This page gives examples of how a concordancer can help English language learners with collocation.


A good way to find out the strong collocates of any particular word is to use a computer concordancer. A concordancer is a program that searches through millions of words of digital text The term for this vast collection of digital text is corpus. and produces strings containing the word in question. In this way the typical usage of the word can be analysed. There is a very good on-line demonstration concordancer* produced by Collins Cobuild.

Concordance example: face

Following is a list showing part of the concordancer results for the word face. It is interesting that a majority of the examples do not refer to the face as a part of the body but have the meaning of be confronted with..., be about to experience... etc.

T03 er used to wear his watch with its face down on the wrist. Colleagues j
T10 joining in their own attempt to face down Saddam Hussein without bloo
T06 st Hull Kingston Rovers. They now face each other at Naughton Park in
T12 for financial help because they face economic difficulties through co
T02 axi driver, who has to register or face execution for being a deserter
T03 s. Issue 63876 North Sea fish face extinction By Michael Binyon in Bru
T01 ood, David Barnes and Vinny Jones face fitness tests. Injuries to Par
T04 comes transformed with mirth. His face flushes, and the eyes take on an
T02 Major rejects that option, he will face four important tests in the nex
T06 arliament. Issue 63880 Greens face four years in wilderness;Germany By
T11 kely to be heavily fined and could face further punishment. The Footbal
T01 Sale travel north this weekend to face Glasgow Powerhouse, the Scottis
T11 ial home. Some families might also face greater poverty as they might
T11 Referee: R Wiseman. [ Arsenal face heavy penalty;Football] ARSENAL,
T11 s not for the allies to save his face . He had got himself into a jam a
T07 ng from forehead, cyclops-eye mid- face , he is the stuff of nightmares.

More body part concordances from this website.

Concordance example: intention

When writing a previous article, I needed the word intention to explain the use of different tenses to talk about the future - i.e. to distinguish between a spontaneous decision to do something and an intention that has already been made (?).

I wasn't sure that make collocates strongly with intention so I looked up intention in the Cobuild concordancer. I learned that form is a more usual collocate of intention than make (although still not a very common one).

In fact, the most frequent use of intention is in the expression to have no intention of doing something; e.g. I have no intention of telling you how much money I earn . Also common is the expression: It's (..) intention to... ; e.g. It's my intention to buy a new computer as soon as the prices come down.


Using a concordancer is an excellent way to learn about how language is actually used. It is particularly useful for a non-native speaker who does not have enough experience or strong enough intuitions about English to make a good choice of collocates.

Another way to find out the collocates of a given word is to consult a dictionary such as the Dictionary of Selected Collocations J. Hill & M. Lewis (eds.) 1997 Language Teaching Publications, Hove.

* Note: The availability of the Collins online concordancer is unpredictable. If the link in the first paragraph above does not go to a concordancer, here are two alternatives: COCA (The Corpus of Contemporary American English) and BNC (The British National Corpus) .

And here are a links to webpages which can access various online corpora: corpora 1 - corpora 2 .