you can write good English, but arent quite fluent (or
as fluent as youd 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, its quite possible that youve 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 shouldnt be doing
at all. That is, while youre speaking in English, you
shouldnt be trying to choose your vocabulary items on
the basis of the same considerations as you take into account
while youre writing in English. Or youll
find it impossible to be fluent while speaking in English
especially, when what youre 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 youre trying to achieve a high degree of fluency
in spoken English, heres 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 isnt something you can see or
touch. Its 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 its 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.
Its something that is always in a state of activity.
It never has an existence outside the activity stage. Its
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
While youre in the process of speaking, what youre
really doing is this: From one angle, what youre 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 youre doing is to
engage in a process of interaction with your hearers. This
is true even if what youre engaged in is a monologue
with your hearers just sitting there and looking at
you and listening to you without making any oral response
Remember this: Even during a monologue made in front of an
audience, youre not just speaking to yourself
youre speaking to the audience, and so youre actually
interacting with them.
The point Im trying to stress here is this: Whether
youre engaged in a multi-party conversation or a monologue,
as long as youre speaking spontaneously, and not with
reference to a script, you present your speech to your hearers
at the same time as youre 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 youre writing, you dont
present anything to your readers at the same time as youre
writing. You present what you write to your readers only later
after youve finished producing it, and
after youve 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 dont 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 youre speaking, you have to plan
and compose speech at such a fast rate that you dont
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),
theres 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. Thats 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:
a matter of fact
few years back
of his strengths
all that is humanly possible
your attention on sth
a circumstance into consideration
a contribution to sth
the development of sth
mixed feelings about sb/sth
out an investigation (into sth)
learn word combinations like them as wholes, and
when you learn them as wholes, you dont
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 youll 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 wont 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 youll 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, its 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 youre 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 youre speaking spontaneously
(and not writing), youll 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 youve
already said; to plan and formulate what to say next; to assess
whether, by saying what youre saying, youre successful
in achieving your communicative purpose; to mentally and orally
organize what youre expressing into a united whole (by
making its various strands of meaning to fit together well);
to make sure that what youre 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,
youll 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
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 wont generally be possible
to say everything you want to say by using ready-to-assemble
word groups alone especially, when youre 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 youll have to
construct them on the spot from individual words.
Theres 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),
youll need some time and effort to produce made-to-order
word groups (because you have never used them before
or havent used them often enough, and so cant
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 youll
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 youre speaking
spontaneously? The answer again is ready-to-use word
groups (and other devices for creating planning time,
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 wont
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 wont 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 youre producing a piece of considered
writing, especially, official writing, there are three things
you should do in order to make what youre writing effective:
First, you should only start writing after youre quite
clear in your mind what exactly you want your writing to convey
so that what you write isnt something that is
directionless or confused. Second, once youre 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 youre
trying to convey, so that there are no non-essential or redundant
words in what youve written that can twist, cloud or
dilute the meaning expressed tightly by essential words.
Now when youre producing a piece of considered writing
(rather than speaking), this sort of care and attention would
certainly be possible as well as necessary. Its
possible, because youre 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 youd have to do the planning and
composing if you had been speaking spontaneously. So while
youre 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 youre producing
a piece of considered writing, youre producing something
thats going to be a matter of record for a long time
to come. On the other hand, while youre speaking (rather
than writing), what youre 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,
heres something you should always keep in mind: In general,
the people who read what youve written have only the
words and expressions youve used (and the shared knowledge
of the world) to go by while trying to understand what youre
communicating through it. While youre writing, youre
not producing the content orally, and youre 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,
theyre 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, youre
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 youre writing.
And dont 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, theres no
interaction going on between you and the addressees (= the
readers), and so they cant ask for any clarification
from you and you cant ask them any questions
and shape your speech according to the feedback you get from
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 dont take this kind of care and attention
while producing a piece of writing, the way you write wont
be efficient, and what you write wont be effective.
But when youre 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
First, when youre speaking spontaneously, youll
often have to start speaking even before youre
clear in your own mind what exactly you want to say or what
exactly youre going to say. Most often, you start speaking
by filling time with word groups of a prefatory and general
nature, and youll 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 youre
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 youre speaking spontaneously, youve
no option but to follow this course. And mind you, when youre
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 youre saying, you also go on refining,
increment by increment, almost everything youve said.
This means that, throughout the time that youre speaking,
youll 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
whats good writing, this material is certainly
redundant, but not from the point of view of whats 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
In writing, redundancies are things you should scrupulously
avoid because they dont contribute directly to
the meaning youre trying to convey, and instead, they
interfere with the readers ability to quickly understand
what youre trying to convey through your writing. They
distract the readers attention. And they make the readers
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 whats the
reason? Weve 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 youre
speaking, youre doing an activity the activity
of using words and communicating something to somebody who
youre 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 youre trying to put
into words while youre 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 theyre
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
dont 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 dont 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
.. In the same way, they wont 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:
handled the crisis
(His handling of
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. (
of the late arrival of the train.)
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.)
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.)
Her blood pressure has dropped.
The snow sparkled.
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 heres 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
youre 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, theyre
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
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, youll 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.