I 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. 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!