Choose a better verb

It’s easy to use very basic verbs such asget, start, have or make, but a great way ofimproving your English is to learn more interesting verbs that go with particular nouns. For example, while it’s fine to sayget attention or do research, your English will sound much better if you can sayattract attention or carry out research.

Sometimes it’s worth learning the verb and noun combination as a phrase because it is so common that it would sound strange to use a different verb. For instance, we commit a crime (never ‘do’), tell lies orjokes (never ‘say’), and pluck up courage (not ‘get’). And while it’s possible to ‘give’ attention, details or compliments, it’s much more common and natural topay attentiongo into details and pay someone a compliment.

If you are an intermediate or advanced learner of English, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of noticing (and perhaps writing down) interesting verb + noun partners so that you don’t have to rely on basic verbs. For example, you could usecause in all three of the following sentences, but imagine how impressed your teacher would be if you use the verbs that you see here instead:

Recent food shortages have triggered protests in the city.

            You need to find ways of generating interest in your product.

The announcement prompted speculation that their marriage was in trouble.

Similarly, you can sustain injuries rather than ‘get’ them, hold down a job rather than ‘keep’ it, strike up a conversation rather than ‘start’ it, and expend energyrather than ‘use’ it.

And don’t forget those combinations where the noun comes first. It’s fine to say that war ‘starts’, but so much better to say war breaks out. Similarly, a gamble can ‘succeed’, but your English will sound more natural if you say that a gamble pays off.

It may seem like an enormous task to learn particular verbs to use with specific nouns, but a good learner’s dictionary can help you a lot. All the examples given in this blog are shown clearly in the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. So if you find yourself using a common verb, it’s worth looking up the noun you want to use it with to see if there’s a better alternative.

If you adopt this approach, you will soon reap the rewards and win praise for your natural, fluent English.

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