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Little trick for finding the right language construct

Asked by [ Admin ]

I thought I'd share this little trick for finding out the best way to say something. It isn't 100% accurate but it usually gives a very good hint!

Let's take those two sentences as an example: "I gave food to my dog." vs "I fed my dog.".

*I know this one is pretty obvious to native English speakers, but I couldn't come up with a better example :(. If you find a better example, let me know in the comments.

All you have to do is type both sentences in Google and compare the number of results. Don't forget to: 1) quote the sentence 2) omit unnecessary words ("dog" in this case as it could be replaced by any animal name without changing the meaning of the phrase).

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As you can see, it's pretty obvious that the second one (I fed my) is more widely used and that's usually a fairly good indicator that it is indeed the right construct.

PS: If you want an accurate answer to your question, either open up your grammar books or ask a question here on iRosetta !

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5 answers


j. d. o'conal [ Editor ]

This is a method which has been in use for a very long time: accessing corpora statistics to show language usage. While Google is a great and freely accessible tool, it is tainted by the large amount of poor writing on the Internet.

There are many other good corpora available for free on the Internet. I use the British National Corpus, available here and here. These web tools also allow much more specific searches, e.g., searching for green used as an adjective near grass.

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"he ain't right in the head" 3 million hits

"he isn't right in the head" 324 thousand hits

admittedly a contrived example, but still.

NN comments
  1. Good reminder that this trick isn’t always accurate.

Try the other contraction: “He’s not right in the head” gets > 30,000,000 hits

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although this would show you the most popular, its not necessarily 'correct'... specially when it comes to slang or short text.

NN comments

Indeed, it isn’t always accurate but it usually is a fairly good indicator (that’s why I included the last paragraph).


Often in language you want to know what is popular and idiomatic more than what is officially correct.

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