What keeps us going through the day? Food, water and words. Food and water you know about, but words like the English language? How many do you ordinarily use?

Teenagers have about 10,000 words in their brains, while adults average 20,000 or even 30-40,000. Word choices are affected by lifestyle such as careers, education, interests, and where individuals live in the world. English can seem like no big deal. Or is it and from where?

“English is a crazy language, and has acquired the largest vocabulary and the noblest literature in the history of the human race,” says Richard Lederer, with “Anguish English,” his best known book about language.

“Still, you have to wonder about a language in which your house can burn up and down at the same time, you fill in a form by filling it out, you add up a column of figures by adding them down, and you first chop down a tree, and then you chop it up,” he says.

The English language lives, changes and grows often with humor. My sister, Elizabeth Miles Jacobelli, recently sent a quote showing an example of puns:

“If you notice cows sleeping in a field, does that mean it is pasture bedtime?” We have had fun with the third longest (34 letters) word used in the 1964 popular movie, “Mary Poppins” — supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Among the total of 6,500 languages used in today’s world, 12 top the list. English is the biggest — 1.132 billion speakers. The next four include Mandarin Chinese (1.117 billion), Hindi (615 million), Spanish (534 million), and French (280 million).

Our major language is far from perfect with many weird differences. French “borrowed” words often add elegance and romance, especially when attached to Latin, a language from ancient Rome.

German, Dutch and Anglo-Saxon words have given many roots to English, while Latin and Greek words enhance ours with intellectual or academic polish. The English word father has similarities with German vater, French pere, Latin pater and Greek pateras.

The oldest languages, Sumerian and Egyptian, began about 3200 B.C. with Chinese following in 1500 B.C. English started in the fifth century A.D. with three phases since: Old English until the Norman Conquest in 1066; Middle English until Shakespeare’s classic writing period when Modern English began in 1600s.

English-speakers 200 years ago used one-tenth of the words we use today. Many words change drastically making our language different year after year.

Does English baffle you? It does me, but my curiosity wins. Words have drawn from 350 other languages, according to Richard Nordquist on ThoughtCo. Since the fifth century, English totals about 1,022,000 words with 1,000 to 5,000 more added each year. The language includes different forms, such as archaic words unused today.

The largest dictionary in the world is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which began research in 1857. Early, limited publications began in 1895, but the first total edition was published in 1928 with 10 volumes.

Since English keeps growing, a second edition was published in 1989 with 20 volumes and 21,728 pages. A third edition was about half way done in 2018 and continuing.

Single supplement OED books came out in 1933. Today they include approximately 273,000 words, 171,476 of them in current use; 47,156 obsolete words with around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries.

From the beginning, OED never deleted words entered over the past 160 years, but active words make up the smaller supplement dictionaries. Electronic dictionary versions became available in 1988.

Language is wired with grammar, something we tend to ignore. Elementary school kids, like us back then, pay little attention to grammar until older. When aware, we can make words more effective. They can change and grow more complex, or fade over time.

It impresses me that writing done long ago can sometimes be understood today. Think of Shakespeare’s 17th century’s work when Modern English started.

Correct grammar makes speeches and writing easier to understand. If incorrect, it can distract. Learning grammar makes English stronger and more comfortable.

Two grammatical examples when misused bug me — commas and pronouns. I had to learn about them, but still make mistakes myself. These very brief examples hint about dealing with English to make it more comprehensive and engaging.

Misplaced commas in a contract can cost big money. If used properly, commas indicate certain separations of language and can prevent misunderstandings. More common are daily misunderstood commas like “Let’s eat, Grandma!” or “Let’s eat Grandma!”

Pronouns are often used incorrectly or in the wrong place. “Ryan and me gave a party for my husband and I.” First try “I gave a party for me.” Then make an easier version with the correct sentence and no distraction. “Ryan and I gave a party for my husband and me.”

Patricia T. O’Conner’s updated grammar book “Woe Is I” helps clear uncertainty. “I” is the right way instead of “Woe Is Me.” The verb “to be” requires subject pronouns on each side, different from most other verbs but common. The objective pronoun “me” shows another common misuse.

O’Conner says, “And let’s face it, English is screwy. Bright educated technologically savvy people who can run a computer spread sheet with their toes are heard every day saying things like: ‘Come to lunch with the boss and I.’ Take out ‘the boss and’ to see the mistaken use of “I.”

Learning and using English language with its endless complexities enriches communication. O’Conner says: “Believe me, it’s worth the effort. Life might be easier if we all spoke Latin. But the quirks, the surprises, the ever-hanging nature of English — these are the differences between a living language and a dead one.”

Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.