About Word Counter

Word Counter is a Macintosh OS X application that performs a word count and a character count, but it can do much more. It can be used independently or in conjunction with other applications such as TextEdit, Microsoft Word, Pages, TextWrangler, and others.

Word Counter can automatically update the count based on a user-defined time interval. It can show the progress achieved towards a set goal for the total number of words and characters. It also can perform bulk counts on multiple files and folders simply by dropping them onto the window. Word Counter can count the number of times a particular word appears in a document. It can even create a sortable summary table of all words in the document, with the number of times each word appears and the length of each word. Word Counter can also calculate estimates for readability statistics using the well known Flesch-Kincaid readability formula and many others.

Word Counter can handle various file types including plain text (txt, text), rich text (rtf, rtfd), Hypertext Markup Language (htm, html), Microsoft Word (doc, docx), Microsoft Word XML (wordml), Apple's web archive (webarchive), the Adobe Portable Document Format (pdf), and others. This program may be useful for writing a manuscript or an abstract with a strict limit on the number of words or characters allowed.

A screen shot of the main window

System Requirements

Word Counter has been test on Macintosh OS X 10.5.8 and 10.6.8.


Unzip the archive and then copy the folder anywhere on your computer. The ideal location for Word Counter is in your Applications folder.

Basic Use

Using Word Counter is easy. Simply type, paste, or drag text into the main word counter window, then press the "Count Words" button. Word Counter will provide the word and character count for the text, and it will also count the number of instances of a specific word or phrase if specified (see below). Word and character counts are independent. Thus, if you choose to ignore a word based on some of the preference settings available, the characters from those words will still be included in the overall count.

Instances Count

Word Counter can provide a total for the number of times a certain word or phrase appears. This count will be displayed alongside the total count for words and characters.

A screen shot of the instances window

To perform an instances count, open the Instances Count window from the main menu and type in the desired word or phrase. Then choose the "Count Words" option. If the text area in the instances window is blank, Word Counter will return a count of 0. You can also choose whether Word Counter should consider the number of instances in a case-sensitive or case-insentive manner. With a case-sensitive count, the word "with" would be counted only once in this sentence if the search was case-sensitive since the first instance has a capital "W". In a case-insensitive count it would be counted twice in the preceding sentence since the case would be ignored. Additionally, Word Counter will consider any subset of text when it counts instances. Therefore, the word "count" would have two instances (case-insensitive) in the preceding sentence since it appears in both "Counter" and "counts".

If a word is entered in the Instances Count window it will be counted even if it otherwise would be ignored based on the word length of minor word preferences.

Word Frequencies

Word Counter also provides an interesting feature that summarizes the frequency of every word in a document.

A screen shot of the word frequency window

To use the frequency option, the document to be summarized must be open in either the main Word Counter window or in the TextEdit window (depending on the current data source for the counts). The Word Frequency window can be accessed from the main menu. Press the Count button to begin the analysis. Once the count is complete, Word Counter will display every word that appears in the document as well as how many times each word appears and how long each word is. Columns can be sorted by clicking on the column name/column header. This can be useful if you want to know how many words longer than 10 characters you are using, or to see if your choice of words may be repetitive.

Readability Statistics

Word Counter can provide various statistics to help judge the readability of text.

A screen shot of the readability statistics window

Many formulas exist to judge readability and caution must be exercised when applying a readability test to a document. Some tests are more appropriate for certain types of documents and it is important to think carefully when choosing a test. Some tests are better for text written at a grade school level, some are better for technical manuals, and some are considered flexible enough to judge the readability of almost any type of text.

Word Counter makes estimates for various elements of the text including the number of syllables and number of sentences. These estimates might deviate from counts done manually. In addition, even though many of the readability scores require a short passage of around 100 words, Word Counter will make its estimates based on the entire text. This should help average out any of the discrepancies in the estimates. In testing Word Counter and comparing the results to other online tools, some of the estimates were found to vary widely, probably because of differing underlying computer algorithms to make the estimates. Note that Word Counter includes all of the text every time it performs readability calculations, regardless of the preferences set for ignoring words based on length or the exclusion list.

Keep in mind that all of the measures are simply standardized ways to judge the readability of text and none are perfect, and their pros and cons have been debated for years. A 1939 article by Irving Lorge in The Elementary English Review appropriately states: "It seems reasonable to conclude that reading difficulty is a difficult criterion to define." If you would like to learn more about readability, there are multiple online references describing these measures and the appropriate uses for them. A very good reference is The Principles of Readability, by William H. DuBay.

Listed below are the various readability statistics that Word Counter provides, including the formulas used to calculate the results and the scoring references. These may deviate from other sources, and if you have any corrections or suggestions please contact the author of Word Counter.

     C     total characters in words
     DW     total difficult words (based on the 3,000 Dale-Chall Word List)
     EW     total easy words (based on the 3,000 Dale-Chall Word List)
     LW     long words (words with 7 or more characters)
     M     total monosyllabic words (words with 1 syllable)
     PSY     total polysyllabic words (words with 3 or more syllables)
     S     total sentences
     SW     short words (word with 3 or fewer characters)
     SY     total syllables
     U     unit sections, which are phrases ending in ! ? . : ; -
     UDW     total unique difficult words not in the Spache Word List
     UW     total unique words
     W     total words

Automated Readability Index
     (4.71 x (C / W)) + (0.5 x (W / S)) - 21.43

Coleman-Liau Index
     (5.89 x (C / W)) - (0.3 x (S / W)) - 15.8

Dale-Chall Readability Index
     (W / S x 0.0496) + (DW / W x 100 x 0.1579) + 3.6365

Dale-Chall Grade Level
     ≤ 4.9: 4 and below
     5.0-5.9: 5-6
     6.0-6.9: 7-8
     7.0-7.9: 9-10
     8.0-8.9: 11-12
     9.0-9.9: 13-15
     ≥ 10: 16

Degrees of Reading Power
     (100 x (1 - (0.886593 - (C/W) x 0.08364) + (0.161911 x (EW/W)3) - (0.021401 x (W/S)) + (0.000577 x (W/S)2) - (0.000005 x (W/S)3))))

Degrees of Reading Power Grade Level
     < 40: Less than 1
     40-43: 1
     44-47: 2
     48-49: 3
     50-51: 4
     52-53: 5
     54-55: 6
     56-57: 7
     58-59: 8
     60-61: 9
     62-63.0: 10
      63.1 - 65: 11-12
     > 65: Greater than 12

Fang Easy Listening Formula
     (SY - W) / S

Fang Easy Listening Interpretation
     < 12: Easy
     13-20: Standard
     > 20 Difficult

Farr-Jenkins-Patterson Score
     (159.9 x (M/W)) - (1.015 x (W/S)) - 31.517

Farr-Jenkins-Patterson Reading Ease
     0-29: Very Difficult
     51-59: Fairly Difficult
     60-69: Standard
     70-79: Fairly Easy
     80-89: Easy
     ≥ 90: Very Easy

Flesch Reading Ease Score
     206.835 - (1.015 x (W / S)) - (84.6 x (SY / W))

Flesch Reading Ease
     0-29: Very Difficult
     51-59: Fairly Difficult
     60-69: Standard
     70-79: Fairly Easy
     80-89: Easy
     ≥ 90: Very Easy

Flesch Reading Ease Grade Level
     0-29: College Graduate
     30-49: 13 to 16 (College)
     50-59: 10-12
     60-69: 8-9
     70-79: 7
     80-89: 6
     90-100: 5

Flesch Reading Ease Score
     206.835 - (1.015 x (W / S)) - (84.6 x (SY / W))

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
     0.39 x (W / S) + 11.8 x (SY / W) - 15.59

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age
     0.39 x (W / S) + 11.8 x (SY / W) - 10.59

Fry Readability Grade Level
     Please refer to chart, many of which are available online

Fry Readability Reading Age
     Please refer to chart, many of which are available online

FORCAST Grade Level
     20 - (M / ((W / 150) x 10))

FORCAST Reading Age
     25 - (M / ((W / 150) x 10))

Gunning Fog Index (FOG)
     0.4 x ((W / S) + (PSY / W x 100))

Gunning Fog Reading Age
     (0.4 x ((W / S) + (PSY / W x 100))) + 5

Henshall Formula
     -22.6 + (23.1 x [Farr-Jenkins-Patterson Score]) - (17.2 x [Gunning Fog Index])

Johnson Readability
     ((W - M) / W) x 100

Johnson Grade Level
     ≤ 14: Kindergarten or less
     14.1 - 16.1: 1
     16.2 - 18.0: 2
     18.1 - 20.2: 3
     20.3 - 23.2: 4
     23.3 - 25.1: 5
     25.2 - 26.5: 6
     26.6 - 28.3: 7
     > 28.3: 8 or higher

Lexical Density
     UW / W x 100

Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Index
     (W / S) + (100 x LW / W)

Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Readability
     0-24: Very Easy
     25-34 Easy
     35-44 Standard
     45-54 Difficult
     > 55: Very difficult
     80-89: 6
     90-100: 5

Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Grade Level
     < 34: Less Than 4
     34 - 37: 5
     38-40: 6
     41-43 7
     44 -47: 8
     48-50: 9
     51-53: 10
     54-56: 11
     ≥ 57: More than 11

Linsear Write Readability
     ((W - PSY) + (PSY x 3)) / S
     If result > 20, then divide by 2; If result is ≤ 20, subtract 2, then divide by 2

McAlpine EFLAW© Test
     (W + SW) / S

McAlpine EFLAW© Readability
     1-20: Easy
     21-25: Quite Easy
     26-29: Mildly Difficult
     ≥ 30: Very Confusing

Miyazaki EFL Readability Index
     164.935 - (18.792 x (C/W)) - (1.916 x (W/S))

Power-Sumner-Kearl Grade Level
     (0.778 x W / S) + (0.455 x SY / W x 100) - 2.2029

Power-Sumner-Kearl Reading Age
     (0.778 x W / S) + (0.455 x SY / W x 100) + 2.7971

Rate Index (RIX)
     LW / S

Rate (RIX) Grade Level
     0.00 - 0.19: 1
     0.20 - 0.49: 2
     0.50 - 0.79: 3
     0.80 - 1.29: 4
     1.30 - 1.79: 5
     1.80 - 2.39: 6
     2.40 - 2.99: 7
     2.30 - 3.69: 8
     3.70 - 4.49: 9
     4.50 - 5.29: 10
     5.30 - 6.19: 11
     6.20 - 7.19: 12
     ≥ 7.2: College

SMOG Score
     3.1291 + (1.043 x square root (PSY / S x 30))

SMOG Index
     3.0 + nearest perfect square (PSY / S x 30)

SMOG Reading Age
     5.0 + 3.0 + nearest perfect square (PSY / S x 30)

Spache Grade Level (Original)
     (0.141 x (W / S)) + (0.086 x (UDW / W) x 100) + 0.839

Spache Grade Level (Revised)
     (0.121 x (W / S)) + (0.082 x (UDW / W) x 100) + 0.659

Wheeler Smith Index
     ((W / M) - U) x 10

Wheeler Smith Grade Level
     < 4: Pre-Kindergarten
     4.0 - 8.0: Kindergarten
     8.1 - 11.5: 1
     11.6 - 19.0: 2
     19.1 - 26.5: 3
     26.5 - 34.5: 4
     > 34.5: Greater than 4

Progress Tracker

Using the Progress Tracker feature you can set a goal for the total number of words or characters you wish to type. Word Counter will then display the progress towards that goal in the small, floating Progress Tracker window. By default, a yellow warning icon will appear if you are at or above 90% of the goal and a red warning icon will appear if you exceed your goal (above 100%).

Type in a goal for Words, Characters, or Instances to track your progress

An example of the progress being tracked: the red icon lets you know that the goal has been exceeded whereas the yellow icon lets you know that you are within 90% of the goal

To change the defaults for the percentages for which the yellow or red icons should appear, click in the area shown above

A screen shot of the window where you can set the percentages for the limits beyond which the yellow or red warning icons will appear

Using Word Counter with Other Applications

Word Counter can be used in conjunction with various applications including TextEdit, Microsoft Word, Pages, TextWrangler, and others. Simply click on the Word Counter icon on the main Word Counter window. A small floating window will appear. Word Counter will then count the text in the chosen application. Apple's TextEdit application is the default, but you can change it to a different application in the Preferences section. To have Word Counter return to counting the text in the main Word Counter window, simply close the floating counting window, or press the Count Words button on the main Word Counter window.

If you are interested in having another program added to Word Counter's list of supported applications, please contact David Hanauer. Note that only certain AppleScript-aware applications are eligible for this functionality.

The horizontal floating window for TextEdit documents

The vertical floating window for TextEdit documents


Word Counter has several user modifiable preferences that can be changed through the Preferences window. Most options should be self-explanatory. The "minor words" feature is described below.

The preferences window

Minor Words

Word Counter can ignore minor words in the counts. These are ignored for both the word and character counts. This feature can be turned on or off in the preferences window. Furthermore, you can edit the list of minor words by clicking on the "Edit List" button in the preferences window. A screen shot of this window is below.

The window where the minor words list can be modified

Bulk Counts

Word Counter can perform bulk counts on multiple files sequentially. Results of the counts are displayed in a table as seen below.

The table that is displayed when multiple files are counted.

Dropping more than one file, or a single folder, onto the Word Counter window will cause Word Counter to display the multiple file count window. (Note: More than one folder can also be dropped onto the window at the same time). You can also display the multiple file count window by choosing it from the menu or pressing the associated keyboard shortcut. A progress bar at the top of the window provides feedback about how far along Word Counter is in working through the files. Each row in the table represents a single file. The file name, word count, and character count are displayed. Additionally, a running total of the counts for all of the files is shown at the bottom of the table. The total number of files in the table is displayed in the window's title bar area. To reset the running total and remove the files from the table, simply press the "Clear" button. Otherwise, dropping more files onto the multiple file count window will cause the counts to be displayed in the table instead of the main window. To learn more about any file in the table, simply double click on the file or choose the "More Info" option from the menu. This will cause a small information window (see below) to be displayed which has details about the file, including it's entire file path. If a file type that Word Counter does not handle is being handled by the multiple file count window, it is simply ignored silently so that the counts of the other appropriate files can proceed. If Word Counter is unable to open or process any files, a warning message will be displayed when the counting is complete.

The More Info window, which displays details about a selected file in the multiple file count table

Supported File Types

Word Counter can load numerous file types either into the main window or via bulk counts. These include plain text (txt), rich text (rtf, rtfd), Hypertext Markup Language (htm, html), Microsoft Word (doc, docx), Microsoft Word XML (wordml),OpenDocument Text (odt), Apple's web archive (webarchive), active server pages (asp), cascading style sheets (css), java (java), javascript (js), java server pages (jsp), hypertext preprocessor (php), perl (pl), ruby (rb), and extensible markup language (xml). For html documents, only those words that would normally appear on the web page are counted; for the other files related to programming languages, all of the words in the document are counted.

A note about how Word Counter works

Word Counter only works for the English language. It may (or may not) work for other languages, so I suggest you try it first before relying on it. It is too difficult for me to ensure that the program works for any language other than English.

Word Counter should generally be thought of as providing a very close estimate of the true word and character count, but counts may differ depending on what program is used. Word Counter bases its word and character counts mainly on how AppleScript defines a word and a character. This actually differs depending on the version of OS X that you use. OS X 10.4 defines characters such as the ampersand ("&") as a word whereas OS X 10.5 does not. Phrases such as "Mr. Watson -- come here!" will only result in 4 words using Word Counter. Microsoft Word will consider that phrase to have 5 words since the dashes ("--") are separated on both side by white space. In the end the differences between the word counting features of different programs will likely be small, but it is best to try out a few short examples to make sure that this program works in the way you intended.

You may sometimes notice a difference in counts in Word Counter when counting Microsoft Word documents depending on if you click the "Count Words" button from the floating window versus dropping a file onto the Word Counter window or performing a Bulk Count on multiple documents. The reason is because the former method basic "asks" Microsoft Word for the words to count whereas the second method uses a different technology for extracting the Words. Microsoft Word sometimes does not include all of the words in figures in the documents when performing a word count and this is reflected in the difference.

Word Counter was written using a part of the Apple Xcode development environment known as AppleScript Studio. This means that the application itself is written using the AppleScript programming/scripting language but also relies heavily on various unix programs (sed, tr, grep, and others) "under the hood" for some of the heavy duty text manipulation.

How much does Word Counter cost?

Word Counter is free.

However, comments would be most appreciated. For those that wish to make a donation, you can do so on the supermagnus.com website. Or, why not consider purchasing one of my screensavers which I sell to help cover web-hosting and development costs.

Legal issues

Word Counter is provided "as is" and no guarantee is made as to its function or any problems that occur as a result of its use.


There is no warranty for this program.

Known Issues

Additional Customization

Word counter has a few options where are modifiable but not through the Preferences window. These options will not likely be important to the average user:
  1. Default fonts: You can change the default fonts for both the rich text and plain text options. You can find these option in the "Word Counter Preferences" file in your ~/Library/Preferences/ folder in your Home folder. Each line has a preference name on the left side (which you should not modify), and a varable on the right side, separated by an asterisk ("*"). To change the name of the plain text font, for example, you need to find the line that starts out with "PlainTextFont*" and then change the name of the font to the right of the asterisk. The default is Monaco, but you should be able to change it to any font you want, as long as you have the font installed on your computer. If you type something incorrectly you will likely cause an error in Word Counter.
  2. Modifying CPU usage: Word Count, by default, updates itself internally every 1 second, which can cause more CPU usage than some might wish to allow. If you have the program set to update the count automatically every 1 second then there is no way to avoid this. However, if you don't use the option to automatically update the word count, then the extra CPU usage can be decreased substantially. To do so, locate the "Word counter Prefereces" file, as described above. Look for the preference name called" "autoCountSecondsDefault*" Modify the number to the right to change the number of second between when Word Counter auto-updates itself. The one downside to doing this is that if you do turn on the auto-word count option, you may have to wait longer until it turns on.

Future Directions

I now consider Word Counter to be a "mature" application. It does its job very well and likely meets the needs of the average user. Thus, there will be fewer changes and additions over time. I have no intention for Word Counter to become a full-fledged text editor--there are already a lot of wonderful (and free) text editors available for OS X.

The current version (2.10.1) will likely be the final version. If anyone is interested in a partnership to develop the code further, possibly as an open-source project, please contact David Hanauer

Version History

Version 2.10.1 (February 16, 2013): Version 2.10 (February 02, 2009): Version 2.9 (October 06, 2008): Version 2.8 (August 12, 2008): Version 2.7.1 (May 19, 2008): Version 2.7 (February 25, 2008): Version 2.6 (December 19, 2007): Version 2.5 (September 10, 2007): Version 2.4 (May 01, 2007): Version 2.3 (April 09, 2007): Version 2.2.1 (February 12, 2007): Version 2.2 (September 26, 2006): Version 2.1.1 (April 04, 2006): Version 2.1 (January 16, 2006): Version 2.0 (October 24, 2005): Version 1.9 (September 26, 2005): Version 1.8.1 (July 29, 2005): Version 1.8 (May 09, 2005): Version 1.7 (February 01, 2005): Version 1.6 (January 04, 2005): Version 1.5 (October 18, 2004): Verison 1.4 (July 14, 2003): Version 1.3 (April 7, 2003): Version 1.2 (March 30, 2003): Version 1.1 (March 16, 2003): Version 1.0 (March 8, 2003):


I would like to thank the numerous users who provided bug reports and interesting suggestions for enhancing this application.


If you find Word Counter useful let me know!

Send e-mail to David Hanauer: david@supermagnus.com