Six most frequent collocations in English

Photo from Morguefile.comI found this list in the October 2008 English Language Teaching Journal. It’s based on the ten million word spoken section of the British National Corpus. The research was done by Dongkwang Shin and Paul Nation, two experts in applied linguistics from Victoria University in Wellington. To know all the ins-and-outs of how they got the list I’d recommend reading the article. For those of you who, like me, just want the top six here they are.

1. ย you know – 27348 occurences

2. I think (that) – 25862 occurences

3. a bit – 7766 occurances

4. always used to / never used to – 7663 occurences

5. as well – 5754 occurences

6. a lot of – 5750 occurences

I personally think that this list is much more interesting and potentially useful than the six most frequent words in English. As a materials writer, it makes me think of what to include in low level texts and listening comprehension activities. As a teacher, it makes me think about what to point out to my students and encourage them to remember. As an English speaker, I find it interesting to think we use “used to” so much.

I had toyed with trying to come up with a short text which included all these collocations, but I thought I’d leave that to someone else on the comments below. Go for it!

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Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Am I the only to be surprised that “F*ck *ff” is not there? Where I grew up, it was often the only expression you’d hear, apart from the usual neanderthal grunts and squeals.

    Yeh, it was real tough back in Chingford then.

    • You’re quite right Sandy about the conspicuous absence of swear words from many of these frequency lists. On that wordcount thing “fuck” is 5598. In some places that would seem around 5000 words off the mark.

  2. Makes me wonder how many occurences there are of “occurance”?
    ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Actually, in answer to that question there were a staggering 938,000 occurences of “occurance” on a Google search! At least mine is no longer one of them now ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Gulp! Thank you Scott for the friendly (freindly) editing! For those of you wondering…I had made a mistake on a rather key word in that post which just goes to show that in the cut and thrust world of the blogosphere all is possible.
    One day someone is going to present me with my very own “Six Clangers on the Six Things Site”. Hopefully it won’t be at a conference…
    At least it’s been rectified now. Phew. Only a few hundred people saw it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Lindsay,

    These kinds of collocation lists are utterly frustrating because they’re just lists with numbers behind them.

    And yah, Sandy, I’m with you for once, re the F**k off comment -that’s truly, unfortunately, what I think whenever I see these posted up in journals or powerpointed to death at conferences.

    ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Noticing the frequency does not equal usefulness.

    My question to those who create these corpus is:

    Are they cross-checking them against other frequency lists in other languages?

    Is there a relationship? If so, is this a psychological or social-linguistic link? If not, why does it occur?

    Are the corpus makers amassing statistical data on the effectiveness of producing these lists and presenting them to students?

    Do the students need to specifically see and learn these or does it happen fairly naturally – if so, under what circumstances?

    What are teachers expected to do with these collocative lists other than notice how groovy they are?

    This issue needs in-depth coverage.

    In my opinion, if teaching business people for example, rather than banging on about how popular “I think that” is (er… who isn’t using that naturally once out of pre-int), we should really concentrate on chunks or units of language that our students can actually put to use.

    I’ll just throw out some random lexical units that came out of class this morning:

    .fiscal responsibility/irresponsibility
    .fiscal stimulus
    .consumer demand
    .consumer oriented
    .tackle opportunities
    .create new business opportunities

    Given today’s climate – a much more useful list.

    Karenne
    -p.s. Forgive the bluntness -collocation lists are a pet peeve.

    • Ooh… looks like I’ve got to get a move on with my “six critical questions about frequency”! I can see many of us are on the same wavelength. I’ve taken to calling this the frequency fashion. It’s fashionable, it has merit in many ways but the filtering down to the classroom bit is still …. well let’s say the jury is still out.

  5. Isn’t “the” the most used word in the English Language? Something Korean students think is just decoration.

  6. Oh! I forgot to include, lexical units are much better than long lists of words Korean students must memorize. I am disillusioned with the Korean Elementary School System school boards, who keep advocating this together with roudy game playing not related to anything. 50 years from now Koreans will still be wondering why their citizens cannot speak good English.


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