10 words in the English language with the most definitions

Gareth Cattermole/Getty ImagesHomographs are words that are spelled the same but have multiple meanings.
  • Though the English language has many quirks, one of its most interesting is homographs: words that are spelled identically but have different meanings or definitions.
  • There are at least 10 words with hundreds of definitions each, like “go” and “put.”
  • “Run” is anticipated to have approximately 645 different meanings in the next Oxford English Dictionary, set for a 2037 release.

The English language is, indeed, a quirky one: it’s notoriously difficult to learn, and often words have more than one meaning.

Some of these words are called homographs. They’re spelled identically but have vastly different definitions. “Go” has 368, for instance, and “set” has 430. The word “run” is anticipated to have approximately 645 different meanings in the next Oxford English Dictionary, set for a 2037 release.

Keep scrolling to see which 10 words in the English language have the most definitions.

Run: 645 definitions

Syda Productions/Shutterstock‘Running’ can be a verb.

Though there is some debate surrounding the first place position of “run,” as one of the top homographs it has (an anticipated)645 different definitions, according to a New York Times article from 2011.

The word is widely used to describe various activities: a computer runs a program, a car runs on gas, a candidate runs for office, etc. Of course, as with the rest of the English language, the word continues to evolve.

Set: 430 definitions

Keystone Features/Getty ImagesTV ‘set.’

Referred to as the “old chestnut” in the same New York Times article, “set” previously held the top position for the English word with the most definitions.

But “set” “hasn’t undergone as much development in the 20th and 21st centuries as has ‘run,'” Gilliver told the Times. Regardless, “set” holds strong at 430 definitions, per the 1989 O.E.D.

Go: 368 definitions

Prisma by Dukas/UIG via Getty ImagesGreen signifies ‘go.’

“Go” is one of the most ubiquitous everyday words in the English language. Like many others on this list, it can be a noun, adjective, and verb. It clocked in at 368 definitions in 1989’s O.E.D.

Its top meaning as a verb is “to move from one place to another; travel,” but it can also be “said in various expressions when angrily or contemptuously dismissing someone.” Used in a sentence: “Go and get lost!”

Take: 343 definitions

iStockTake out.

The word “take” is described by Merriam-Webster as “to get into one’s hands or into one’s possession, power, or control.” But its meanings stretch across a vast terrain: to “take something in” could also mean “to consider or view in a particular relation.”

It comes in a close fourth place, roughly 20 definitions less than “go:” 343 in the 1989 O.E.D.

Stand: 334 definitions

“Stand” trails closely behind, the verb form of which means to “have or maintain an upright position, supported by one’s feet” (also known as standing up).

Clocking in at 334 O.E.D. definitions, “stand” can also refer to the state of something remaining “valid or unaltered,” and, as a noun, it can be a “stall or booth in a street, market, or public building from which goods are sold,” lest we forget.

Get: 289 definitions

Nicky J Sims/Getty Images‘Getting’ dolled up.

Like “go,” “getting” is one of those commonplace words that we use so much, we don’t even realise how much we use it. We “get” coffee.” We are “getting” dolled up for a date. We “got” a bad grade on that test.

According to the 1989 O.E.D., it has 289 definitions, to be exact.

Turn: 288 definitions

The word “turn” is nestled closely behind, with only one less definition than “get.” It can take on many other meanings beyond “moving in a circular direction,” including “passing the age or time of” something. In a sentence: “I turned 40 last year.”

Put: 268 definitions

“In terms of sheer size, the entry for ‘run’ is half as big again as that for ‘put,'” said the New York Times article. But that doesn’t make “put” any less impressive, with exactly 268 definitions in total.

“Put” also may be a reason for “set”‘s decline in popularity, as we tend to use the former in favour of the latter these days. For example: we “put” the drinking glass down, rather than “set” it down.

Fall: 264 definitions

Perhaps the most embarrassing of the list (in verb form, that is), “fall” clocks in at about 264 definitions in the O.E.D.

Though we all know fall’s most common definition as a verb – “to descend freely by the force of gravity” – it’s interesting to note that “fall” is also used to refer to lambs giving birth, according to Merriam-Webster.

Strike: 250 definitions

Perhaps the sportiest of the words on this list, a “strike” is a move in baseball, bowling, fencing, and more. It has 250 definitions in the O.E.D., making it the 10th largest homograph in the English language.

A “strike” can also refer to an intense rush of emotions: “to affect with a mental or emotional state or a strong emotion,” as Merriam-Webster puts it.

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