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10 Trending Words That Aren’t in Your Dictionary


Welcome to the first post in English written by Yentelman, the blogger who's been helping Spanish students with their English (and even their Spanish!) for quite a few years now. I was asked by my friends here at Ginseng English to adapt a few of my posts to English and—this being something that had been in my mind for some time— what could I say but "of course!" So, here we are. And, what am I going to talk about? Well, there were plenty to choose from but, considering the time of the year we're in, why not have a look at the most surprising words trending from 2017? (Note: You can read the original article in Spanish here). analysed the top 10 trending words in 2017. But not just any trending word—only those that are not currently included in the dictionary. We'll explain here what those events or movements were that made these words "go viral." Let's see!

1. Antifa


OK, as some of you may know—or may have already noticed—I'm a Spaniard. And this term, antifa, is fairly well-known in my mother tongue, as it has the same meaning, and is quite trendy as well. The Antifa movement in the USA, though, is slightly different from the one in Spain. It is a conglomerate of several anti-fascist (hence anti-fa) groups, with no formal organization nor official leader. With the antifa movement being quite active and on the rise in my home country, we Spaniards tend to believe that Anglo-Saxon countries are not so keen on them. Quite the opposite, the antifa movement is quite active overseas, and is composed of people from different ideologies, mainly anarchists, socialists and communists, but there are also liberals and social-democrats among their ranks. An odd mixture, tbh.

The main reasons for this trending word in 2017 were the numerous violent protests and demonstrations carried out during the summer in cities such as Charlottesville, Phoenix and Berkeley. The first one was particularly infamous due to the brutal confrontations between Antifa and white supremacists. Donald Trump has also been known to talk a lot about Antifa. So, there's another good reason for this word to be trending in 2017, just like our next word...

2. Covfefe

Trump Covfefe Tweet

Now, there's this term I absolutely love in the English language: brain fart. That is NOT our next trending word, but it does accurately describe this and other statements from the current U.S. president. Donald Trump's famous tweet was published on May 31, 2017, and it immediately became the trending word of the moment. Half of Twitter and journalists from all over the world couldn't make up their minds as to whether it was a joke or he had really meant to send some obscure message to the reptilian government in the shadows.

Even the famous Merriam Webster dictionary—frequent fact-checker and internet troll to The Donald—was left speechless for once (see Tweet to the right).

To this day, we still don't know what the heck Donald Trump meant to say with that word. The most likely explanation is that covfefe was a typo of coverage (negative press coverage is a common phrase), but instead of clarifying, the president’s press secretary cryptically said “a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” Anyway, it was worth it if only for the LOLs.

3. Cuck

Short for cuckold, this term has clearly pejorative and negative connotations. A cuckold is a husband who has been cheated on. The word stems from a 13th century poem, and is derived from cuckoo, the well known bird you can find in the clock of the same name. It wasn't until 2014 that the shortened cuck started getting popular on the Internet, too as an insult aimed at a certain type of male.

Here I intended to include a pic for cuck, but it just so happens that cuck is also a porn subgenre, and my safesearch was not enabled...

Here I intended to include a pic for cuck, but it just so happens that cuck is also a porn subgenre, and my safesearch was not enabled...

According to Michael Adams, professor of linguistics at Indiana University, shortening the term so it rhymes with fuck makes it more visceral. According to Adams, the name makes reference to a man "who’s timid, deferential and lacking in toughness and conviction […] it says you’re an unnatural man, someone who can’t stand for himself […] He’s inadequate, unable to hold on to what’s his."

Donald Trump is again behind cuck becoming one of the top trending words in 2017. This is a word that you might want to avoid using. It has become the insult of choice for members of the so-called Alt-Right (another one of the most looked up words), a political group composed of racists and fascists.

4. Despacito

Yep, kids. The title of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's song is the fourth word in this list. I guess it was because of the version with that tool Justin Bieber in it. Yeah, I know I should now include the song's video-clip and all that, but I can't be arsed. I'd rather you guys listened to a couple of my favourite versions of the song. Cue video!

You may not find the definition of despacito in an English dictionary, but it translates to slowly.

5. Fidget spinner

Can you believe these things existed as far back as 1993? You wouldn't guess, judging by how recently they have become the most sought-after toy in 2017. Who knows why. Truth is, fidget spinners have become so popular among kids (and adults!) that many education institutions have decided to ban their use in class. Fidgeting is moving around restlessly, like many kids do when they’re bored at school. These spinning objects were sold as toys that can help kids to focus by using up their nervous energy.

Fidget Spinner

6. Hygge


A post shared by Calzitalia (Brescia-Italia) (@calzitalia_brescia) on

Am I an influencer yet?

No, when we talk about hygge we are not talking about the latest IKEA chair or wardrobe. This one's a Danish word, used to describe a special feeling or moment as cozy, charming, or special. Look it up in Google Images and you'll likely start puking rainbows.

It seems there's no direct translation for this term in English (there isn't one in my mother tongue either). We'd be speaking about a feeling, a sentiment or emotion. It is this lack of an exact definition and the association of the word with nice thoughts and ideas which made this a top trending word in 2017. Why? Because some sly marketing experts realized they could capitalize on this word to sell Americans basically everything, from wine to self-help books, wool sweaters, age treatment oils, idyllic holidays and even dog leashes.

7. Smize

You NEED to be Tyra Banks, otherwise it's not the same.

You NEED to be Tyra Banks, otherwise it's not the same.

This is a portmanteau word created by supermodel Tyra Banks and meaning "smile with one's eyes". There's even a Wikihow guide on how to do it.

The thing is, it was actually 2009 when Tyra coined the term. Why, then, has this become a trending word in 2017? Easy: by the end of July 2017, the model introduced her 18-month-old toddler into society. Up to that point, the kid had been left outside the spotlight. So Tyra came up and said that her baby already knew how to smize, and it promptly went viral. You can see for yourself in the video below.

Yeah, I know. The kid in the pic appears to be more stoic than Steven Seagal in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. But he is smizing! He's smiling with his eyes! For fuck's sake, can't you see?

Meh, who am I kidding. I wasn't able to look away from that dress either.

8. Turnt

An example of teenage slang that shows the influence of social networks and everything social-media related on youngsters today. This term is used to express great excitement, anticipation or enthusiasm for an upcoming event. It is, allegedly, a variant of turned. Even though it first became popular in the music world around 2013, it's been this year when teenagers have really adopted it as their own and made it a trending word.

9. Vax

giphy (1).gif

Short for vaccination, this expression has been widely used in 2017, the year when the so-called anti-vaxxers have finally exhausted the patience of many governments in Europe and around the world, who have started fining those irresponsible parents who decide not to vaccinate their children.

Using unfounded and outlandish arguments such as the one in the gif above ("vaccines cause autism in children"), the anti-vax movement is behind the recent outbreak of diseases such as measles, mumps or polio in many countries who had successfully managed to eradicate them long ago. This link will take you to a detailed map of the evolution of these diseases, so you can see what I'm talking about.

Just so you know, I don't usually discuss my beliefs openly on such topics as religion, politics, sports or adding chorizo to paella. But I'll be crystal clear this time: If you are an anti-vaxxer and my comments offend you, I don't give a frag. 

10. Welp

Let's get this over with already, shan't we? The last top trending word of 2017 is another teenage slang term you can frequently find in that new agora of culture and knowledge: Twitter (yes, I'm being sarcastic). It is said that welp is the oral way of expressing what is implied by a shrug. Actually, it is just an informal synonym for well when conveying surprise or shock at something, as well as an interjection to start a conversation or introduce a new sentence. For example:

"Welp, what have we here? "  Star Wars reference nº 4,815,162,342

"Welp, what have we here?Star Wars reference nº 4,815,162,342

Its use is becoming more and more popular, to the point that Merriam Webster (yes, the guys who bust Trump's stones) is thinking about including the term among their pages. However, until that happens, it is still little more than internet slang, even if it's older than most people are aware of.


So that's it. I hope you liked the post and, just in case… is there a word you have been reading or listening to a lot this year which has not been included here? Any you've been using a lot lately while not being sure if you're pulling a Donald Trump? Don't be shy and let us know!

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Most Common English Verb Tenses


Most Common English Verb Tenses

English Verb Form Frequency

We spend a lot of time in English class studying all the different verb tenses. I can't tell you how many times my students have asked me, "How often do we really use the future perfect progressive???" My answer is usually that it is very rare, but it's meaningful, and it can be helpful to understanding how the past perfect progressive works as well. But that really is a good question:

How often do we use each verb tense in English?

Let's start by saying that there is no one answer. As you may know, the English we use for speaking is different from the English we use in writing. There are many different situations to be speaking or writing in, and in each of those situations we would see different verb frequencies. Even from person to person, our individual speaking style might lead one person to use, for example, the present tense more often than another person. We can, however, observe some useful patterns.

The 5 Most Common English Verb Tenses

If you are looking for a quick answer, here it is:

5 Most Common English Verb Tenses
# Tense Frequency
1 Simple Present 57.51%
2 Simple Past 19.7%
3 Simple Future 8.5%
4 Present Perfect 6.0%
5 Present Progressive 5.1%

Some quick insights from the top 5:

  • The simple present accounts for more than half of the verbs in English speech

  • The 5 most common verb tenses total up to over 95% of usage

  • The simple tenses are the top three verb tenses

For a more in-depth analysis, read on!

The Source Material

For this post, I looked at an interesting research study by Krámský (1969). Krámský took several different samples of three different styles (or registers) of English—novels, plays, and specialized (academic and technical) texts. He analyzed 20,000-word samples from each text, counting each form of each verb, and sharing all his data.

His results are complex, and grouped in ways that might not be too helpful, but I have tried to regroup them and show them in charts that are more useful for language teachers and learners.

Before we look at some of those patterns, I want to include a caveat, or warning. When compared to all the language in the world, Krámský's sample is actually very, very small. Ideally, we would get this information from a larger base of language called a corpus, like the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Unfortunately, information of this kind is currently difficult (if not impossible) to get from most corpora. Still, the general proportions and patterns that Krámský found should be fairly accurate. The one other warning is that the texts Krámský used as samples of spoken (or colloquial) English are actually plays, written to sound like spoken English. It is very possible that examples of actual spoken English would be different from the language found in the plays.

Ok, now let's get to the fun stuff!

Verb Tense Frequency

First, I've broken each text type down by verb tense: past, present, and future:

As you can see, there are some big differences between different text types. Spoken English is mostly in the present tense (68.9%), but fiction is mostly past tense (57.6%). Specialized texts overwhelmingly use the present tense (87.1%).

This makes a lot of sense. In fiction, we generally tell stories that take place before: first this happened, then that happened, then that happened. When we speak, though, we talk a lot more about what we think and feel and like, what we do, who people are, our experiences and all of these things are expressed in the present tense. In specialized texts, we are often writing about things that are generally true, and here again, we use the present tense a lot.

The future tense is less used in all text types: 9% in speech, 2% in fiction, and 4% in specialized texts.

This table breaks down each tense by frequency in all three text types:

Usage of Verb Tenses by Frequency in each Genre
Tense Speech Fiction SPecialized
Present 68.9% 40.3% 87.1%
Past 22.4% 57.6% 8.7%
Future 8.7% 2.1% 4.3%

Verb Aspect Frequency

The tenses are easy enough—past, present, future—but the really tricky thing about learning English verbs is the four aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. Thankfully, there isn't as much difference between the different styles of English when it comes to aspect. Take a look:

The charts look generally the same. In every style of English, the simple aspect—simple present, simple past, and simple future—makes up over 85% of verbs that we use. The lesser-used aspects all fall in the same order: after simple, it's perfect, then progressive, then perfect progressive gets a tiny little sliver of use.

Most Used Tenses and Aspects

5 verb forms make up 96% of all verbs in spoken English.

I think this may be one of the most useful insights from Krámský's work for teachers and students. Although there are 12 tense/aspect combinations in English, 5 of these cover around 96% of spoken English.

Notice that the simple present alone accounts for 57% of verbs. Next is the simple past (19.7%), then simple future (8.5%), followed by present perfect (6.0%) and then present progressive (5.1%). If you want to know which verb tenses to learn first, these five will definitely give you the most bang for your buck!

The remaining 7 tense/aspect combinations are each under 1.5% of spoken English verbs. Of course, it is valuable to learn all the combinations, but if you want to prioritize the most useful verb tenses, this should be helpful.

Active and Passive Voice

The passive voice is another of those constructions that challenges students and leads to the question, how useful is this? Well, again, Krámský's work gives us some idea how useful they are. Here is a breakdown of active and passive constructions in the three registers: 

The vast majority of verbs in English are in the active voice.

It is not surprising that the vast majority of verbs are active. The most important takeaways that I see are these: 97.5% of verbs in spoken English are active, but the passive voice is much more common in specialized and academic texts, in which only 82.2% of sentences are active.

Complete Table of Most Common Verb Tenses in English

Usage of Verb Tenses by Frequency in Spoken English
# Tense Frequency
1 Simple Present 57.51%
2 Simple Past 19.7%
3 Simple Future 8.5%
4 Present Perfect 6.0%
5 Present Progressive 5.1%
6 Past Progressive 1.4%
7 Past Perfect 1.2%
8 Present Perfect Progressive 0.7%
9 Future Perfect 0.2%
10 Future Progressive >0.1%
11 Past Perfect Progressive >0.1%
12 Future Perfect Progressive >0.1%

If you found this useful, please share the images or the link and tag us! #ginsenglish and @ginsenglish. 

More free grammar resources:


Level:  B1+
Topics:  Grammar, Verbs



Nonexistent Words

Last week, published a fun list of words that don't exist. What does that mean? Well, they're not just random letters, they are words that you might expect to exist because of other words that look like their opposites. Confused? Here's an example.


Discombobulated is a real word in English. Usually when we add the prefix dis-, we are creating the opposite of another word. For example, we can take agree, add dis-, and we get the opposite: disagree. Right? This works for lots of words: appear/disappear, approve/disapprove, believe/disbelieve, connect/disconnect. But discombobulate is funny, because combobulate is not a word. It doesn't exist.


Here's another one. We can add the suffixes -less and -ful to many nouns to turn them into adjectives. A person with no hope is hopeless. A person with lots of hope is hopeful. Something that causes no pain is painless, and something that causes a lot of pain is painful. Other examples are fear/fearless/fearful, care/careless/careful, color/colorless/colorful, use/useless/useful.

But we have another word in English: reckless. Reckless is similar in meaning to careless. Based on the pattern we looked at, you might think that reck is a noun and reckful is the opposite of reckless. But, as always, learning English is crazy, and reckful and reck do not exist in English.

A few more:

Disheveled is an adjective meaning not neat. But sheveled does not exist.

Nonchalant means cool, relaxed, and calm. But chalant does not exist.

Disgust is a strong feeling of unpleasantness or sickness. But gust does not exist.

Check the original post at for more! Can you add any in the comments?

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Nonexistent Antonyms - Ginseng English