The Word Combinations feature in Wordsmyth dictionaries displays words that are frequently used in combination with a particular headword. If you looked up “negotiate,” for example, you would be presented with words such as “accord,” “agreement,” “cease-fire,” “compromise,” “contract,” “deal,” “treaty,” and “truce.” You would also see words such as “actively,” “reportedly,” “safely,” and “successfully.”
The sets of words that you are shown in the Word Combinations feature can help you find a word that is correct or appropriate to complete a particular meaning that you want to express. In addition, the words can help you refine your understanding of the word you looked up by showing you the pattern of general use for this word. For example, it may help to better understand the meaning of “apocryphal” if you know that it combines with words like “legend,” “tale,” “story,” and “account.”
Seeing the words that combine with your word can also give you a sense of how this word may be differentiated from words with similar meanings. Even close synonyms combine with other words along different lines. For example, the words “obtain” and “acquire” have very similar meanings but combine with words somewhat differently. “Obtain” combines with “approval,” “patent,” “passport,” and “permission,” for example. “Acquire” does not typically combine with any of these but more often combines with words like “assets,” “wealth,” “competence,” “expertise,” “habit,” and “trait.”
Combinations of words such as are shown in the Word Combinations feature are referred to by linguists as “collocations.” 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” and “crime” and “tell” and “truth.” Some of the combinations that the data-gathering tool brings up in addition, such as “social + security” and “right + angle,” represent unique units of meaning in themselves and may also be found as dictionary headwords that have their own definitions.
Word Combinations is a Wordsmyth subscription feature. If you are not currently a subscriber, try out the feature with a 15-day trial subscription. Then, under “Display Options” near the top of any entry, select “Word Combinations.” At the same time, why not try out our “Word Parts” or “Spanish support” features? The free subscription will also give you access to WILD, the Wordsmyth Illustrated Learner’s Dictionary designed for very young readers and language learners.