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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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"...an innovative compilation of great general utility. It contains a comprehensive collection of frequent combinations of adjectives and nouns. If descriptive language is the area where you lack fluency, these are the word combinations you should immediately master."
- The New Indian Express
"Groundbreaking book."
- Competition Success Review
India's largest-read youth magazine.
"...essential combinations of adjectives and nouns."
"...combinations of adjectives and nouns used commonly, the different ways in which one noun can be attached to an adjective. For instance, under the word 'explanation', you find 'a detailed explanation, a simple explanation, an official explanation, a reasonable explanation', etc."
India's national newspaper
since 1878.
  A Dictionary of Fluency Word Clusters>Sample Chapter

A Dictionary of
Fluency Word Clusters

by Prof. Kev Nair



To speak or write English like a native speaker of English, and to do so with a high degree of fluency, you need a good command of a large collection of habitually occurring word combinations. The technical word for these combinations is collocations.

This book covers essential collocations having the pattern ‘adjective + noun’.

As you know, if you want to speak or write good English with a high degree of fluency, you must achieve a total mastery of the frequently-occurring words in English. It won’t do if you only know the meanings of these words and their grammar and usage. You must have a total mastery. And an important element in this kind of mastery is a good command of the word clusters that these words habitually combine into.

Let me explain.

Individual words can’t, by themselves, help you very much in producing English (that is, in speaking or writing) — or in receiving English (that is, in listening and understanding or in reading and understanding). No, they can’t. The reason is this: Words are not independent units of the language, and no word can work in isolation. Every word in the English language is part of a unified vocabulary-driven system, and there’s a network of meaning-based connections among all these words.

These meaning-based connections influence language production in two ways:
On the one hand, any given word needs support from other words to do its work, and so words can only work in the company of other closely related words. And inevitably, certain words tend to cluster together with certain other words.

On the other hand, the frequently-occurring words (especially, the most frequent 3000 and odd words among them) tend to do the bulk of their job as members of a series of habitual word clusters, rather than as individual words strung together on the spot. This is because they can combine among themselves in a number of fixed and semi-fixed ways and form a large number of fixed and semi-fixed word clusters of great general utility. And everyone who speaks and writes English naturally tends to use them again and again as prefabricated language chunks, because these chunks make it easier for them to compose speech and writing spontaneously, and so are a great boon for them.

These prefabricated language chunks can save you a lot of language processing time and language processing effort, because you can run them off easily as wholes (as though they’re single words rather than groups of words) — instead of stringing them together anew every time you have to use them. And you can then use the time and effort so saved in planning what to say or write next, and how to say or write it. This kind of on-line planning time is very important if you want to avoid breakdowns and unwanted hesitations while you’re speaking or writing spontaneously.
Remember this: We’re not speaking about random combinations that happen by chance and without following a definite pattern. We’re speaking about combinations that happen habitually and by following a definite pattern — and with a frequency greater than mere chance. And the reason why two or more words cluster together in this way is that there is an area of overlap among some of the characteristic features of their meanings and, in that way, they’re connected together.

These habitual clusters, together with other makeshift combinations that speakers or writers newly create for a particular occasion (by stringing individual words together on the spot), can meet about 80% (and sometimes, even more) of all the vocabulary needs of everyone speaking and writing everyday English — no matter what the topic.
So if you want to achieve a total mastery of the frequently-occurring words, you need to have a clear idea of the various types of clusters that these words habitually enter into. And you must learn to put together what you want to say or write as much by stringing these word clusters together as by stringing individual words together.

In the broadest sense, the term ‘word clusters’ include the following types of multi-word units:

• Collocations
• Prefabricated structure segments
• Fixed phrases and formulaic expressions
• Phrasal verbs
• Compound words
• Idioms
• Similes, proverbs, wise sayings, etc.

Of these different types of multi-word units, collocations are of the most frequent utility — in producing as well as in receiving English.

Now what are collocations?

I told you at the very outset about the underlying meaning-based connections among words. You know, because of these meaning-based connections, many words in English show an interesting tendency: When they occur in speech or writing, they generally tend to cluster together mainly in three ways:

First, in order to convey a particular meaning, some words habitually occur together with a particular word, and with no other. For example, the noun coffee can combine with the adjective strong, and the result is the collocation strong coffee. Now the words concentrated, intense, powerful, etc. are synonyms of the word strong. But coffee does not combine with any of these words and produce an alternative to strong coffee. Collocations like the common good, cheap finance, the general public, etc. are other examples of ‘adjective + noun’ collocations belonging to this category. And here are a few ‘verb + noun’ collocations belonging to this category: drop a subject, gather dust, make gains, choose a favourite.

Second, some words habitually occur together with a limited number of other words having the same or similar meaning. For example, the noun air combines not only with the adjective clean, but also with its synonyms clear, fresh and pure — and we get the collocations clean air, clear air, fresh air and pure air. The noun risk combines not only with the verb face, but also with the words run and take and produce collocations that convey the same or similar meaning: face a risk, run a risk, take a risk. The verb laugh combines not only with the adverb gently, but also with the words quietly and softly and produce collocations that convey the same or similar meaning: laugh gently, laugh quietly, laugh softly. The adjective short combines not only with the adverb extremely, but also with the words really, very and quite and produce collocations that convey the same or similar meaning: extremely short, really short, very short, quite short.

Third, some words habitually occur together with all or most of the words belonging to a particular semantic category. For example, the adjective bitter combines with several words that have the general meaning ‘conflict’. And so we have a series of collocations bitter argument, bitter attack, bitter disagreement, bitter fight, bitter quarrel, etc. In the same way, the verb export combines with any word that can be brought under the category ‘a product’. And so we have a series of open-ended collocations to export cement, to export cars, to export books, etc.

When one word occurs habitually with another word or other words in this way, it’s said to collocate with those words, and the combination of the words is called a collocation.

Most often, the term ‘collocation’ is used in a restricted sense — to refer mainly to four types of habitually occurring combinations:

• adjective + noun
Eg: correct decision, fine dust, reasonable proportion, catchy song.

• verb + noun
Eg: achieve freedom, peel an orange, show understanding, turn a key.

• noun + verb
Eg: my health collapsed, his muscles ached, his opinions changed, the temperature dropped.

• adverb + verb (or verb + adverb)
Eg: bitterly regret sth, examine sth briefly, happen suddenly, move aimlessly.

• adverb + adjective
Eg: clearly evident, completely happy, perfectly obvious, terribly busy.

Now let me clarify something: The term ‘collocation’ is not limited to a combination of just two words — or to a combination of two lexical words. In the widest sense, a collocation is a combination formed by the co-occurrence of two or more words. And the co-occurrence of the member-words does not always have to be immediately next to one another. One or two non-member words may also happen to occur between every two member-words of the collocation. For example, show understanding is a collocation of show and understanding. So are show a little understanding and show great understanding. The intervening words don’t prevent the words show and understanding from being collocates of each other. The determining question is, do the member-words habitually occur together with a frequency greater than mere chance (though with some other words occurring between them)?

And there’s no reason why all the member-words in a collocation have to be lexical words. They can be grammatical words also. For example, beyond your control, by choice and in conclusion are collocations of grammatical words (beyond, by, in) and lexical words (control, choice, conclusion).

The present book covers collocations. Not collocations of all types, but collocations of one particular type: ‘adjective + noun’. And again, not all ‘adjective + noun’ collocations that are possible in theory, but only those formed by adjectives and nouns that are frequently needed for the production of English.

I’ve called these frequently-needed productive collocations ‘fluency clusters’ — to underline an important point: To achieve a high degree of fluency in English, you need a good command of these clusters.

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