English isn't the easiest language to learn. First of all, according to 2010 research from Harvard University and Google, it has a whopping 1,022,000 words, and that number is growing constantly, year on year. To add insult to injury, many common words in the language have multiple meanings, the worst offenders being homographs and homonyms, i.e. words that are spelled and/or pronounced identically, but have different definitions.
Some homographs have a truly mind-boggling number of meanings, with the word "run" currently topping the list. According to the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary John Simpson, "run" is expected to have about 645 different meanings alone in the next edition of the O.E.D. (set for release in 2037). The New York Times writes that it took Peter Gilliver, the O.E.D. lexicographer working on the letter R, more than nine months to come up with all the existing definitions of this complex word.
One possible explanation for such proliferation of the word "run" is the growing number of expressions related to machinery and technology: a van runs on (= uses) diesel, a phone runs apps, programs run on one's computer, etc. After all, it makes sense that in the modern era the word "run," embodying dynamism, movement and continuous progress, outran its closest rival, the sturdy and stationary word "set". The latter had been the champion for many years since the first edition of the O.E.D. in 1928 but failed to evolve as much as "run" in the 20th and 21st centuries.
We've rounded up other words in the English language that have the highest number of definitions:
Set - 430 definitions
For example, one can set the alarm clock, set the table for dinner, set a new world record, set a date for a wedding, or watch the sun setting, and that's just the beginning!
Go - 368 definitions
One can go on a journey, go wild with excitement, or eat something on the go, in one go! Anything goes.
Take - 343 definitions
The meanings of the verb "take" alone span from "to carry or move something from one place to another" to "to be successful; to work."
Stand - 334 definitions
The verb "stand" can mean " to be on your feet; to be in a vertical position," but also describe having a particular attitude or opinion about something or towards somebody (as in "where do you stand on private education?").
Get - 289 definitions
One can "get" a great number of things: a call, a chance, a new job as well as the joke, the message (a different meaning already). Or, on the other end of the spectrum, one can also angrily ask somebody about what they are getting at.
Turn - 288 definitions
Probably one of the most famous uses of the word "turn" in the British context is the phrase "The lady's not for turning" used by Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister, in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference. The phrase referred to another interesting English word, "U-turn" which, in its turn, means "a complete change in policy or behaviour, usually one that is embarrassing."
Put - 268 definitions
Nowadays, "put" often replaces "set" in certain contexts. For example, one will rather "put" something down or "put" something on a table than "set" something down/on a table.
Fall - 264 definitions
Probably the quirkiest definition of "fall" to date is the one that refers to lambs being born.
Strike - 250 definitions
The first thing that comes to mind in association with the word "strike" is, of course, sports. However, there are more exotic meanings: for example, the noun "bird strike" which means "an occasion when a bird hits an aircraft."