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An A to Z of spoken grammar: L

8 November 2019

Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.


L is for … lexical bundles


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 are some four-word bundles, based around the verbs ‘think’ and ‘know’, that are often used to begin a statement. 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, visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.


(M is for … marking spoken discourse: 12 November 2019)

Catch up with the previous entries here.