Another great resource for teachers and learners:

  • WordAndPhrase: alternate COCA interface: input entire texts, browse frequency listings, detailed "word sketches"

Corpora (plural of corpus) can be very useful tools for language learners, since they allow these learners to quickly and easily see how native speakers use the language in a wide variety of naturally occurring texts. This can provide you with information about the following (and see some concrete examples below):

  • the use of particular constructions, such as which preposition is used with a certain verb, or whether a given phrase sounds natural

  • the frequency of words or phrases in different styles of English (such as spoken, fiction, or academic)

  • what a word means, or how it is used, by looking at other words that occur nearby (these are called "collocates")

  • comparisons of all of the synonyms of a given word

  • difference in meaning between two words, such as big / little, rob / steal, or commotion / disturbance

With this corpus, you can quickly get answers to questions like these in just a few seconds. It's like the ultimate dictionary or thesaurus of English, and it's free!

At the most basic level, you might want to just spend some time "browsing" through words, to learn new words or meanings. Or just browse through "synonym chains". Pick a word -- any word -- like scant (adj), wreck (v), bandit (n), brittle (j), foray (n), or crumple (v). When you see the synonyms in the results set, click on the [S] following any of these words to see the synonyms for that word. Then repeat again, and again, and again. You might also choose [SECTIONS] = [SHOW] in the search form to see the frequency of these synonyms in the major genres (spoken, fiction, news, etc).

For more directed searches, the following are some specific examples of how the (COCA) can be used to answer specific questions that learners might have. Remember that these are just a handful of examples, from an unlimited number of searches that one can do. For example:

  • We can often learn a lot about the meaning of a word by the other words that it "hangs out" with (the same as with people!). What are some words that you think occur with deep, run, argument, or fairly? Are there any that are surprises in what you see in the corpus?

  • What is the difference between small and little, or between large and big? Which is more common: Small League or Little League, small businesses or little businesses, large intestine or big intestine, and Big Bang or Large Bang?

  • What synonyms of strong are used a lot in academic journals or in popular magazines? Are strong arguments in academic also effective and persuasive, or burly and brawny? Would strong spices in fiction also be spicy and pungent or deep-seated and compelling

  • What are the synonyms of beautiful? Which ones are much more common in fiction (note darker shade of blue) than in academic? What are the only two (besides beautiful) that are quite common in academic?

  • How frequent is Well , I think in different styles of English? Should a language learner use this phrase in an academic paper?

As you can see, this corpus goes far beyond the typical "definition" given in a dictionary or thesaurus. Using the corpus, learners can see whether a word or phrase is formal or informal, and how one word contrasts with another.

Finally, because the corpus "knows" the frequency of words and phrases in each section of the corpus, you can easily see what words are most representative of a particular section. This is particularly useful for someone studying English, who wants to focus on the vocabulary of a certain type of English. In the lists that follow, the words that are more representative of the narrow section (e.g. finance) are to the left in the results list above, while the words that wouldn't occur much in that section are to the right. Look at the following:

  • Science/technology (nouns in ACAD-Sci/Tech vs ACAD-General)

  • Financial (verbs in NEWS-Money vs NEWS-General)

  • Medical (adjectives in ACAD-Medicine vs ACAD-General)

  • Sports (nouns in MAG-Sports vs MAG-General)

Now try your own! Just select a section (in Section 1) and a section to compare it to (Section 2), and (for the best results) choose a part of speech (delete the one in WORD(S) and select another via POS LIST), and let the corpus do the rest!

Now that you've taken a look at this page, you might want to take a look at the regular five minute tour. For more advanced topics and many other examples, click on any of the elements in the search form to the left.

Thanks for using the corpus!