kitchen table math, the sequel: answer key

Monday, April 23, 2012

answer key

Most common verb in spoken English: get
[T]he extremely high frequency of the verb get in conversation is more surprising for most people. This verb goes largely unnoticed, yet in conversation it is by far the single most common lexical verb. The main reason that get is so common is that it is extremely versatile, being used with a wide range of meanings. These include:
  • Obtaining something: See if they can get some of that beer.
  • Possession: They’ve got a big house.
  • Moving to or away from something: Get in the car.
  • Causing something to move or happen: It gets people talking again, right?
  • Understanding something: Do you get it?
  • Changing to a new state: So I’m getting that way now.
Corpus Linguistics and Grammar Teaching
Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad
I missed it by a mile. (I said 'be,' which I gather is right if you're talking about the most common verb used in writing.)

New Blogger post window is not easy, and not fun.

Right-side menu is now stuck open, covering up one or two words at the end of each line.

I wonder how hard it is to move to Wordpress?

I love Wordpress.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I'm dubious about this claim for written English: "is" far outnumbers "get" at

Switching to wordpress is fairly easy, see

Catherine Johnson said...

"Get" is the most common spoken verb, not the most common written verb.

Catherine Johnson said...

In fiction & news writing, 'say' is the most common verb.

Glen said...

To be is the highest frequency verb in any reasonably general corpus of either written or spoken English.

In my own research, this was so obvious that I have to assume that their claims refer exclusively to the lexical (non-auxiliary) tokens (instances) of verbs.

Even with this assumption, I found the following in my analysis of a large corpus of transcribed phone conversations (in which one party was a switchboard operator):

know: 46454
get: 22440

Since there are no auxiliary uses of "know," I find "know," not "get" to be the most common lexical verb in speech--at least in this case.

You could still argue that if one party to the conversation is a switchboard operator, the question of knowing might arise more often than in "ordinary" conversations, but there's the rub. What is an ordinary conversation? These phone conversations are quite diverse, and my daily conversations often include working out logistics, expressing opinions, asking questions, etc., all of which involve knowing.

I wouldn't be surprised to find more instances of "get" than "know" in some corpus, but "be" is the most frequently used English verb overall, and even limiting ourselves to lexical tokens in speech corpora, "get" is not necessarily the winner.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm going to guess that they are indeed referring to non-auxiliary verbs. As I recall, Biber and Conrad say that they've used the analytical scheme of Quirk & Greenbaum & c, and they argue that all verbs consist of an "operator" and a .... main verb (not sure what term they used).

They are so committed to this way of seeing things that they argue that stand-alone verbs should be understood as possessing a "dummy operator."

NOTE: This is entirely my assumption about their reasoning. I have no idea whether I'm right.

Catherine Johnson said...

Glen, are you a linguist!?

I didn't know ----

Glen said...

Yes, sort of, but of the industrial/applied sort, not the academic sort.

I started out working in physics, but in defense contracting, not academia. In industry you tend to take your toolbox of skills and apply them to projects opportunistically. You don't have to produce work in your "field"; you solve any problem for which you can find a solution and a buyer. That makes is harder to label yourself. What you are depends on the project you're working on.

In the last few years, I've tended to work on language-related problems for Silicon Valley tech companies. There are always tech aspects to the problem and usually linguistic aspects. So, though I don't work for any linguistics department, I often work in applied linguistics, among other things.

If that answers your question.