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Fluency Dictionaries
The Complete Fluency Words
A Dictionary of
Fluency Word Clusters
A Dictionary of
Essential Fluency Phrases
A Dictionary of
Active Fluency Combinations
Adjectival Fluency Dictionary
Narrative Fluency Dictionary
Core Fluency Thesaurus
Thesaurus of Phrasal Verbs
Thesaurus of Descriptive English
Thesaurus of Fluent English Adjectives
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"...groundbreaking compilation. This unique book provides you with a rich collection of phrases that are neither conventional idioms nor collocations, but are central to everyday speech and writing."
- The New Indian Express.
"A fluency enthusiast’s bible..."
- Competition Success Review
India's largest-read youth magazine.
"A collection of word sequences that are the main building-blocks of fluent speech and writing."
"...word sequences that pop out in everyday conversations, like 'badly dressed, create an impression, a point of view, throw your weight behind', etc."
India's national newspaper
since 1878.
  A Dictionary of Essential Fluency Phrases>Sample Chapter

A Dictionary of
Essential Fluency Phrases

by Prof. Kev Nair



Listen carefully for some time to someone who’s truly fluent in English — and you’ll be able to notice one thing: There’s something interesting about the way they speak: They don’t produce most of what they say word by word, that is, by stringing individual words together. No, they don’t. Instead, they produce most of what they say by stringing word-clusters together. Yes, clusters of words – a small group of words occurring close together – and not individual words.

Each word-cluster they use is a multi-word unit — a vocabulary unit made up of two or more words. And a sizeable proportion of these multi-word units is made up of what we’ll call fluency phrases. (Other multi-word units that fluent speakers depend heavily on are collocations, formulaic expressions, idioms, etc.).

By the label fluency phrase what I mean is this: A sequence of words that contains an idea and forms a separate unit of meaning. Sequences like these occur in speech and writing either on their own or as part of a clause. Many such phrases are fixed sequences like at lunch, by car, on TV, etc. And the remaining phrases are semi-fixed sequences like a drop in sales, an expression of surprise, shiver with fear, etc.

These fixed and semi-fixed phrases are of immense use to you mainly for two reasons:

First, they make it easier for you (than individual words) to compose what you want to say and to say it at the same time. They do this by functioning as ready-to-assemble language chunks.

You see, a large part of whatever a truly articulate native speaker (of any language) says spontaneously every day is made up of word groups that occur again and again in various situations irrespective of the topic — either with no variation or with only a slight variation. (This is true of whatever they dictate or write spontaneously, too). These are word groups of general service, because they can act as ‘whole’ ‘speech units on their own or combine easily with individual words into other speech units, and express most of your thoughts, ideas and feelings with reasonable clarity. In fact, many of them can help you express yourself with absolute clarity. So these word groups of general service are also word groups of frequent utility.

If you have a good mastery of these common-factor word groups, you won’t have to compose them anew on the spot every time you speak or write. They would occur to you readily as ‘wholes’ — readily composed, structured and ordered. And so a large part of whatever you want to say (or dictate or write) can be produced through these ready-to-assemble chunks quickly, easily and effortlessly.

In this way, ready-to assemble word groups like fluency phrases save you a lot of speech-planning time and speech composition time. And the time so saved is extremely valuable to you. This is because when you’re speaking (or dictating or writing) spontaneously, you’re speaking (or dictating or writing) against the pressure of time. And you can use the time so saved to plan what to say next and to formulate the difficult parts of what you want to say next — parts that need to be put together by joining individual words, for the first time and for the occasion, into groups of words.

There’s a second reason that makes the fixed and semi-fixed phrases we’re speaking about extremely useful to you: They make your English sound natural to native speakers of English. In other words, these phrases make your English idiomatic.

Here let me clarify a point.

The word ‘idiomatic’ can give a wrong impression to many people. This word can make them think that the term idiomatic English means English stuffed full of opaque idioms like fill sb’s shoes, give sb the raspberry, kick the bucket, a fine kettle of fish, etc. Actually, that is not what the term ‘idiomatic English’ means. Idiomatic English simply means English that contains expressions that are natural to native speakers of that language. That’s all. And the expressions that are natural to native speakers of English are not only idioms, but also quasi-idioms, collocations, fixed and semi-fixed phrases, formulaic expressions, phrasal verbs, etc.

All these expressions are natural to native speakers of English for two reasons: First, they’re word groups that occur naturally and readily to native speakers whenever they speak or write. Second, these expressions sound natural to them whenever anybody (who they’re listening to) uses them. In fact, whenever anybody speaks or writes about something in English without using expressions like these, but by using their literal paraphrases put together on the spot by stringing individual words, the English so produced sounds un-English and unnatural to native speakers — though that kind of English is grammatically correct.

As you know, an idiom is a word group with a particular meaning. And this meaning is the meaning of the word group as a whole, and is something entirely different from the meanings of the individual words. For example, if you say that a candidate for a job fills the bill, you mean that they’re suitable for it. If you say that when something happened someone hit the ceiling, you mean that they lost their temper suddenly and violently.

An interesting feature of idioms like these is this: It’s impossible to work out the meaning of such an idiom from the meaning of any, or more than one, of the constituent words. Idioms like these are opaque idioms.

This book does not cover opaque idioms.

This book does not cover quasi-idioms, either. By quasi-idioms what I mean is idioms that are only partly opaque (and so, for the same reason, are only partly transparent). Here are some examples of these semi-opaque/semi-transparent idioms: every trick in the book, make or break something, on the spur of the moment, etc.

Then what kinds of word groups does this book cover?

The word groups this book covers are those whose meanings are, in general, transparent — in any case, more transparent than even quasi-idioms. As I said earlier, there are several kinds of expressions that make the language you use idiomatic. If you range them all on a gradient, with those whose meanings are quite transparent at one end and those whose meanings are opaque at the other end, you can see that there’s a scale of idiomaticity running from those at one end to those at the other. The phrases covered by this book are those that occur nearer to the transparent end of the gradient than to the opaque end. And, there, over the transparent end, they occur nearer to the ‘more transparent area’ than to the ‘less transparent area’.

Another way of describing the kind of phrases covered by this book is this: They belong to a category of expressions falling between collocations and traditional idioms. But you should understand that there’s no clear-cut boundary between expressions that are called collocations and expressions that are called idioms. There’s an area of overlap between these two types of expressions, and this area is quite fuzzy — vague and impossible to define clearly. The phrases covered by this book are multi-word units falling within this fuzzy area. Mind you, within this fuzzy area, it’s impossible to say where collocations end and where idioms begin.

Traditional grammar and linguistics don’t have a separate name for multi-word units within this fuzzy area. And so, first of all, nobody can say you’re wrong if you call these word groups collocations — because they’re combinations of words that habitually occur together. Within most of these word groups, the bond between at least two of the constituent words is extremely strong, and the order of their occurrence is fixed — and so most of these word groups can be said to belong to the category of “strong collocations” (that is, collocations in which the bond between two consecutive member words is quite strong). Secondly, they’re phrases — in the sense that they function as a single syntactic unit and form a single unit of meaning. Thirdly, many of them can also be called idioms — in the sense that the single unit of meaning that they express is generally more than, or slightly different from, the sum of the meanings of the member words. At the same time, they also differ from conventional idioms, because this single unit of meaning is not totally divorced from the meanings of the individual words, but has a lot to do with those individual meanings.
So perhaps the term ‘collocational phrases’ suits the word groups covered by this book better than the terms idioms or quasi-idioms.

This book gives you collections of phrases of the kind described above under various headwords. And the headwords are, in almost all the listings, the first word in the phrase (except, for example, when the first word is an article or a word given within brackets).

You’ll find that the meanings of most of the phrases you get in this book are obvious enough. Meanings of most others can easily be worked out from the meaning of one or more of the individual words. Of course, some of the phrases have metaphoric meanings — because an individual (constituent) word has been used in a metaphoric sense. If you have any doubt about the metaphoric meaning of an individual word, a conventional learner’s dictionary can help you.
If you’re trying to be as natural and as articulate as a native speaker of English, you must achieve a good command of these phrases. Your skill in expressing your ideas, thoughts and feelings easily and well would depend, to a great extent, on the degree of this command. So I’ve called these phrases ‘fluency phrases’.

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