Ogden said that it would take seven years to learn English, seven months for Esperanto, and seven weeks for Basic English. Thus Basic English is used by companies who need to make complex books for international use, and by language schools that need to give people some knowledge of English in a short time.
Ogden did not put into Basic English words that could be said with a few other words, and worked to make the words work in any country. He put his set of words through a large number of tests and adjustments. He also made the grammar simpler, but tried to keep the grammar normal for English users.
Rules of grammar
Ogden's rules of grammar for Basic English help people use the 850 words to talk about things and events in a normal way.
- Make plurals with an "S" on the end of the word. If there are special ways to make a plural word, such as "ES" and "IES", use them.
- There are four wordends to change each of the 300 nouns: -"ER" and -"ING", and the two adjective wordends, -"ING" and -"ED".
- Make qualifiers from adverbs with the wordend -"LY".
- Talk about amounts with "MORE" and "MOST." Use and know -"ER" and -"EST."
- Make opposite adjectives with "UN"-
- Make questions with opposite word order, and "DO".
- Operators and pronouns conjugate as in normal English.
- Make combined words from two nouns (for example "milkman" or "wordend") or a noun and a directive (sundown).
- Measures, numbers, money, months, days, years, clock time, and international words are in English forms.
- Use the words of an industry or science. For example, in this grammar, some special words are for teaching languages, and not part of Basic English: grammar, plural, conjugate, noun, adjective, adverb, qualifier, operator, pronoun, and directive.
One criticism of basic English is that in order to reduce word count, it uses large numbers of idiomatic expressions which are non-obvious to non-native English speakers. For example the term "make good" is used for "succeed" while the term "make bad" is not used for "fail." English relies heavily on idioms, of which there are about 4000 presently recognized by most idiom dictionaries - requiring nearly 2000 words, more than twice the vocabulary of Basic English, to define. A counter-argument is that English speakers will eventually need to learn this larger vocabulary, and the idioms, at some point, so little or no harm is done by introducing asymmetric idioms early on.
Note also that the size of the word list also eliminates a considerable number of common English words, such as "world".
Another criticism is that it is a form of linguistic imperialism, because it attempts to make English, and by extension, Anglophone cultures, into the default international culture. It also preserves other irregularities of the English language in the interest of backward compatibility.
One other criticism is that it is not as effective as E-Prime at enabling non-judgemental communication, since "to be" is permitted but other words required to indicate states of being (e.g. "equals", "become") are not.
Winston Churchill supported the idea of Basic English's use as an international language at first, mentioning it in a speech at Harvard in 1944, but according to one story was put off it when he was told that "blood, toil, tears and sweat" translates into Basic English as "blood, hard work, eyewash and body water."
According to the Times Educational Supplement's Talking To series, George Orwell might have parodied Basic English in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. The references to Newspeak could be interpreted as a hidden critique against the "universal languages" which had been proposed during the period of the writing of the book.
These are the 850 core words of Basic English.
OPERATIONS - 100 words
come, get, give, go, keep, let, make, put, seem, take, be, do, have, say, see, send, may, will
about, across, after, against, among, at, before, between, by, down, from, in, off, on, over, through, to, under, up, with, as, for, of, till, than,
a, the, all, any, every, no, other, some, such, that, this, I, he, you, who,
and, because, but, or, if, though, while, how, when, where, why,
again, ever, far, forward, here, near, now, out, still, then, there together, well
almost, enough, even, little, much, not, only, quite, so, very, tomorrow, yesterday
north, south, east, west, please, yes.
THINGS - 400 General words
account, act, addition, adjustment, advertisement, agreement, air, amount, amusement, animal, answer, apparatus, approval, argument, art, attack, attempt, attention, attraction, authority, back, balance, base, behavior, belief, birth, bit, bite, blood, blow, body, brass, bread, breath, brother, building, burn, burst, business, butter, canvas, care, cause, chalk, chance, change, cloth, coal, color, comfort, committee, company, comparison, competition, condition, connection, control, cook, copper, copy, cork, cotton, cough, country, cover, crack, credit, crime, crush, cry ,current, curve, damage, danger, daughter, day, death, debt, decision, degree, design, desire, destruction, detail, development, digestion, direction, discovery, discussion, disease, disgust, distance, distribution, division, doubt, drink, driving, dust, earth, edge, education, effect, end, error, event, example, exchange, existence, expansion, experience, expert, fact, fall, family, father, fear, feeling, fiction, field, fight, fire, flame, flight, flower, fold, food, force, form, friend, front, fruit, glass, gold, government, grain, grass, grip, group, growth, guide, harbor, harmony, hate, hearing, heat, help, history, hole, hope, hour, humor, ice, idea, impulse, increase, industry, ink, insect, instrument, insurance, interest, invention, iron, jelly, join, journey, judge, jump, kick, kiss, knowledge, land, language, laugh, law, lead, learning, leather, letter, level, lift, light, limit, linen, liquid, list, look, loss, love, machine, man, manager, mark, market, mass, meal, measure, meat, meeting, memory, metal, middle, milk, mind, mine, minute, mist, money, month, morning, mother, motion, mountain, move, music, name, nation, need, news, night, noise, note, number, observation, offer, oil, operation, opinion, order, organization, ornament, owner, page, pain, paint, paper, part, paste, payment, peace, person, place, plant, play, pleasure, point, poison, polish, porter, position, powder, power, price, print, process, produce, profit, property, prose, protest, pull, punishment, purpose, push, quality, question, rain, range, rate, ray, reaction, reading, reason, record, regret, relation, religion, representative, request, respect, rest, reward, rhythm, rice, river, road, roll, room, rub, rule, run, salt, sand, scale, science, sea, seat, secretary, selection, self, sense, servant, sex, shade, shake, shame, shock, side, sign, silk, silver, sister, size, sky, sleep, slip, slope, smash, smell, smile, smoke, sneeze, snow, soap, society, son, song, sort, sound, soup, space, stage, start, statement, steam, steel, step, stitch, stone, stop, story, stretch, structure, substance, sugar, suggestion, summer, support, surprise, swim, system, talk, taste, tax, teaching, tendency, test, theory, thing, thought, thunder, time, tin, top, touch, trade, transport, trick, trouble, turn, twist, unit, use, value, verse, vessel, view, voice, walk, war, wash, waste, water, wave, wax, way, weather, week, weight, wind, wine, winter, woman, wood, wool, word, work, wound, writing, year
THINGS - 200 Picturable words
angle, ant, apple, arch, arm, army, baby, bag, ball, band, basin, basket, bath, bed, bee, bell, berry, bird, blade, board, boat, bone, book, boot, bottle, box, boy, brain, brake, branch, brick, bridge, brush, bucket, bulb, button, cake, camera, card, cart, carriage, cat, chain, cheese, chest, chin, church, circle, clock, cloud, coat, collar, comb, cord, cow, cup, curtain, cushion, dog, door, drain, drawer, dress, drop, ear, egg, engine, eye, face, farm, feather, finger, fish, flag, floor, fly, foot, fork, fowl, frame garden, girl, glove, goat, gun, hair, hammer, hand, hat, head, heart, hook, horn, horse, hospital, house, island, jewel, kettle, key, knee, knife, knot, leaf, leg, library, line, lip, lock, map, match, monkey, moon, mouth, muscle, nail, neck, needle, nerve, net, nose, nut, office, orange, oven, parcel, pen, pencil, picture, pig, pin, pipe, plane, plate, plough/plow, pocket, pot, potato, prison, pump, rail, rat, receipt, ring, rod, roof, root, sail, school, scissors, screw, seed, sheep, shelf, ship, shirt, shoe, skin, skirt, snake, sock, spade, sponge, spoon, spring, square, stamp, star, station, stem, stick, stocking, stomach, store, street, sun, table, tail, thread, throat, thumb, ticket, toe, tongue, tooth, town, train, tray, tree, trousers, umbrella, wall, watch, wheel, whip, whistle, window, wing, wire, worm .
QUALITIES - 100 General
able, acid, angry, automatic, beautiful, black, boiling, bright, broken, brown, cheap, chemical, chief, clean, clear, common, complex, conscious, cut, deep, dependent, early, elastic, electric, equal, fat, fertile, first, fixed, flat, free, frequent, full, general, good, great, grey/gray, hanging, happy, hard, healthy, high, hollow, important, kind, like, living, long, male, married, material, medical, military, natural, necessary, new, normal, open, parallel, past, physical, political, poor, possible, present, private, probable, quick, quiet, ready, red, regular, responsible, right, round, same, second, separate, serious, sharp, smooth, sticky, stiff, straight, strong, sudden, sweet, tall, thick, tight, tired, true, violent, waiting, warm, wet, wide, wise, yellow, young .
QUALITIES - 50 Opposites
awake, bad, bent, bitter, blue, certain, cold, complete, cruel, dark, dead, dear, delicate, different, dirty, dry, false, feeble, female, foolish, future, green, ill, last, late, left, loose, loud, low, mixed, narrow, old, opposite, public, rough, sad, safe, secret, short, shut, simple, slow, small, soft, solid, special, strange, thin, white, wrong .
- Special English
- Simple English Wikipedia - A Wikipedia which uses a reduced vocabulary, based on Basic English.
- Charles Kay Ogden, Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar, London: Paul Treber & Co., Ltd. (1930).
- http://wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Basic_English_template (uses Basic English word list as a basis for studying equivalent basic words in other languages)