialised and restricted than what can be simply extrapolated from the combination of verb and preposition complement (e.g. lay off meaning terminate someone's employment).[188] In spite of the idiomatic meaning, some grammarians, including Huddleston & Pullum (2002:274), do not consider this type of construction to form a syntactic constituent and hence refrain from using the term "phrasal verb". Instead, they consider the construction simply to be a verb with a prepositional phrase as its syntactic complement, i.e. he woke up in the morning and he ran up in the mountains are syntactically equivalent.


The function of adverbs is to modify the action or event described by the verb by providing additional information about the manner in which it occurs. Many adverbs are derived from adjectives with the suffix -ly, but not all, and many speakers tend to omit the suffix in the most commonly used adverbs. For example, in the phrase the woman walked quickly the adverb quickly derived from the adjective quick describes the woman's way of walking. Some commonly used adjectives have irregular adverbial forms, such as good which has the adverbial form well.


In the English sentence The cat sat on the mat, the subject is the cat (a NP), the verb is sat, and on the mat is a prepositional phrase (composed of an NP the mat, and headed by the preposition on). The tree describes the structure of the sentence.

Modern English syntax language is moderately analytic.[189] It has developed features such as modal verbs and word order as resources for conveying meaning. Auxiliary verbsmark constructions such as questions, negative polarity, the passive voice and progressive aspect.

Basic constituent order

English word order has moved from the Germanic verb-second (V2) word order to being almost exclusively subject–verb–object (SVO).[190] The combination of SVO order and use of auxiliary verbs often creates clusters of two or more verbs at the centre of the sentence, such as he had hoped to try to open it.

In most sentences, English only marks grammatical relations through word order.[191] The subject constituent precedes the verb and the object constituent follows it. The example below demonstrates how the grammatical roles of each constituent is marked only by the position relative to the verb:

The dog bites the man
The man bites the dog

An exception is found in sentences where one of the constituents is a pronoun, in which case it is doubly marked, both by word order and by case inflection, where the subject pronoun precedes the verb and takes the subjective case form, and the object pronoun follows the verb and takes the objective case form. The example below demonstrates this double marking in a sentence where both object and subject is represented with a third person singular masculine pronoun:

He hit him

Indirect objects (IO) of ditransitive verbs can be placed either as the first object in a double object construction (S V IO O), such as I gave Jane the book or in a prepositional phrase, such as I gave the book to Jane [192]

Clause syntax

In English a sentence may be composed of one or more clauses, that may, in turn, be composed of one or more phrases (e.g. Noun Phrases, Verb Phrases, and Prepositional Phrases). A clause is built around a verb and includes its constituents, such as any NPs and PPs. Within a sentence, one clause is always the main clause (or matrix clause) whereas other clauses are subordinate to it. Subordinate clauses may function as arguments of the verb in the main clause. For example, in the phrase I think (that) you are lying, the main clause is headed by the verb think, the subject is I, but the object of the phrase is the subordinate clause (that) you are lying. The subordinating conjunction that shows that the clause that follows is a subordinate clause, but it is often omitted.[193] Relative clauses are clauses that function as a modifier or specifier to some constituent in the main clause: For example, in the sentence I saw the letter that you received today, the relative clause that you received today specifies the meaning of the word letter, the object of the main clause. Relative clauses can be introduced by the pronouns whowhosewhom and which as well as by that (which can also be omitted.)[194] In contrast to many other Germanic languages there is no major differences between word order in main and subordinate clauses.[195]

Auxiliary verb constructions

English syntax relies on auxiliary verbs for many functions including the expression of tense, aspect, and mood. Auxiliary verbs form main clauses, and the main verbs function as heads of a subordinate clause of the auxiliary verb. For example, in the sentence the dog did not find its bone, the clause find its bone is the complement of the negated verb did not. Subject–auxiliary inversion is used in many constructions, including focus, negation, and interrogative constructions.

The verb do can be used as an auxiliary even in simple declarative sentences, where it usually serves to add emphasis, as in "I did shut the fridge." However, in the negated and inverted clauses referred to above, it is used because the rules of English syntax permit these constructions only when an auxiliary is present. Modern English does not allow the addition of the negating adverb not to an ordinary finite lexical verb, as in *I know not—it can only be added to an auxiliary (or copular) verb, hence if there is no other auxiliary present when negation is required, the auxiliary do is used, to produce a form like I do not (don't) know. The same applies in clauses requiring inversion, including most questions—inversion must involve the subject and an auxiliary verb, so it is not possible to say *Know you him?; grammatical rules require Do you know him?[196]

Negation is done with the adverb not, which precedes the main verb and follows an auxiliary verb. A contracted form of not -n't can be used as an enclitic attaching to auxiliary verbs and to the copula verb to be. Just as with questions, many negative constructions require the negation to occur with do-support, thus in Modern English I don't know him is the correct answer to the question Do you know him?, but not *I know him not, although this construction may be found in older English.[197]

Passive constructions also use auxiliary verbs. A passive construction rephrases an active construction in such a way that the object of the active phrase becomes the subject of the passive phrase, and the subject of the active phrase is either omitted or demoted to a role as an oblique argument introduced in a prepositional phrase. They are formed by using the past participle either with the auxiliary verb to be or to get, although not all varieties of English allow the use of passives with get. For example, putting the sentence she sees him into the passive becomes he is seen (by her), or he gets seen (by her).[198]


Both yes–no questions and wh-questions in English are mostly formed using subject–auxiliary inversion (Am I going tomorrow?Where can we eat?), which may require do-support (Do you like her?Where did he go?). In most cases, interrogative words (wh-words; e.g. whatwhowherewhenwhyhow) appear in a fronted position. For example, in the question What did you see?, the word what appears as the first constituent despite being the grammatical object of the sentence. (When the wh-word is the subject or forms part of the subject, no inversion occurs: Who saw the cat?.) Prepositional phrases can also be fronted when they are the question's theme, e.g. To whose house did you go last night?. The personal interrogative pronoun who is the only interrogative pronoun to still show inflection for case, with the variant whom serving as the objective case form, although this form may be going out of use in many contexts.[199]

Discourse level syntax

While English is a subject-prominent language, at the discourse level it tends to use a topic-comment structure, where the known information (topic) precedes the new information (comment). Because of the strict SVO syntax, the topic of a sentence generally has to be the grammatical subject of the sentence. In cases where the topic is not the grammatical subject of the sentence, frequently the topic is promoted to subject position through syntactic means. One way of doing this is through a passive construction, the girl was stung by the bee. Another way is through a cleft sentence where the main clause is demoted to be a complement clause of a copula sentence with a dummy subject such as it or there, e.g. it was the girl that the bee stungthere was a girl who was stung by a bee.[200] Dummy subjects are also used in constructions where there is no grammatical subject such as with impersonal verbs (e.g., it is raining) or in existential clauses (there are many cars on the street). Through the use of these complex sentence constructions with informationally vacuous subjects, English is able to maintain both a topic-comment sentence structure and a SVO syntax.

Focus constructions emphasise a particular piece of new or salient information within a sentence, generally through allocating the main sentence level stress on the focal constituent. For example, the girl was stung by a bee (emphasising it was a bee and not, for example, a wasp that stung her), or The girl was stung by a bee (contrasting with another possibility, for example that it was the boy).[201] Topic and focus can also be established through syntactic dislocation, either preposing or postposing the item to be focused on relative to the main clause. For example, That girl over there, she was stung by a bee, emphasises the girl by preposition, but a similar effect could be achieved by postposition, she was stung by a bee, that girl over there, where reference to the girl is established as an "afterthought".[202]

Cohesion between sentences is achieved through the use of deictic pronouns as anaphora (e.g. that is exactly what I mean where that refers to some fact known to both interlocutors, or then used to locate the time of a narrated event relative to the time of a previously narrated event).[203] Discourse markers such as ohso or well, also signal the progression of ideas between sentences and help to create cohesion. Discourse markers are often the first constituents in sentences. Discourse markers are also used for stance taking in which speakers position themselves in a specific attitude towards what is being said, for example, no way is that true! (the idiomatic marker no way! expressing disbelief), or boy! I'm hungry (the marker boy expressing emphasis). While discourse markers are particularly characteristic of informal and spoken registers of English, they are also used in written and formal registers.[204]


English is a rich language in terms of vocabulary, containing more synonyms than any other language.[130] There are words which appear on the surface to mean exactly the same thing but which, in fact, have slightly different shades of meaning and must be chosen appropriately if a speaker wants to convey precisely the message intended. It is generally stated that English has around 170,000 words, or 220,000 if obsolete words are counted; this estimate is based on the last full edition of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1989.[205] Over half of these words are nouns, a quarter adjectives, and a seventh verbs. There is one count that puts the English vocabulary at about 1 million words—but that count presumably includes words such as Latin species names, scientific terminology, botanical terms, prefixed and suffixed words, jargon, foreign words of extremely limited English use, and technical acronyms.[13]

Due to its status as an international language, English adopts foreign words quickly, and borrows vocabulary from many other sources. Early studies of English vocabulary by lexicographers, the scholars who formally study vocabulary, compile dictionaries, or both, were impeded by a lack of comprehensive data on actual vocabulary in use from good-quality linguistic corpora,[206] collections of actual written texts and spoken passages. Many statements published before the end of the 20th century about the growth of English vocabulary over time, the dates of first use of various words in English, and the sources of English vocabulary will have to be corrected as new computerised analysis of linguistic corpus data becomes available.[13][207]

Word formation processes

English forms new words from existing words or roots in its vocabulary through a variety of processes. One of the most productive processes in English is conversion,[208] using a word with a different grammatical role, for example using a noun as a verb or a verb as a noun. Another productive word-formation process is nominal compounding,[13][207] producing compound words such as babysitter or ice cream or homesick.[208] A process more common in Old English than in Modern English, but still productive in Modern English, is the use of derivational suffixes (-hood-ness-ing-ility) to derive new words from existing words (especially those of Germanic origin) or stems (especially for words of Latin or Greek origin).

Formation of new words, called neologisms, based on Greek and/or Latin roots (for example television or optometry) is a highly productive process in English and in most modern European languages, so much so that it is often difficult to determine in which language a neologism originated. For this reason, lexicographer Philip Gove attributed many such words to the "international scientific vocabulary" (ISV) when compiling Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961). Another active word-formation process in English is acronyms,[209] words formed by pronouncing as a single word abbreviations of longer phrases (e.g. NATOlaser).

Word origins

Source languages of English vocabulary[6][210]

English, besides forming new words from existing words and their roots, also borrows words from other languages. This adoption of words from other languages is commonplace in many world languages, but English has been especially open to borrowing of foreign words throughout the last 1,000 years.[211] The most commonly used words in English are West Germanic.[212] The words in English learned first by children as they learn to speak, particularly the grammatical words that dominate the word count of both spoken and written texts, are mainly the Germanic words inherited from the earliest periods of the development of Old English.[13]

But one of the consequences of long language contact between French and English in all stages of their development is that the vocabulary of English has a very high percentage of "Latinate" words (derived from French, especially, and also from Latin and other Romance languages). French words from various periods of the development of French now make up one-third of the vocabulary of English.[213] Words of Old Norse origin have entered the English language primarily from the contact between Old Norse and Old English during colonisation of eastern and northern England. Many of these words are part of English core vocabulary, such as egg and knife.[214]

English has also borrowed many words directly from Latin, the ancestor of the Romance languages, during all stages of its development.[207][13] Many of these words had earlier been borrowed into Latin from Greek. Latin or Greek are still highly productive sources of stems used to form vocabulary of subjects learned in higher education such as the sciences, philosophy, and mathematics.[215] English continues to gain new loanwords and calques ("loan translations") from languages all over the world, and words from languages other than the ancestral Anglo-Saxon language make up about 60% of the vocabulary of English.[216]

English has formal and informal speech registers; informal registers, including child-directed speech, tend to be made up predominantly of words of Anglo-Saxon origin, while the percentage of vocabulary that is of Latinate origin is higher in legal, scientific, and academic texts.[217][218]

English loanwords and calques in other languages

English has a strong influence on the vocabulary of other languages.[213][219] The influence of English comes from such factors as opinion leaders in other countries knowing the English language, the role of English as a world lingua franca, and the large number of books and films that are translated from English into other languages.[220] That pervasive use of English leads to a conclusion in many places that English is an especially suitable language for expressing new ideas or describing new technologies. Among varieties of English, it is especially American English that influences other languages.[221] Some languages, such as Chinese, write words borrowed from English mostly as calques, while others, such as Japanese, readily take in English loanwords written in sound-indicating script.[222] Dubbed films and television programmes are an especially fruitful source of English influence on languages in Europe.[222]

Writing system

Since the ninth century, English has been written in a Latin alphabet (also called Roman alphabet). Earlier Old English texts in Anglo-Saxon runes are only short inscriptions. The great majority of literary works in Old English that survive to today are written in the Roman alphabet.[32] The modern English alphabet contains 26 letters of the Latin script: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z (which also have capitalforms: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z).

The spelling system, or orthography, of English is multi-layered, with elements of French, Latin, and Greek spelling on top of the native Germanic system.[223] Further complications have arisen through sound changeswith which the orthography has not kept pace.[44] Compared to European languages for which official organisations have promoted spelling reforms, English has spelling that is a less consistent indicator of pronunciation, and standard spellings of words that are more difficult to guess from knowing how a word is pronounced.[224] There are also systematic spelling differences between British and American English. These situations have prompted proposals for spelling reform in English.[225]

Although letters and speech sounds do not have a one-to-one correspondence in standard English spelling, spelling rules that take into account syllable structure, phonetic changes in derived words, and word accent are reliable for most English words.[226] Moreover, standard English spelling shows etymological relationships between related words that would be obscured by a closer correspondence between pronunciation and spelling, for example the words photographphotography, and photographic,[226] or the words electricity and electrical. While few scholars agree with Chomsky and Halle (1968) that conventional English orthography is "near-optimal",[223] there is a rationale for current English spelling patterns.[227] The standard orthography of English is the most widely used writing system in the world.[228] Standard English spelling is based on a graphomorphemic segmentation of words into written clues of what meaningful units make up each word.[229]

Readers of English can generally rely on the correspondence between spelling and pronunciation to be fairly regular for letters or digraphs used to spell consonant sounds. The letters bdfhjklmnprstvwyz represent, respectively, the phonemes /b, d, f, h, dʒ, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, j, z/. The letters c and g normally represent /k/ and /ɡ/, but there is also a soft c pronounced /s/, and a soft g pronounced /dʒ/. The differences in the pronunciations of the letters c and g are often signalled by the following letters in standard English spelling. Digraphs used to represent phonemes and phoneme sequences include ch for /tʃ/sh for /ʃ/thfor /θ/ or /ð/ng for /ŋ/qu for /kw/, and ph for /f/ in Greek-derived words. The single letter x is generally pronounced as /z/ in word-initial position and as /ks/ otherwise. There are exceptions to these generalisations, often the result of loanwords being spelled according to the spelling patterns of their languages of origin[226] or proposals by pedantic scholars in the early period of Modern English to mistakenly follow the spelling patterns of Latin for English words of Germanic origin.[230]

For the vowel sounds of the English language, however, correspondences between spelling and pronunciation are more irregular. There are many more vowel phonemes in English than there are single vowel letters (aeiouwy). As a result, some "long vowels" are often indicated by combinations of letters (like the oa in boat, the ow in how, and the ay in stay), or the historically based silent e (as in note and cake).[227]

The consequence of this complex orthographic history is that learning to read can be challenging in English. It can take longer for school pupils to become independently fluent readers of English than of many other languages, including Italian, Spanish, and German.[231] Nonetheless, there is an advantage for learners of English reading in learning the specific sound-symbol regularities that occur in the standard English spellings of commonly used words.[226] Such instruction greatly reduces the risk of children experiencing reading difficulties in English.[232][233] Making primary school teachers more aware of the primacy of morpheme representation in English may help learners learn more efficiently to read and write English.[234]

English writing also includes a system of punctuation marks that is similar to those used in most alphabetic languages around the world. The purpose of punctuation is to mark meaningful grammatical relationships in sentences to aid readers in understanding a text and to indicate features important for reading a text aloud.[235]

Dialects, accents, and varieties

Dialectologists identify many English dialects, which usually refer to regional varieties that differ from each other in terms of patterns of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. The pronunciation of particular areas distinguishes dialects as separate regional accents. The major native dialects of English are often divided by linguists into the two extremely general categories of British English (BrE) and North American English(NAE).[236] There also exists a third common major grouping of English varieties: Southern Hemisphere English, the most prominent being Australian and New Zealand English.

United Kingdom and Ireland

Map showing the main dialect regions in the UK and Ireland

As the place where English first evolved, the British Isles, and particularly England, are home to the most diverse dialects. Within the United Kingdom, the Received Pronunciation(RP), an educated dialect of South East England, is traditionally used as the broadcast standard and is considered the most prestigious of the British dialects. The spread of RP (also known as BBC English) through the media has caused many traditional dialects of rural England to recede, as youths adopt the traits of the prestige variety instead of traits from local dialects. At the time of the Survey of English Dialects, grammar and vocabulary differed across the country, but a process of lexical attrition has led most of this variation to disappear.[237]

Nonetheless this attrition has mostly affected dialectal variation in grammar and vocabulary, and in fact, only 3 percent of the English population actually speak RP, the remainder speaking regional accents and dialects with varying degrees of RP influence.[238] There is also variability within RP, particularly along class lines between Upper and Middle-class RP speakers and between native RP speakers and speakers who adopt RP later in life.[239] Within Britain, there is also considerable variation along lines of social class, and some traits though exceedingly common are considered "non-standard" and are associated with lower class speakers and identities. An example of this is H-dropping, which was historically a feature of lower-class London English, particularly Cockney, and can now be heard in the local accents of most parts of England—yet it remains largely absent in broadcasting and among the upper crust of British society.[240]

English in England can be divided into four major dialect regions, Southwest English, South East English, Midlands English, and Northern English. Within each of these regions several local subdialects exist: Within the Northern region, there is a division between the Yorkshire dialects, and the Geordie dialect spoken in Northumbria around Newcastle, and the Lancashire dialects with local urban dialects in Liverpool (Scouse) and Manchester (Mancunian). Having been the centre of Danish occupation during the Viking Invasions, Northern English dialects, particularly the Yorkshire dialect, retain Norse features not found in other English varieties.[241]

Since the 15th century, southeastern England varieties centred around London, which has been the centre from which dialectal innovations have spread to other dialects. In London, the Cockney dialect was traditionally used by the lower classes, and it was long a socially stigmatised variety. The spread of Cockney features across the south-east led the media to talk of Estuary English as a new dialect, but the notion was criticised by many linguists on the grounds that London had influencing neighbouring regions throughout history.[242][243][244] Traits that have spread from London in recent decades include the use of intrusive R (drawing is pronounced drawring /ˈdrɔːrɪŋ/), t-glottalisation (Potter is pronounced with a glottal stop as Po'er /poʔʌ/), and the pronunciation of th- as /f/ (thanks pronounced fanks) or /v/ (bother pronounced bover). [245]

Scots is today considered a separate language from English, but it has its origins in early Northern Middle English[246] and developed and changed during its history with influence from other sources, particularly Scots Gaelic and Old Norse. Scots itself has a number of regional dialects. And in addition to Scots, Scottish English are the varieties of Standard English spoken in Scotland, most varieties are Northern English accents, with some influence from Scots.[247]

In Ireland, various forms of English have been spoken since the Norman invasions of the 11th century. In County Wexford, in the area surrounding Dublin, two extinct dialects known as Forth and Bargy and Fingallian developed as offshoots from Early Middle English, and were spoken until the 19th century. Modern Irish English, however, has its roots in English colonisation in the 17th century. Today Irish English is divided into Ulster English, the Northern Ireland dialect with strong influence from Scots, as well as various dialects of the Republic of Ireland. Like Scottish and most North American accents, almost all Irish accents preserve the rhoticity which has been lost in the dialects influenced by RP.[19][248]

North America

North American English is fairly homogeneous compared to British English. Today, American accent variation is often increasing at the regional level and decreasing at the very local level,[249] though most Americans still speak within a phonological continuum of similar accents,[250] known collectively as General American (GA), with differences hardly noticed even among Americans themselves (such as Midland and Western American English).[251][252][253] In most American and Canadian English dialects, rhoticity (or r-fulness) is dominant, with non-rhoticity (r-dropping) becoming associated with lower prestige and social class especially after World War II; this contrasts with the situation in England, where non-rhoticity has become the standard.[254]

Separate from GA are American dialects with clearly distinct sound systems, historically including Southern American English, English of the coastal Northeast (famously including Eastern New England English and New York City English), and African American Vernacular English, all of which are historically non-rhotic. Canadian English, except for the Atlantic provinces and perhaps Quebec, may be classified under GA as well, but it often shows the raising of the vowels // and //before voiceless consonants, as well as distinct norms for written and pronunciation standards.[255]

In Southern American English, the most populous American "accent group" outside of GA,[256] rhoticity now strongly prevails, replacing the region's historical non-rhotic prestige.[257][258][259] Southern accents are colloquially described as a "drawl" or "twang,"[260] being recognised most readily by the Southern Vowel Shift initiated by glide-deleting in the /aɪ/ vowel (e.g. pronouncing spy almost like spa), the "Southern breaking" of several front pure vowels into a gliding vowel or even two syllables (e.g. pronouncing the word "press" almost like "pray-us"),[261] the pin–pen merger, and other distinctive phonological, grammatical, and lexical features, many of which are actually recent developments of the 19th century or later.[262]

Today spoken primarily by working- and middle-class African Americans, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is also largely non-rhotic and likely originated among enslaved Africans and African Americans influenced primarily by the non-rhotic, non-standard older Southern dialects. A minority of linguists,[263] contrarily, propose that AAVE mostly traces back to African languages spoken by the slaves who had to develop a pidgin or Creole English to communicate with slaves of other ethnic and linguistic origins.[264] AAVE's important commonalities with Southern accents suggests it developed into a highly coherent and homogeneous variety in the 19th or early 20th century. AAVE is commonly stigmatised in North America as a form of "broken" or "uneducated" English, as are white Southern accents, but linguists today recognise both as fully developed varieties of English with their own norms shared by a large speech community.[265][266]

Australia and New Zealand

Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia

Nigerian English is a dialect of English spoken in Nigeria.[276] It is based on British English, but in recent years, because of influence from the United States, some words of American English origin have made it into Nigerian English. Additionally, some new words and collocations have emerged from the language, which come from the need to express concepts specific to the culture of the nation (e.g. senior wife). Over 150 million population of Nigerians speak English.[277]

Several varieties of English are also spoken in the Caribbean Islands that were colonial possessions of Britain, including Jamaica, and the Leeward and Windward Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and Belize. Each of these areas are home both to a local variety of English and a local English based creole, combining English and African languages. The most prominent varieties are Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. In Central America, English based creoles are spoken in on the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Panama.[278] Locals are often fluent both in the local English variety and the local creole languages and code-switching between them is frequent, indeed another way to conceptualise the relationship between Creole and Standard varieties is to see a spectrum of social registers with the Creole forms serving as "basilect" and the more RP-like forms serving as the "acrolect", the most formal register.[279]

Most Caribbean varieties are based on British English and consequently, most are non-rhotic, except for formal styles of Jamaican English which are often rhotic. Jamaican English differs from RP in its vowel inventory, which has a distinction between long and short vowels rather than tense and lax vowels as in Standard English. The diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ are monophthongs [eː] and [oː] or even the reverse diphthongs [ie] and [uo](e.g. bay and boat pronounced [bʲeː] and [bʷoːt]). Often word-final consonant clusters are simplified so that "child" is pronounced [t͡ʃail] and "wind" [win].[280][281][282]

As a historical legacy, Indian English tends to take RP as its ideal, and how well this ideal is realised in an individual's speech reflects class distinctions among Indian English speakers. Indian English accents are marked by the pronunciation of phonemes such as /t/ and /d/ (often pronounced with retroflex articulation as [ʈ] and [ɖ]) and the replacement of /θ/ and /ð/ with dentals [t̪] and [d̪]. Sometimes Indian English speakers may also use spelling based pronunciations where the silent ⟨h⟩ found in words such as ghost is pronounced as an Indian voiced aspirated stop [ɡʱ].[283]


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