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Learning and Teaching through Context - A Data-driven Approach
by Ramesh Krishnamurthy
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Let us look more closely at the examples, and see what information they provide. Example 1 contains the combination accident victims, which we had already noticed as an important combination in the frequency list earlier. However, example 1 also contains the combination road accident. Combinations with accident as the second item might therefore be worth investigating further, especially when we notice that road accident occurs again in example 5, motorcycle accident in 2, car accident in 6, and nuclear accident in 17.

So accidents are obviously classified by the cause, the location, the type of vehicle involved, and so on, but can all locations be used with accident? If we say road accident, do we also say sky accident, mountain accident, air accident (there is Accident; Air in example 11) and sea accident? What about house accident, garden accident, school accident, office accident, bank accident, and shop accident? Can all types of vehicle be used? Do we say aeroplane accident, ship accident, train accident, bicycle accident? What about skateboard accident, roller skate accident, and ski accident?

Examples 1, 2, and 8 show us that the verb suffer can be used with accident, in slightly different ways, so this is another feature that we might want to look at in more detail. What other verbs are used with accident? What other direct objects does the verb suffer take?

Example 7 has accident-prone used to describe a person, and in example 20 we see that an organization (the National Rivers Aut…) can also be described as accident prone. Can all adjectives that describe people be used to describe organizations?

These two examples also illustrate the point made in the frequency information earlier, that the combination can be written with or without a hyphen.

The fact that the examples are incomplete can be used in classroom exercises, encouraging the students to use the existing contexts to try to guess the beginning or end of an incomplete word, phrase, or sentence.

Examples 2, 8, 9, 12 and 13 show that accident can be modified by the adjectives horrendous, fatal, minor and freak. What other nouns are these adjectives used with? And what other adjectives are used to describe accidents?

Examples 6 and 12 contain killed, which is semantically connected with fatal, but obviously comes from an entirely different root. Is there a verb that is morphologically related to fatal? Is there an adjective that is morphologically related to kill? Can we think of other semantically related verb and adjective pairs which come from different roots?

Example 3 shows that people can be shaken or distressed by accidents. What other adjectives can be used to describe people who have just suffered, witnessed, or heard about an accident. Notice shocked in example 16.

Example 4 mentions a hospital's accident and emergency unit. Is this the standard term to describe such a unit? Is it ever written with initial capital letters: Accident and Emergency unit? Is it always a unit, or can it be a department or section? Are any other words used to describe the different parts of a hospital? What words are used to describe parts of other organizations or institutions? Which terms are used for which organization or institution?

Example 14 has created by accident. Why is it not created by an accident? Is this the same meaning of accident as in the other examples? Does it mean the same as due to an accident in example 15? How many meanings are there in these examples? What other meanings are given in dictionaries? Can we find examples for those other meanings in the corpus? How do we know which example belongs to which meaning?

Examples 18 and 19 show the verbs occur and come used with accident as their subject. What other verbs can be used? What other subjects can occur and come have? Is this a common use of come?

Other activities using concordances

There are many other exercises and linguistic investigations which can be generated by concordances.
One exercise is to take a set of concordance examples as above, and delete the keyword, and ask students to guess from the context what the keyword is:

1 those suffered by boxers or road _____ victims to the start of t

2 e suffered a horrendous motorcycle _____ , needing pins in his dam

3 shaken and distressed" by the _____ , said a police spokesman.

4 a drugged patient in a hospital's _____ and emergency unit. The 3

Corpus software usually allows concordances to be sorted in different ways, for example by the word after the keyword, or the word before the keyword, so we can easily see the different nouns modified by a particular adjective, the different prepositions occurring after a particular verb, and so on. Concordances for a phrase can be used to highlight the fixed and variable elements in the phrase. Concordances for phrasal verbs can help to distinguish between separable and inseparable combinations.

Pairs or sets of concordances can be used effectively in contrastive studies: differences between British and American spellings (e.g. defence and defense; color and colour), between near-synonyms (e.g. slim, lean, thin, skinny, slender, gaunt, emaciated; these can be found in any thesaurus), between spoken and written English, and so on.

Michael Lewis (2000) (ed.): Teaching Collocation; LTP, Hove.
John Sinclair (1987): Introduction to Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary, Collins, London.
John Sinclair (1995): Introduction to Collins COBUILD English Dictionary, HarperCollins, London.

Useful Websites
English corpora:
Cobuild Bank of English corpus:
British National Corpus:
ICAME (International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English):
Corpora in other languages, Bibliography of Corpus Linguistics, etc:
Michael Barlow's Corpus Linguistics site:

Corpus software:
Wordsmith Tools: or

Ideas for corpus-based teaching materials:
Tim Johns' site - Computer-assisted Language Learning and
Data-driven Learning (Classroom Concordancing):

Ramesh Krishnamurthy has worked at Birmingham University on the COBUILD project since 1984, contributing to many dictionaries, grammars, and other publications, as well as developing corpora and software, and is now a consultant for COBUILD and the Bank of English Corpus. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at Birmingham University and Wolverhampton University. He has taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses, supervised MA and PhD research students, participated in several European and international linguistic projects, and conducted workshops and courses on corpus linguistics and lexicography in many countries.

Full details of his past and current activities are available at and

Ramesh Krishnamurthy (
COBUILD (Collins Dictionaries and the University of Birmingham)






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