We communicate mainly through word groups, rather than through individual words. This is so, both when we speak and when we write. And the type of word groups that we most often use are what are called finite clauses. Here are two examples:
A dog bit a man.
The temperature dropped.
Generally speaking, a finite clause (= clause, for short) has at least two parts: A subject and a predicate. In the first example above, A dog is the subject, and bit a man is the predicate. In the second example, The temperature is the subject, and dropped is the predicate.
In every predicate, you’ll always find a finite verb (= verb, for short) — that is, a verb that specifies the tense and modality of the clause. In the first example, bit (= past tense of bite) is the verb. In the second example, dropped (= past tense of drop) is the verb.
Sometimes, in addition to a verb, the predicate may also contain one or more of these other elements: Objects, complements and adverbials. For example, the predicate in the first example above contains an object element (a man). But the predicate in the second example does not contain any of the additional elements. (It contains only the verb element).
Now, this is not a book of grammar. No. And my intention in saying all this is not to teach you clause grammar. No. This is a book of word groups — fluent English word groups. And the reason why I started out by telling you about a clause and its essential grammar is simply this: I want to drive home an important point to you: The verb element is the most important element in the kind of word groups that we most often communicate through. Not any other element. But the verb element.
Verbs are one of the four classes of lexical words. The other three classes of lexical words are: Nouns, adverbs and adjectives. These four classes of words are called lexical words, because they’re the words that normally carry most of the meaning in what you say or write.
The remaining classes of words are:
• Auxiliaries (primary and modal);
• Adverbial particles;
• Conjunctions (co-ordinators and subordinators);
• The word to (when used as the infinitive marker);
• The word there (when used to indicate or assert the existence or non-existence of something);
• The negative particle not; and
These non-lexical words (when used non-lexically) work mainly to relate the lexical words, phrases and clauses together, and so they’re called function words. They’re also called form words, and grammatical words.
Now, in this book, we’re only concerned with lexical words (and not with function words) — that too, with nouns and verbs. Of the four classes of lexical words, nouns and verbs are the primary ones. Frequencywise, nouns are far more frequent than verbs — in writing and in content-intensive speech. But in conversational speech, verbs play such a major role that you’ll find an articulate speaker using as many verbs as nouns. In a long stretch of (conventional) writing, almost 25% of the words used are likely to be nouns, while only about 10% of the words used are likely to be verbs. But in content-intensive speech and plain English writing, this proportion changes, and the number of nouns come down considerably and the number of verbs go up considerably. And in conversation (and in relaxed writing), fluent speakers tend to rely so much on verbs than on nouns that the proportion changes steeply in favour of verbs, and you can find those speakers using as many verbs as nouns. That is, in conversation (and in relaxed writing), fluent speakers tend to use almost three times the number of verbs they would have been using if they had been expressing the same idea in the form of a formal written report.
Here’s something you should note: In writing, the modern trend is to try and make the written text as easy to understand as possible, and so to make it as plain as possible — and so to approximate it as much to speech as possible. And so, even in writing, the trend is for the proportion of nouns to come down and the proportion of verbs to go up.
There’s an important reason why speech (as well as plain English writing) relies so heavily on verbs than on nouns: The syntactic and semantic characteristics of verbs are ideally suited to the production of language through the spoken medium.
Syntactically, the verb element is the vocabulary item around which a clause is structured.1 That is, the verb element is the heart of a clause, the motor that makes it work. A finite clause cannot exist without the verb element — while it can, in exceptional cases, exist even without a subject element.
Semantically, verbs mostly denote actions and states. This is, of course, a very broad statement. Let me now give you a slightly more detailed idea of what verbs are:
• The largest proportion of verbs denote physical action. Some of these verbs are: bring, carry, come, drink, eat, get, give, go, kick, knit, make, move, nod, put, swim, take, work, write, play.
• A good number of verbs denote the way in which one entity stands or exists in relation to another. These ‘stance’ verbs include: have (the full verb have, and not the auxiliary have), contain, exist, include, indicate, involve, remain, possess, relate, sit, stand, stay.
• A large number of verbs denote mental action and mental state. Some of these verbs are: assume, believe, consider, doubt, forget, hope, imagine, know, realize, recognize, remain, remember, suppose, think, understand, wonder. This category also includes a number of words expressing a person’s emotional state. Some of these verbs are: enjoy, fear, feel, hate, intend, like, love, prefer, pity, suspect, want, wish.
• Some verbs denote sense perception. These are mainly the words see, hear, smell, taste, feel, seem, appear, look and sound.
• A good number of verbs denote communicative action. Some of these verbs are: argue, ask, call, describe, inform, question, say, speak, talk, teach, tell, threaten, write.
• Some verbs denote causation — that is, the act of causing something. Examples of these verbs are: affect, allow, assist, cause, enable, ensure, help, influence, let, permit, prevent, require.
• Some verbs denote events that occur without anyone doing anything using their will: arise, become, change, develop, die, disappear, emerge, glow, grow, happen, increase, occur, rain, rise.
• Some verbs denote the progress of an action or event: begin, cease, complete, continue, end, finish, start, stop.
• Some verbs denote bodily sensation. Examples are: ache, feel, itch, hurt, tickle.
The kind of language that spoken medium lets pass through it with the least amount of difficulty is language expressed as actions and events — or as processes. Obviously, the words that are in harmony with the characteristics of the spoken medium most are the verbs.
Now, what is a noun? A noun is essentially a word that names a person or thing. Broadly speaking, nouns are:
a) Common names of living beings and things — countable things as well as uncountables, tangible as well as intangible things, single entities as well as groups of single entities. Here are some examples of nouns:
• Countable entities: person, man, woman, teacher, husband, wife, artist, manager, student, optimist, survivor, miser, cynic, animal, horse, bank, book, novel, pen, building, house, apartment, computer, table, chair, country, month, meal, room, kitchen, etc.
• Uncountables: atmosphere, courage, confidence, faith, health, ice, love, luck, music, pride, gold, patience, silence, violence, etc.
• Plural-only entities: pants, jeans, glasses, binoculars, pliers, scissors, stairs, police, staff, etc.
• Collective entities: army, committee, community, family, gang, government, group, team, etc.
b) Proper names of people and things:
Eg: John, Sita, India, England, Chicago, Moscow, etc.
Now if you want to be able to use nouns fluently (in speech and writing) in a way that native speakers of English would find acceptable, it’s not enough if you know their meaning, grammar and usage very well. No. You must also know what verbs they can occur with, and have the experience of using those nouns and verbs together — in verb-and-noun combinations that are acceptable.
In the same way, if you want to be able to use verbs fluently (in speech and writing) in a way that native speakers of English would find acceptable, it’s not enough if you know their meaning, grammar and usage very well. No. You must also know what nouns they can occur with, and have the experience of using those nouns and verbs together — in verb-and-noun combinations that are acceptable.
Now, most nouns show an interesting tendency: They show a tendency to occur with particular verbs. And they occur with those verbs in a sequence frequently — more frequently than is likely to happen by chance.
For example, take the noun birth. This noun frequently occurs with the verbs announce, attend, await, celebrate, expect, give, record and register. And so here are some of the collocations of the noun birth:
announce a birth. • attend a birth. • await a birth. • celebrate sb’s birth. • expect a birth. • give birth to a baby/boy/child/daughter/girl/son. • record sb’s birth. • register a (baby’s) birth. • register sb’s birth.
The fact of two or more words occurring together often in this way — that fact is called collocation in linguistics. The word collocation also stands for a combination of words that occur together in this way. And the individual words that occur together and form a collocation are called collocates. Within a collocation, the individual words are said to collocate — to form the collocation.
Collocations are the lifeblood of native-like English and native-like fluency. If you happen to use words together that are not acceptable collocates, the combinations you produce are not collocations, but word groups that native speakers of English consider artificial and unacceptable. It’s the presence of these unacceptable word groups that make the speech and writing of many non-native speakers of English sound un-English.
This book gives you a comprehensive collection of verb+noun collocations that articulate native speakers of English use frequently in their speech and writing. The importance of the way this book arranges these collocations is this: This book arranges them verbwise (rather than nounwise) — that is, under headwords that are all verbs. That is, this book tells you what nouns a given verb of everyday use frequently goes with, and what shapes those verb-and-noun combinations usually take.2 For example, take a look at the collocations of the noun birth given above once again. In this book, you’ll find these collocations listed under the headwords (verbs) announce, attend, await, celebrate, expect, give, record and register respectively — along with the other collocations that these headwords enter into.
Now, there are some verbs that are so common that they combine with a very large number of nouns. These are verbs like be, bring, come, do, get, give, have, make, etc. As these verbs are extremely common, the collocations that each of them form with nouns would run into several pages. So I thought it best to list these collocations in a separate section in the book. You’ll find them in the Appendix.
1. Of course, there are ‘verbless’ clauses, too. But they’re rare. Back to content
2. On the other hand, when you want to find out what verbs a given noun of everyday use frequently goes with, and what shapes those combinations usually take, you should turn to Prof. Kev Nair’s Dictionary of Active Fluency Combinations. That book arranges verb + noun collocations nounwise. So, for instance, in that book, you’ll find the collocations of birth (given as examples above) grouped together under the headword birth. – Publisher. Back to content