Using a concordancer to check collocations


Using a concordancer to check collocations

Understanding common word combinations (


) is a key aspect of vocabulary learning, and already on this course you will have become aware of the importance of recording the relationships between words in your notebooks. But how do we check collocation? How do we find out how strongly different words collocate? Dictionaries may help to a certain extent, though most of the time you will have to rely on your ability to 'notice' language in context and then record it in a structured way. Getting into good habits as a learner is the key to success. One interesting resource available to students, teachers and researchers is online concordancers. A concordancer is a piece of software which searches huge 'banks' of real written and spoken language (corpora) and presents the language you are searching for in context. This worksheet is an introduction and will help you to:  generate a list of

authentic example sentences


a word in context

 find out how to search

adjective-noun collocations

, and see

how frequently

certain words occur together

Let's have a go.

 Click on the following link to access the BYU-British National Corpus: .

You can use the website for free, but after 15 uses, you will need register an account

(for free).

 Start by

reading the introduction.

A Basic Search

 Type the word you want to research in


on the left hand side of the page. Click


. For example, the word:


example sentences  Click on the word under


to find a list of

example sentences (a concordance)

of your word in context. Just from these lines you can learn much about how the word is used, e.g. grammar patterns, verb/noun collocations etc.

A more advanced search

 To focus in on a specific collocation pattern go back to the left hand side and


on the small

question mark (?)

opposite collocates.  We are interested in the word immediately before generation so click on

1 and 0

in the two drop down menus.  Now click on the

? opposite POS

. We are interested in

adjective noun combinations

, so choose


from the drop down menu.  Click


to reveal the concordance results organised by frequency.

As we can see


is the most frequent collocation.


is another high frequency collocation. Click on the word


to display a concordance list of example sentences. By reading the examples we can understand it is a synonym for


. Now, let's check what collocates go with an adjective we've just learnt today.  Type


into the


box. You will have to make a change to the


box (


) and change




in the drop down menus above, because now you are searching for an adjective-noun collocation.  What are the top 5 most frequent collocations for


? Write them in the space below.  Follow the same method and check collocations for


Remember once you have the results, click on the words under


to bring up the concordance lines with example sentences. Use the same method for some of the other topical adjectives and nouns you learn. Write down some useful results your vocabulary notebook. Remember to think about

how these words are used in context and record your own examples which will be useful for you or connected to your subject area.