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"This book contains an exhaustive and highly useful collection of combinations of verbs and nouns without which nobody can speak and write fluent English. Master these combinations. They can help you turn into an exeptionally fluent speaker of English."
India's national newspaper
since 1878.
"...the world’s first compilation of its kind. This pioneering work contains an exhaustive and highly useful collection of combinations of verbs and nouns without which nobody can speak or write fluent English."
- The New Indian Express.
"Pioneering work... These word groups are of great general utility, and perhaps no other word combinations can solve as much of your fluency-related vocabulary problems as these combinations can."
- Competition Success Review
India's largest-read youth magazine.
"A collection of everyday verb + noun combinations."
"...essential for a high degree of narrative fluency."
- The New Indian Express
"...important verb-plus-noun groups of words... those essential for English conversation, for spontaneity to happen... when you are searching for that apt word in your mind and the fleeting moment passes..."
India's national newspaper
since 1878.
  A Dictionary of Active Fluency Combinations>Sample Chapter

A Dictionary of
Active Fluency Combinations

by Prof. Kev Nair



If you can write good English, but aren’t quite fluent (or as fluent as you’d like to be) while speaking it, a major reason for your fluency problem could be this: You could be trying to speak the way you write. That is, you could be trying to compose your speech the way you compose a piece of writing — rather than the way the spoken medium allows speech to be composed.

In particular, it’s quite possible that you’ve been trying to choose your spoken vocabulary items based on the same considerations as you take into account while choosing your written vocabulary items.

But mind you, this is something you shouldn’t be doing at all. That is, while you’re speaking in English, you shouldn’t be trying to choose your vocabulary items on the basis of the same considerations as you take into account while you’re writing in English. Or you’ll find it impossible to be fluent while speaking in English — especially, when what you’re trying to say is something that cannot be limited to one-line English.

The reason is quite simple: Spoken English is not written English said aloud. Spoken English is a different stream altogether. And so, the considerations that should guide you in deciding on spoken vocabulary items are quite different from those that should guide you in deciding on written vocabulary items.

If you’re trying to achieve a high degree of fluency in spoken English, here’s a basic difference between speech and writing you should always keep in mind:

A piece of writing is an object — in the sense that a table or chair is an object — while a stretch of speech is not. Writing is a thing you can see and touch. But speech is not. Speech isn’t something you can see or touch. It’s never available as an object for later examination or analysis — the way a piece of writing is. Speech is simply a process — a series of actions, a series of mental actions and oral actions that you carry out in order to orally communicate something to somebody, but not a series of actions resulting in an object at all. (Speech turns into an object only when it’s recorded and transcribed. And then, the result — the transcript — is not speech at all. It then is a piece of writing.)

Speech is a series of mental and oral actions you do in order to achieve a particular communicative purpose with somebody. It’s something that is always in a state of activity. It never has an existence outside the activity stage. It’s a happening, a transitory event. It begins happening, continues happening for some time, and ends for ever. The moment you finish speaking, speech is finished for ever. It then stops to be in existence altogether. But as long as it goes on, speech is something that is alive — something that is filled with activity, something that keeps moving and undergoing change.

While you’re in the process of speaking, what you’re really doing is this: From one angle, what you’re doing is to process your ideas, thoughts and feelings aloud with the aim of communicating them at the same time to your hearers. From another angle, what you’re doing is to engage in a process of interaction with your hearers. This is true even if what you’re engaged in is a monologue — with your hearers just sitting there and looking at you and listening to you without making any oral response at all.

Remember this: Even during a monologue made in front of an audience, you’re not just speaking to yourself — you’re speaking to the audience, and so you’re actually interacting with them.

The point I’m trying to stress here is this: Whether you’re engaged in a multi-party conversation or a monologue, as long as you’re speaking spontaneously, and not with reference to a script, you present your speech to your hearers at the same time as you’re speaking to them. That is, the production of spontaneous speech and its presentation to the addressees happen at the same time. The speech production as well as the speech presentation is a single activity, a single process — and a real-time one.

On the other hand, with writing, what happens is something quite different. While you’re writing, you don’t present anything to your readers at the same time as you’re writing. You present what you write to your readers only later — after you’ve finished producing it, and after you’ve given all the finishing touches to it. So remember this: A piece of writing is something that you produce as an object first, polish up as much as possible, and present to the readers later — so that they can read it and digest it at their convenience, that too, in your absence.
So the vocabulary items that you use in speech must be those that have the quality of making real-time processing and simultaneous presentation of speech possible. Generally speaking, individual words don’t have this quality. But groups of words do — groups of words that are closely connected to one another. These are the kinds of word groups that can act as single units of meaning.

Let me explain: While you’re speaking, you have to plan and compose speech at such a fast rate that you don’t have time enough to think of each of the words that can help you express your meaning, or of the grammar and usage of those words, or to decide on the syntactic structure you should use in order to string those words together into a larger unit of meaning. And so, in spontaneous speech (and to a great extent in spontaneous writing like spontaneous dictation), there’s a real need for ready-to-use word groups that can express larger units of meaning without you having to think of the precise individual words and of how to string them together into larger units. That’s why every articulate native speaker of English, as well as every fluent non-native speaker of English, has a good command of a large number of pre-built groups of words.

The pre-built word groups that fluent speakers have a good command of are combinations of closely related words. You know, combinations of closely-related words have a unique feature. They contain the syntax required to construct them from individual words — as a built-in feature of their framework. For example, take these combinations:

How are you?
as a matter of fact
a few years back
one of his strengths
do all that is humanly possible
concentrate your attention on sth
take a circumstance into consideration
make a contribution to sth
trace the development of sth
have mixed feelings about sb/sth
carry out an investigation (into sth)

You learn word combinations like them as ‘wholes’, and when you learn them as ‘wholes’, you don’t have to learn the syntax required to construct them from individual words — because each ‘whole’ comes with the required syntax readily built into it.

Word combinations like these are of frequent general utility, and you’ll find them useful in a variety of situations — irrespective of the topic.

If you get to have a good mastery of these “ready-to-use” word groups, you won’t have to waste time constructing them anew on the spot, (or constructing similar word groups for use in their place), every time you find yourself having to express the meaning they stand for. And you’ll normally be able to build speech quickly from them by assembling them into a chain along with other words and word groups (depending on the context).

In other words, if you have a good mastery of frequently-occurring ready-to-assemble word groups, the process of speaking spontaneously is somewhat like building a prefabricated house from pre-built standardized sections that can be put together quickly. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that ready-to-use pre-built word groups can build a major part of your speech for you without you having to make much effort.

In this way, ready-to-use pre-built word groups can not only help you compose your speech at a fast rate, but also save you a considerable amount of time as you’re speaking. And the time so saved is a fluency lifeline for every fluent speaker — something very important for them and something that they depend on in order to keep up a smooth flow of speech.

The reason is this: When you’re speaking spontaneously (and not writing), you’ll have to do the speech-planning, speech-formulation, speech-composition and speech-delivery — all at the same time. The time you have in order to do all this is limited to the time you have for speaking. But it goes without saying that you need some time to do all this. You need some time to monitor what you’ve already said; to plan and formulate what to say next; to assess whether, by saying what you’re saying, you’re successful in achieving your communicative purpose; to mentally and orally organize what you’re expressing into a united whole (by making its various strands of meaning to fit together well); to make sure that what you’re saying is clear and sensible, and not muddled. You need time to do all this.
But where can you get the time you need to do all this? Obviously, you’ll have to rely on ready-to-use word groups and other devices that help create planning time (such as the deliberate use of redundant material like fillers and repetitions, for example.)

In general, a long stretch of speech is a combination of ready-to-assemble word groups and word groups that are made to order on the spot. This is because it won’t generally be possible to say everything you want to say by using ready-to-assemble word groups alone — especially, when you’re speaking about something at length and in detail. There would be segments of your meaning the ready-to-assemble word groups may not be able to express effectively, and so you’ll have to construct them on the spot — from individual words.

There’s one thing you should understand about these made-to-order word groups (or spot-made word groups). From the speech fluency angle, they differ from ready-to-assemble word groups in one important way. While you can rattle off ready-to-assemble word groups quickly and without much effort (because you have the experience of having used them on previous occasions), you’ll need some time and effort to produce made-to-order word groups (because you have never used them before — or haven’t used them often enough, and so can’t recall them readily from memory and use them as ‘wholes’). Remember that a made-to-order word group is a word group you have to construct from scratch — on the spot. You have to search for, find and select appropriate individual words. You have to decide on an appropriate grammatical structure on which to string them together into a word group. This is a job that needs a lot of care and attention, and you’ll need some time to do this — more time than the normal speech-composition rate allowed by the spoken medium.

And where can you get this time when you’re speaking spontaneously? The answer again is ‘ready-to-use word groups’ (and other devices for creating planning time, of course.)

People who have a good mastery of ready-to-use word groups will be able to tell you one thing. Whenever they form an intention to say something, especially something at length, a number of ready-to-use word groups come rushing to their mind. They make maximum use of these word groups to build those parts of their speech that these word groups can put together quickly and easily. And they make use of the time that each ready-to-use word group saves them to ‘create’, from scratch, those parts that these word groups won’t be able to take care of — and to organize the entire length of their speech into a cohesive whole.

So remember this: Without relying on ready-to-assemble word groups, you won’t be able to speak English fluently — no matter how deep your knowledge of the English language may be. So you can imagine how important ready-to-assemble word groups are for spoken English fluency.

This, of course, is opposed to the best conventions of producing a piece of considered writing.

Let me explain. When you’re producing a piece of considered writing, especially, official writing, there are three things you should do in order to make what you’re writing effective:

First, you should only start writing after you’re quite clear in your mind what exactly you want your writing to convey — so that what you write isn’t something that is directionless or confused. Second, once you’re clear about it, you should do the writing by using only those words and expressions, and only those constructions, that can convey your meaning accurately — and not by using any other words or constructions that might make your meaning vague or ambiguous or unclear. Third, you should keep out all words that do not contribute directly to the meaning you’re trying to convey, so that there are no non-essential or redundant words in what you’ve written that can twist, cloud or dilute the meaning expressed tightly by essential words.

Now when you’re producing a piece of considered writing (rather than speaking), this sort of care and attention would certainly be possible — as well as necessary. It’s possible, because you’re not composing as well as presenting what is composed to your readers at the same time, and the rate at which you plan and compose your writing is far slower than that at which you’d have to do the planning and composing if you had been speaking spontaneously. So while you’re writing (rather than speaking), you can afford to take reasonable time to think hard and do everything possible to make your meaning as explicit as possible.

And remember one other thing: While you’re producing a piece of considered writing, you’re producing something that’s going to be a matter of record for a long time to come. On the other hand, while you’re speaking (rather than writing), what you’re producing is something whose life is limited to the duration of the speech-production process.
As far as the effectiveness of a piece of writing is concerned, here’s something you should always keep in mind: In general, the people who read what you’ve written have only the words and expressions you’ve used (and the shared knowledge of the world) to go by while trying to understand what you’re communicating through it. While you’re writing, you’re not producing the content orally, and you’re not producing it at a time when you and your addressees are face to face with one another. So, as far as the readers are concerned, they’re not in a position to get help from the situational context or other extra-linguistic factors like your facial expressions or gestures or the tone, pitch, loudness, level, etc. of your voice in order to arrive at the exact meaning you intended to convey through your words and expressions. And as far as you (the writer) are concerned, you’re not in a position to monitor the body language of your readers or their response noises — and to assess the extent to which they have, or have not, understood you and to modify the form and content of what you’re writing.

And don’t forget an important fact: A piece of considered writing is not produced in the course of an interaction with the addressees (= the readers). That is, at the time when a piece of considered writing is produced, there’s no interaction going on between you and the addressees (= the readers), and so they can’t ask for any clarification from you — and you can’t ask them any questions and shape your speech according to the feedback you get from them.
So whenever you produce a piece of considered writing, you have to choose every word you use with great care, so that every one of those words is exactly right, and no word is imprecise or vague.

Mind you, if you don’t take this kind of care and attention while producing a piece of writing, the way you write won’t be efficient, and what you write won’t be effective.

But when you’re speaking spontaneously (and not writing), this sort of care and attention is simply not possible. Nor is it necessary.

Just take a look at three of the realities of a speech-production environment:

First, when you’re speaking spontaneously, you’ll often have to start speaking even before you’re clear in your own mind what exactly you want to say or what exactly you’re going to say. Most often, you start speaking by filling time with word groups of a prefatory and general nature, and you’ll be able to formulate what you want to say only on the way — that too, increment by increment. As and when you formulate what to say next, you express it either (a) through a ready-to-assemble pre-built word group that occurs to you readily, or (b) through a combination of such a word group and some other vocabulary item, or (c) through an entirely new spot-made word group. Then in the same way, you give expression to another related bit that happens to occur to you as important at that moment. Then you give expression to another one. And you go on building your speech bit by bit in this way — through continuous, incremental additions.

Second, when compared to the rate at which you can compose a piece of writing, the rate at which you have to compose speech is extremely fast. In fact, the rate at which you compose speech has to be so much faster than the rate at which you compose a piece of writing that you must be able to fill every moment of the duration for which you plan to speak (or for which others expect you to speak), with oral language — except during the split-second breath pauses and hesitation pauses here and there. So you have no time, while you’re on your feet and speaking spontaneously, to hunt up and use words, expressions and constructions that are exactly right (as you do when you prepare a considered piece of writing). And you have no alternative but to speak by choosing vocabulary items from such of them as happen to occur to you readily and without much effort on the spur of the moment — even though they may only be approximately (and not exactly) right.

Mind you, when you’re speaking spontaneously, you’ve no option but to follow this course. And mind you, when you’re speaking (and not writing), the vocabulary items you use must be right and appropriate only by spoken English standards and not by written English standards.

Third, as most of the things you say in spontaneous speech are approximations, or things of a tentative nature or make-shift improvisations or try-outs, everything you say when you speak spontaneously is subject to moment-to-moment refinement. And so, while you go on adding, increment by increment, new bits of meaning to what you’re saying, you also go on refining, increment by increment, almost everything you’ve said. This means that, throughout the time that you’re speaking, you’ll be making a considerable amount of restatements, backtracking, self-corrections, paraphrasing, and even contradictions — increment by increment. All these oral refinements and editing actions throw up a lot of word groups and word group fragments in the form of repetitions, fillers, irrelevant items, discarded items, etc. And these items make spontaneous speech become stuffed full of what can be called “redundancies” by the written English standards. From the point of view of what’s good writing, this material is certainly redundant, but not from the point of view of what’s good speech. As far as spontaneous speech is concerned, this so-called redundant matter is its very life-blood — because they generate for the speaker the much-needed speech-planning-and-composition time.

In writing, redundancies are things you should scrupulously avoid — because they don’t contribute directly to the meaning you’re trying to convey, and instead, they interfere with the reader’s ability to quickly understand what you’re trying to convey through your writing. They distract the reader’s attention. And they make the reader’s life difficult, because they force the reader to strain hard and spend time sifting the essential from the non-essential. But this is not so in speech. No. In speech, the presence of the so-called redundant matter only adds to the ease with which the hearers are able to understand the speaker. The redundancies make the way the content is packed loose and less dense, and make important strands of ideas stand spaced out — allowing time for the hearers to slowly digest the important points that the speaker is making.

Ready-to-assemble word groups are the vocabulary items that fit in squarely with these three (and other) realities of a speech-production environment.

This book concentrates on highly useful ready-to-assemble word combinations of the “verb + noun” variety and their variations. You will find them grouped under various headwords. These headwords are all nouns.

Of all kinds of word combinations, “verb + noun” combinations (and their variations) are the most important ones for achieving fluency in English. And what’s the reason? We’ve already seen the reason: Speech is an activity, and not a finished product like writing. Speech is a dynamic activity — one that keeps on changing, evolving and progressing, a happening that takes place in time. And whenever you’re speaking, you’re doing an activity — the activity of using words and communicating something to somebody who you’re speaking to at that moment.

Speech is a representation of your sense perceptions, thoughts, ideas and feelings done in words at the same time as those perceptions, thoughts, ideas and feelings are happening. And the words in the English language that represent happenings of all kinds are verbs. Yes, verbs. The happening of perceptions, thoughts, ideas and feelings that you’re trying to put into words while you’re speaking can be about anything: About all kinds of activities, actions, events, accomplishments, achievements, processes and changes of state happening in time — or about all kinds of phenomenon and states existing in time. And verbs are the words in the English language that represent happenings that take place in time as well as phenomenon, states and conditions that exist in time. So verbs are the words that are ideally suited to give expression to your perceptions, thoughts, ideas and feelings — at the same time as they’re happening.

So in natural speech, especially, in everyday conversational speech, verbs tend to be used far more frequently to carry the content of a message than in writing. Whenever the meaning can be conveyed through an active verb group, fluent speakers don’t normally use a noun or a nominalized form in its place. Nouns are product words, and so have a greater role to play in writing, especially formal writing, than in speech. In fact, natural speakers rarely turn a verb into a noun. For example, they don’t normally convert the verb destroy in a clause like “The fire destroyed the building and...” into the nominalized form destruction and say instead something like “The destruction of the building by the fire….”. In the same way, they won’t normally convert the verb criticize in a clause like “He criticized her work, and she became angry” into the nominalized form criticism and say, instead, something like this: “His criticism of her work made her angry”. Here are a few more examples, with verb-centred word groups outside the brackets and nominalized forms inside:

He handled the crisis… (His handling of the crisis…)
She believed that… (Her belief that…)
They argued over how best to deal with the situation. (Their argument over how best to deal with the situation…)
… because the train arrived late. (….because of the late arrival of the train.)

Typically, verbs help you do the activity of giving expression to your perceptions, thoughts, feelings and ideas in two ways:

• In the same way as you say “Somebody did something”. (This is the “Subject + Verb + Object” pattern, the SVO pattern.)

They blamed him.
He hit me.
She prepared the sauce.
He dropped a hint.
Who answered the phone?

• In the same way as you say “Something happened”. (This is the “Subject + Verb” pattern, the SV pattern.)

He laughed.
Her blood pressure has dropped.
They waited.
The snow sparkled.

As far as nouns are concerned, their chief role in natural speech is to function as the grammatical object of a verb element in the SVO pattern. (The SVO pattern is the most common pattern in natural speech.) Whenever possible, natural speakers avoid using nouns and noun phrases, especially in the ‘S’ position, and use a pronoun instead — whether the clause pattern is SVO or SV or any other pattern.

So here’s the natural way to do the activity of using words for on-the-spot communication through the spoken medium: Make almost everything you say verb-centered, rather than noun-centered (or adjective-centered or adverb-centered). Yes, make them all verb-centered — except perhaps when you’re tagging on extra details in the form of a noun phrase or an adjective phrase or an adverb phrase or a prepositional phrase to a core speech unit. Make verbs (and not nouns or adjectives or adverbs) the centre of attention of all your core speech units. You know, verbs are the live words of the English language — words that are full of movement and energy, the “doing” words. And so, they’re the words that help you most to perform the dynamic activity of on-the-spot speech production.

And how will you be able to do this? All you need to do is this: Master the ‘verb + noun’ combinations of frequent utility — and soon these combinations will begin to come crowding in whenever you form an intention to say something. Grab them and make them the mainstay of your English — the most basic part of it, the part that provides support to all secondary parts. And remember this: As far as possible, avoid using nominalized forms, especially, as the Subject element.

And when you give verbs a position of pre-eminence and start putting them to extensive use as the motor that gets other words to work, you’ll be able to notice one thing: Almost all your core speech units would have turned out to be clauses — and most of them, finite clauses of the SVO pattern — with a pronoun, rather than a complex noun phrase or a nominalized form, as the Subject element. In a long stretch of speech, many of your secondary speech units would, of course, be noun phrases, prepositional phrases, adjective phrases and adverb phrases. But they would be present in speech either as reduced – ‘elided’ – forms of finite clauses or as add-ons to core clauses.

So go ahead and do everything you can to achieve a good command of the ‘verb+noun’ combinations (and their variations) you get in this book.

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