Feb 5, 2012

What is your favourite chunk?

Blog visitors poll

Leoxicon is about to clock up ten thousand visitors and I thought I should do something to celebrate this achievement. At first I thought I'd revamp the look of my blog but you need time for that and there is not much you can do on Blogger until they improve their Dynamic Views templates. Then I thought since this blog is all about collocations and lexical chunks I should add a nice little widget somewhere on the right displaying a new chunk every day. But my internet search for "a phrase of the day" or "an expression of the day" widget drew a blank. It's funny that despite all the evidence and research, whether cognitive or psycholinguistic, pointing to the phrasal nature of the lexicon, i.e. words are remembered, stored and retrieved in chunks, all the EFL teaching materials are still preoccupied with words, words, single words. The integration of web technologies doesn't seem to have helped either. Having said that, I've stumbled upon two interesting websites:


Phrase Mix posts a new colloquial phrase every day and Tweet Speak English  - every week or so. Both come with audio and accompanying activities but unfortunately not all the content is available for non-members.

Since my search for a lexical gadget has proved futile, I decided to open it up to you, my readers, and ask you to post your favourite chunks. But first of all, what's the difference between a collocation and a chunk?

Collocation is a combination of words that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance. This definition is rather wide but most collocations fall into the following categories:

Verb+Noun: achieve a goal 
Adj+Noun: reckless driving
Noun+Noun: a chance encounter
Verb+Adv: talk freely
Adv+Adj: ridiculously expensive
Noun+Verb: the bomb went off

Even though they statistically occur together very often, most methodologists agree that the following combinations are not considered collocations:

Multi-part/phrasal verb: look after
Adj+dependent preposition: afraid of
Incomplete fixed phrase: sort of

All other multi-word phrases, which are not readily identifiable as collocations, can be considered chunksSee you later (formulaic expression), Come to think of it...(discourse marker), a few years ago (prepositional phrase), If I were you... (sentence head), The more... the better (sentence frame) and many others.

So what is your favourite chunk to teach or simply the one that you find yourself using a lot? Please post your chunks in the comments below.


  1. Perhaps I should start with my own. One of my fave chunks is

    "to put it mildly"

    Why? Firstly, perhaps I rarely put things mildly myself - I usually do it bluntly :) Secondly, I like this use of "put" when it means "to say something", e.g.

    "Very nicely put"
    "Hmmm, how can I put it?

    1. well hi, my favourite chunks is
      for the time being
      Before giving an exact answer / request, I need to do some thinking and make a little justification first.

  2. Probably 'fancy a coffee?' I think.

    1. Hi Sue, I'd also 'fancy a coffe' and Leo, congrats :)

  3. That's a good one, Sue. Not "fancy a cuppa"? :)

  4. I like all your 'put' ones, Leo. On that note, I'll go with 'say'.

    Having said that...
    Well said...
    ...to say the least

  5. Hi Tyson
    Thanks for stopping by and adding your chunks. I actually used "having said that" above :)

  6. Hi Leo!

    Congratulations on nearing 10,000 hits and wishing you thousands more!

    I would say that my favourite chunk is "whoop yay!", but I will be serious ; ) My favourite chunk is "to get to the point", probably because very often I get sidetracked myself when talking ; )

    Good stuff, Leo!

  7. Yes, congratulations indeed, Leo.

    My favourite discourse marking chunk is "The thing is..."
    So f*cking hard to teach them, of course. :)

    1. This one came to mind for me too because I realised about 10 years ago that it was all over my vernacular. Not so much now, I think.

  8. Hi Vicky and Alan
    I often get sidetracked too or should we rather say that we talk in hyperlinks?
    Both "point" and "thing" are really important and very frequent words in English which are often overlooked in teaching. They appear in so many different chunks:
    What's your point?
    That's beside the point
    OK, you've made your point
    and if you take "thing" - even more!
    I like teaching The (funny / interesting) thing is...

    Thank you for your wishes and contributions.

  9. Congrats on your 10,000+ visitors, Leo.

    I like "the thing is" and "having said that", but they've already been taken so I'll go for "Mind you..." or "...but mind you..."

    Here's to the next 10,000!

  10. My favourite has to be anything that starts with chocolate: chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream. Now is that a noun-noun collocation or an adjective-noun one? I'm sure some clever clogs (now there's another interesting collocation) out there will tell me.
    The chunk I really can't stand is "to tell you the truth" - you mean that most of the time you lie to me?
    Leo - please can I have my article now.

  11. I can't really think of a favorite chunk, but the one I use the most is "Throw it out!" As in - Gum in the garbage! But today I came across a collocation that I find delightful - eagerly await.

  12. Hi Steve
    Thank you for your wishes. Yes, "the thing is..." seems to be very popular (see Alan's and Tyson's comments above).

    I like "mind you" - bloody difficult to teach! I usually give an example of McDonalds. It's fast food, junk, not healthy etc but "mind you it's quite cheap".

    I also like "eagerly await", Michele or rather "eagerly awaited (book / sequel)".

    Never knew you were a chocaholic, Amanda. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, you can have your article now :) Was it Laufer? Will send it by email.

    Thank you all for your comments!

  13. "lay it out" "lay it on me" "give me a lay of the land"

    Don't know why these are coming up... but I'm a big fan. Also love teaching all of the "talk up, down, around, to vs with someone" etc.

    Congrats on the 10,000... we'll be celebrating 100,000 soon, I'm sure! Cheers, Brad

  14. Hi Brad
    I was waiting for your comment :) and to see what your favourite is.
    "A lay of the land" actually came up in class the other day as "suss out the lie of the land". I assume lie/lay is the same thing.
    I am not sure about your "talk" examples though - aren't these just multi-part verbs?

  15. Hey Leo,

    Sorry it took me so long to get back! Huh "suss out the lie"... haven't heard that version, so but it sounds like it's the same. And yes, multi-part verbs indeed. Adding another just for giggles: "make yourself at home" because it's oddly imperative and yet polite ;-) Cheers, Brad

  16. Your post has made me become conscious of chunks I like saying, even more than before. Here are a few more gems:

    give or take (e.g. The word limit is 3500, give or take).
    as if (i.e. in response to something you can't believe)
    when pigs fly

  17. Thank you, Brad and Tyson, for returning to this post. I am happy it has made you even more aware of the chunks you use. That's what has happened to me ever since I got into this whole business of lexical chunking: I notice chunks everywhere and encourage my students - not always successfully - to do the same. The other day my boss sent me an email asking something like "Are they still on track to get these books delivered by 13 February?" and I replied "Still on track to do something - that's a nice chunk, I should use it more often".

    When pigs fly - haven't heard anyone say that for a long time - a nice one!

    This morning in class we were talking about belated presents and I couldn't possibly came up again. My students can't seem to grasp it - I couldn't possibly what? where is the verb? Vicky Hollett has written this nice post about it and generally gift-giving customs across cultures: http://www.vickihollett.com/?p=1797

  18. As for my fav chunks, maybe "put into perspective" or "at the end of the day"?) I use them quite often in conversation classes, sometimes a bit too often though :))

    Conrats on 10 000 visitors, Leo!)

  19. My favorite chunk is the oxymoron "dry humor".


  20. My favourite is "think clearly"

  21. For me, my favourite chunk is "stay cool".

  22. My favourite chunk is "pay attention".

  23. Thank you all for your comments!

  24. As a teacher, my favourite is always, "Pay Attention"... and "Be Silent"

  25. My favourite chunk is "If I were you"

  26. Mine is "stay happy!"

  27. My favourite chunk is ' By the way'

  28. my favourite chunk would be, Come to think of it, "It's is great!"

  29. oh...dear...my favourite chunk is" If I were you...."
    but" by the way" is always comes with thousand excuses

  30. My favourite chunk would be, 'get up and go' as it kind of motivating me, 'stay cool' because I always want someone to cool me down.

  31. My favourite chunk would be, come to think of it, sort of,give it a try,pay attention,silent please...

  32. mine is "at the end of the day..." :)

  33. Well, when I come to think of it, I would say I like all the lexical chunks known to me. My favourite is 'from the corner of my eye' I can see that...


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