Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.
There’s a very interesting section in the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (pages 990-1005 of this corpus-based grammar, first published in 1999) on what the authors call ‘lexical bundles’: strings of words frequently used together in spoken English. It’s likely that we store these bundles in our mental lexicons in ready-to-use ‘chunks’, thus facilitating the real-time ‘to and fro’ of conversation.
Three-word bundles such as ‘I don’t know’ (‘don’t’ counts here as one word) are extremely common, and five-word bundles (e.g. ‘I was going to say’) less so. But what I’d like to mention here, particularly for teaching purposes, are some four-word bundles, based around the verbs ‘think’ and ‘know’, which are often used to begin a statement: 'utterance launchers.' What they have in common is a lack of certainty – a frequent feature of conversation – either from a social desire not to be too direct, or from a simple absence of knowledge at the moment of speaking.
So here are three of these four-word utterance launchers:
1. I don’t think I/you/he/she/it/we/they…
A: So Greg and Pete have finally painted the living-room!
B: Yes, but I don’t think they’ve done it very well.
2. I was thinking of + -ing form of verb…
A: How are you getting to the conference?
B: I was thinking of taking a train. Why?
A: I thought I might drive. We could go together if you like.
3. I don’t know if/how/what/when/where/whether/which/who/why …
A: I don’t know who’s coming tonight.
B: Me neither. The usual crowd, I suppose.
To find out about teaching spoken grammar, you are welcome to visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.