Word frequency data

Overall, the wordlists from the British National Corpus (list 1 / list 2) are quite good. However, because there are some important differences between COCA and the BNC in terms of size and how recent the corpora are, and so the BNC may not be as accurate for low-frequency words and for new words in the language. Note also that the wordlists from the BNC (list 1 / list 2) do not provide anything beyond the bare wordlist -- no collocates, no synonyms, etc -- and therefore no indication of the meaning and use of the words.

Overall, for the top 5,000 words there is about a 10% difference between the the COCA and the BNC wordlists (see explanation of methodology below), beyond spelling differences (favo(u)rite, program(me), categori[s/z]e, etc). Things get somewhat more problematic at lower levels, where the BNC lists diverge 30-35% from what is found in the COCA lists.

Some differences in the wordlists are related to culture, society, politics, or current events (e.g. Am Republican, congressional, baseball, Iraqi; Br Tory, parliamentary, Victorian), some are just different words for the "same" concept (e.g. store/shop, attorney/solicitor, apartment/flat, mom/mum), and some words in COCA (1990-2019) refer to things that are too new to have made it into the pre-1993 BNC (e.g. web, Internet, high-tech, online).

+American (COCA) / -British (BNC)

The following are just a sampling of the words that are much more common in COCA than in the BNC. In all cases, the word is at least twice as far down the list in the BNC wordlist as in COCA (e.g. #2000 in COCA, #5000 in BNC).

Verb: call, report, focus, guess, sign, step, figure, roll, fire, hire, file, oppose, wrap, interview, accomplish, testify, bake, track, evolve, violate, target, pitch, flip, ruin, hike, invade

Noun: student, president, percent, kid, guy, nation, photo, arm, American, Republican, phone, movie, store, lawyer, Democrat, professor, expert, senator, break, camera, coach, item, mom, dream, attorney, scientist, web, camp, truck, apartment, bowl, baseball, internet, basketball

Adjective: American, federal, tough, native, Iraqi, crazy, smart, Israeli, Mexican, congressional, elementary, online, gifted, athletic, ongoing, African-american, suburban, Hispanic, scary, high-tech, cute, nonprofit, immigrant, skeptical, aging, low-income, interstate

+British (BNC) / -American (COCA)

The following are just a sampling of the words that are much more common in the BNC than in COCA. In all cases, the word is at least twice as far down the list in the COCA wordlist as in the BNC (e.g. #2000 in the BNC, #5000 in COCA).

Verb: ensure, suppose, regard, voice, bind, retain, undertake, phone, wan, allocate, knit, book, abolish, envisage, incur, fancy, commence, enclose, enquire, sack, adjourn, tidy, query, retort, queue, nick, remand, smelt

Noun: council, minister, union, pound, scheme, shop, principle, village, provision, sector, appeal, parliament, mum, tea, lord, cabinet, pension, flat, expenditure, solicitor, coal, crown, castle, pub, parish, tenant, councillor, countryside, plaintiff, autumn, cottage

Adjective: British, European, English, royal, French, industrial, Scottish, lovely, working, bloody, parliamentary, alright, statutory, keen, Welsh, Tory, socialist, unemployed, delighted, Victorian, liable, superb, working-class, compulsory, splendid, post-war, dreadful, redundant, inland, wee