Sunday, April 28, 2013

Finding language in context - 'academic' words

King's College, Cambridge - photo by Andrew Dunn at Wikimedia Commons
This post helps you find collocations and examples in context of the most common so-called academic words, based on The Academic Word List (see below). You can:
  • look up the words in a selection of dictionaries
  • look for collocations and real life example sentences with Just the Word
  • look for real life examples on a variety of websites using Google Site Search.

But I'm not interested in academic English!

These words don't only appear in academic texts. They are more generally used in 'educated' English, and so appear frequently in newspaper and magazine articles, etc, and in TV news and documentary broadcasts. They are therefore useful for any advanced students wishing to increase their vocabulary, and especially useful if they are considering doing any advanced exams.

Friday, April 19, 2013

On the other hand ...

You are all no doubt aware of the double linking device - On the one hand ... on the other (hand) ... used to contrast two ideas, for example:
On the one hand we could try that new restaurant on Park Street. On the other, we could just stay at home and order a pizza.
But can we use just on the other hand without the introductory On the one hand? Can we say:
We could try that new restaurant on Park Street. On the other hand we could just stay at home and order a pizza.
I asked some of my students this question the other day. How do you think they answered? How would you answer?

Phrasal verbs that are always separated

There are a few phrasal verbs that take an object where that object must go between the verb and the particle, and not after the particle. The idea of this post is to try and list all of these, or at least as many as I know about.
I've taken the verbs from various sources, but mainly from English Phrasal Verbs in Use, published by Cambridge University Press. There are some verbs where not everybody agrees that they must be separated; these I've marked with ???. For example, English Phrasal Verbs in Use has ask out sb or ask sb out, where some websites have it as only being separated.
Clicking on most verbs will take you to a definition at the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
If you know of any I've missed, please let me know in the comments.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Homophone quizzes

Oxford Dictionaries Online define homophones as "each of two or more words having the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling". But in these exercises, we are only interested in when two (or more) words sound the same but are written differently and have different meanings. Remember that some spellings, such as read, bow can have more than one pronunciation.
Try these two exercises, the first based on a bank of over 300 homophones.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Finding collocations and language in context using web tools

In this post I take a look at finding collocations and lexis in context, using free online corpus-based web tools. First we'll look at what lexis is and what a corpus is, and how they can help us consolidate our vocabulary.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Finding language in context - Google site search

Let's say you've found a new word. You've looked it up in a dictionary and found an example sentence or two. Perhaps you've also found what other words it collocates with. (I'll be looking at some online tools to find collocates, in another post). What you'd like to do now is to see how it's used in context.
One possibilty is to use a corpus, ("a collection of samples of real-world texts stored on computer. Plural - corpora" - Leoxicon), but these can sometimes be difficult to use, and when they include spoken language, the grammar is occasionally "non-standard", let's say. The British National Corpus is easy to use, but be careful with examples from spoken language.
Another way is to do a simple Google (or other) search. The Internet is one enormous corpus if you think about it, although no linguist has "collected" these examples. But a simple search can bring up a lot of irrelevant material, and again you're not really assured of grammatical correctness.
What I like to do is a Google site search of trusted newspapers and other websites, which are in effect small corpora, or look in Google Books, where the material has been edited and proofread, so is likely to be grammatically correct.