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

Category: Words in the World


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.


Neologisms: what makes a new word sticky?

What does it take to invent a word that takes root in the American English language–at least for a while? Ralph Keyes suggests that necessity (new things demand new names) and, on the part of the coiner, not trying too hard, have often been a successful recipe. Read Keyes’ tour of American neologisms here: Is There a Word for That? in The American Scholar.


Meet the “Dame of Dictionaries.”

“I read and read and read and read and read,” she says. In fifth grade, her parents gave her a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and that changed everything. “It unlocked the world for me because I could read at any vocabulary level I wanted,” she says, and went on to negotiate more sophisticated titles, like Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and The Frogs by Aristophanes. She was diligent about learning words, and would enter all the new ones she came across daily in a notebook. Then she would review them, trying to commit them to memory. The next day, she would add ten or fifteen more, review the words from the prior day, and at the end of each week review the entire week. She carried on this routine for years.”

Her West Village loft is home to 20,000 dictionaries, collected over a lifetime. She is the “Dame of Dictionaries,” Madeline Kripke. Daniel Krieger’s fine article about Kripke is peppered with links to dictionary lore.  Read it here.



10 Corporate Jargon Terms — As Defined by Cats | Catster

It’s almost Friday, so here’s the poop on corporate jargon.


10 Corporate Jargon Terms — As Defined by Cats | Catster.