Published: 28th February 2017
Understanding a few English phrases, words and their collocations
Some words come in a package, becoming phrases. A few of them are of course confusing. Do not worry. Here is a basic guide to understand them better
A regular reader of the column, in his email, requested that I discuss some expressions that he came across in news reports about the Supreme Court’s verdict. While going through a few of the reports I picked these words/phrases: to nix someone’s dream, to contest election, to frame a charge, to clear the deck, to float a forum, to stake a claim, to sink one’s differences and to throw one’s weight behind something.
The phrases listed above are word chunks or collocations which refer to words that always go together. Learning words in chunks is an effective way of learning a language. In a few of my previous columns I have discussed the advantages of learning collocations over individual words. The word ‘nix’ means ‘to put an end’ to something. ‘Nix’ collocates with nouns such as request, dream, possibility, idea, etc.
- Sasikala’s conviction nixed any possibility of her becoming Tamil Nadu’s CM.
- My mom nixed my request to spend my holidays in Goa.
Collocations are partly or fully fixed expressions that become established through repeated context-dependent use. Such terms as 'crystal clear', 'middle management', 'nuclear family', and 'cosmetic surgery' are examples of collocated pairs of words
The synonyms of ‘contest’ are: compete for, contend for, vie for, challenge for, fight for, battle for, struggle for, and tussle for. To use the preposition ‘in’ after the verb ‘contest’ is not acceptable. It is a common error made by learners.
- Sasikala can’t contest polls for 10 years.
Here are some common collocations of ‘contest’: enter a contest, compete in a contest, win/lose a contest, withdraw from a contest, hold a contest.
The term ‘charge’ collocates with many verbs such as file, level, make, drop, withdraw, answer, face, admit, dismiss, deny, refute, reject and fabricate.
- He faces a criminal charge.
- She dismissed the charge that she indulged in corrupt practices.
‘Clear the decks’ is originally a naval expression asking the seamen to be ready for an action or a battle. Now, it refers to an act of removing hurdles and being ready for something. Example:
- Two weeks ago, decks were cleared for Sasikala to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Now, the Supreme Court verdict has cleared the decks for someone else to become the CM of the state.
‘To stake a claim’ means to assert one’s right to something. For example, labourers may stake claim to form a union or association.
- A week ago, Sasikala staked claims to form the government.
If you ‘sink differences’ with someone, you forget your disagreements with the person. Here is an example of how the phrase is used in a sentence.
- Let’s sink our differences and work together so that we can achieve our common goal.
The meaning of the expression ‘to throw one’s weight behind someone or something’ is to use one’s influence and do everything possible to help the person or to achieve something.
- Our boss is throwing his weight behind the project.