Quick cup of COCA – lemma and POS

I was reading the following which is part of a forum discussion by a French poster:

This is clearly more complicated to port, but the benefit can be very important,

OpenPandora Boards comment

It caught my attention as I am interested in the uses French speakers of English make of the word important (e.g. see here). Often they use it instead of an appropriate size adjective, so in this case the forum poster could have written – the benefit can be large.

However the construction was still sounding a little odd to me, so I used COCA to look at the collocates of the noun of the lemma benefit – [benefit].[n*]. A lemma is all forms of the word and is indicated by square brackets. The part of speech can be selected from the POS (part of speech) List drop down box. To use a POS like this, you need to append it with a dot (full stop) to the word you are looking at.

From the results of this search, the rank 6 collocate is potential. Of course! Duh! That’s why the benefit can be sounds odd, whereas potential benefits are  would sound better.

Now you may be saying I did not need COCA to figure that out, sure I could have mulled it over the morning but COCA allowed me to get on with other trivial things than puzzling over this particular one. 🙂

That’s it for another quick cup of COCA. And if you haven’t already you can read some more quick cup of COCA posts.

Just the Word – alternatives function or how to introduce concordances to your students.

This post may encourage those who have yet to try out concordances in class. Additionally if you teach the TOEIC using Cambridge Target Score book (Talcott & Tullis, 2007) you may find this post of interest. It takes advantage of the alternatives function in Just the Word which replaces each word entered with a similar word and shows their connection strength.

In the last unit 12 of the Cambridge Target Score book, on page 118 there is a collocations exercise focusing on adjective + noun and adverb + adjective patterns. A way to extend this exercise is to use the Just the word alternatives function.

This works best with the adjective + noun patterns. The first such pattern given in the book is valuable lessons.

Entering valuable lessons then pressing  the alternatives button we get this screen:

There are three options when replacing the adjective in valuable lessons:
valuable lesson (36)
important lesson (61)
salutary lesson (23)

Ask students to rank order the above in terms of their frequency.

The blue bars under each alternative shows how similar the replacement word is to the original.

An extract of the text in the exercise which illustrates the use of this collocation is shown below:

…as he gives valuable lessons in living and a fresh, first-hand view of American society…

(Talcott & Tullis, 2007, p.118)

Ask students what do they notice about this use, elicit the verb give, the preposition in. Note, when working with the text from the exercise for the first time, I usually try to get them to see any interesting chunks so in this case give lesson in; give first-hand view of.

Give students the concordance lines of valuable lessons (click on valuable lessons which is hyperlinked to the concordance lines) and ask them to note down any patterns, elicit the most common verb learn and the article a:


You can do something similar with the other patterns given in the book exercise or give it as a task for students to do for the following class.

Thanks for reading.


Talcott, C. & Tullis, G. (2007). Target Score: A communicative course for TOEIC Test preparation. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Building your own corpus – Such as example

Although the power of corpus is in discovering horizontal relations between lexis such as collocations and colligation, the more familiar vertical relations that teachers are used to can also be explored at the same time. Such vertical relations or semantic preference have been used traditionally in ELT coursebooks. See the post by Leo Selivan critiquing this use. This post describes using concordance output to look at both collocation (adjective + noun) and semantic preference (hyponymy or general category/specific example relation)

I adapted an activity by Tribble (1997) who in turn based it on an example from Tim Johns who used the keyword “such as”, e.g.:

encompass many _______frequently labeled HTML5 such as the Geolocation API, offline storage API a

Make sure to see the worksheet (in odt format) to understand the following. The first question A in the worksheet is a traditional pre-learning task using the specific examples of the semantic categories, so in the line above the examples of geolocation api and offline storage api are instances of the category of features (the gapped word). The next questions B and C asks students to find the category that the words in bold on the right are examples of (these bold words are the ones in question A). Question D asks students to identify the types of words in the lists and in the italicised words; to get them to notice the adjective + noun structure e.g. important features. Finally question E asks them to identify adjective + noun structures in a single text taken from the website that the corpus is based on.

Less experienced first year multimedia students struggled more with the exercises than more experienced second year students. I assume this is because they were less familiar with the lexis? Though both seemed more at ease with the last task of identifying structures in the text.

I’ll survey some corpora classroom task types in a later post.

Thanks for reading.


Tribble, C. (1997). Improvising corpora for ELT: Quick-and-dirty ways of developing corpora for language teaching. In J. Melia. & B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (Eds.), PALC ’97 Proceedings, Practical Applications in Language Corpora (pp. 106-117). Lodz: Lodz University Press.