Children's, Intermediate and Advanced Online English Dictionary & Thesaurus

Category: Grammar


Grammar and Usage: “comprise” vs. “compose”

Posted in Grammar, Grammar and Usage, Wordsmyth Blog by Olivia Smialek

The verb “comprise” means “to be made up of, consist of, or include.”  We can say that the nation of Canada comprises ten provinces and three territories. Or we can say that the cinema complex comprises four movie theaters.  



Grammar and Usage: “attain” vs. “obtain”

Posted in ELL Q&A, Grammar, Writing by Olivia Smialek

D“Obtain” and “attain” have similar pronunciations and meanings, but they do not generally overlap in usage. “Attain” has more the idea of achieving a goal or reaching a level or degree. “Obtain” has more the idea of actually getting something, actually taking possession of it.



Building chunks of language with Word Combinations

Wordsmyth’s Word Combinations, technically known as “collocations,” provide what is almost like a thesaurus in another dimension. You will find them in most entries in the Advanced Dictionary. Instead of listing synonyms, that is, words you might use instead of the word you are using, Word Combinations provide words to use with the word you are using. In other words, they help you start building a bigger chunk of a sentence.

Compare the thesaurus’s “similar words” for the verb “laugh”:

cackle, chortle, chuckle, giggle, guffaw, howl, snicker, snigger, tee-hee, titter…

…with the Word Combination adverbs for the verb “laugh”:

aloud, appreciatively, bitterly, derisively, good-naturedly, harshly, heartily, hysterically, loud, loudly, maniacally, nervously, outright, raucously, ruefully, scornfully, softly, uncontrollably, uneasily, uproariously 


The similar words allow you to choose from among words for more specific kinds of laugh: from a quiet titter to a hearty guffaw. The Word Combinations allow you to choose from among adverbs that writers frequently use to modify the verb “laugh.” “Ashley laughed uneasily at the cruel joke,” you might write. Or, “Ashley laughed good-naturedly when her error was pointed out.” (Ashley’s a likable person, evidently.)


Word Combinations are the most frequent companions of the headword in published writing and broadcast speech. Thus, they represent the many ways in which the headword-concept is typically talked about and the words typically used to talk about them.

In the entries, word combinations are organized by part of speech combination. Take, for example, the word “election.” The word combinations for the noun “election” fall into four kinds:

adjective + (n.) election

verb + (n.) election 

(n.) election + verb   

noun + (n.) election

These formulas show you the kind of word (part of speech) and the position (before or after “election”) in which it appears in the corpus of texts. Notice that “election” has some verbs that appear before it and some that appear after it. Here are the full word combinations entries, with some comments in red:


adjective + (n.)election     coming, competitive, congressional, contested, democratic, direct, disputed, fair, federal, forthcoming, fraudulent, free, general, gubernatorial, judicial, legislative, local, mayoral, mid-term, multi-party, multiracial, municipal, nationwide, nonpartisan, off-year, parliamentary, periodic, presidential, primary, provincial, scheduled, statewide, transitional, upcoming


verb + (n.)election     boycott, cancel, certify, contest, delay, disrupt, influence, hold, monitor, oversee, overturn, postpone, precede, rig, schedule, steal, supervise  (These verbs that frequently have the word “election” as their object will give you a glimpse at all the things we can do to an election. )


(n.)election + verb      loom, near
(Which of these two verbs would you choose to talk about a coming election? It really depends how you feel about it.)


noun + (n.)election   ballot, boycott, candidate, eve, fall, financing, landslide, legitimacy, midterm, month, outcome, poll, primary, recall, registration, round, run-up, runoff, turnout, vote, voting


If you have read through these words, you may have noticed that some make sense when placed immediately before or after the headword “election”: “a fair election,” “postponed the election,” and “a fall [i.e., autumn] election.” True, you have to insert an article, “the” between “postpone” and “election,” but generally these are recognizable phrases that make sense.


Others, especially in the noun+noun category, don’t seem like a chunk of a sentence: “legitimacy election” and “voting election,” for example. Often a preposition will need to be inserted between the words: “the legitimacy of the election,” “voting in this election” are some possible ways the word combinations will work in these cases.
If you don’t know how to fit the two words together, a Google search on the two words will often return a number of similar examples of how they do.


You can try this little exercise to get a feel for how to fill out a word combination:


Complete these common noun + noun word combinations with the correct prepositions and articles.

1. the eve   ____    ____   election
2. the outcome  ____    ____   election
3. the turnout   ____    ____   election


 Word Combinations is a subscription feature, but you can try it by signing up for a 15-day free Trial Subscription, no strings attached. (There is a Trial Subscription button on most pages of the Wordsmyth website.) We also include Word Combinations with many Academic Vocabulary of the Day posts.


Read more about collocations here.


About Wordsmyth Word Combinations

The Word Combinations feature displays words that are frequently used in combination with the word you looked up. For some of the combinations to make sense, however, you may need to supply additional words such as “and,” “of,” “in,” “with,” or “from.” Supplying a plural marker or possessive marker (‘s) may make some things clearer as well.
The sets of words that you see here can help you find a word that is correct or appropriate to complete a particular meaning that you intend. In addition, the words can help you refine your understanding of the word you looked up by showing you the pattern of use of this word. The word combinations can also give you a sense of how this word may be differentiated from words with similar meanings.

Combinations of words such as you see here are referred to by linguists as “collocations.” We have grouped the collocations according to the part of speech of the headword (the word you looked up) and also according to the part of speech of the combining words (the “collocates”).

For certain words and certain parts of speech combinations, there can be a very large number of frequent collocations. In the initial display, we show the twenty most common collocates according to our data. Clicking “See all” will bring up additional words in excess of the twenty.

The Word Combinations feature shows you the most frequently-occurring combinations of words as they appear in a very large body of written text. Some combinations that occur in ordinary conversation that include very high frequency words such as “do,” “have,” or “make” may be omitted as a result. These types of combinations are handled in example sentences paired with a particular headword definition.

The term “collocation” actually refers to various types of word combinations ranging from fixed phrases and idioms, in which the words always go together in a certain way and cannot be interchanged with other words, to word combinations that occur frequently but are made up of words that can be easily interchanged with other words. The collocations that we display in the Word Combinations feature tend to be closer to the latter type. Most of them are “medium strength” collocations, such as “cool breeze,” “refreshing breeze,” “soft breeze,” and “gentle breeze.” Some of the collocations that we show, however, are “strong collocations” made up of words that seem to cling to each other, such as “commit (a) crime” and “tell (the) truth.” Some of the items that the data-gathering tool brings up in addition, such as “social + security” and “right + angle,” are actually part of multi-word units that have a unique meaning in themselves and really should be considered single words rather than collocations.



pr@ fuhr

transitive verb
definition:  to consider more desirable than something else.
example:  She prefers dark chocolate to milk chocolate.
example:  He prefers walking to taking the bus.
example:  I prefer to live in a small town rather than in a large city.
example:  They prefer us to come on the weekend rather than during the week.
example:  I prefer his living at home to his living in an apartment he cannot afford.
example:  We prefer that our son be seen by another doctor.
example:  I prefer that she sit here next to me.