Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Usage & Academic Research: Differences In Similar Words -- The Corpus Approach Part 2


Hope you enjoy learning from the earlier post, Usage & Academic Research: Differences In Similar Words -- The Corpus Approach Part 1.

Today we'll continue with the rest of the questions.

 2. Which are the popular words that come immediately after whether and if?

Whether VS If - immediately after
Image from COCA
I have highlighted the most obvious this time, and these pop out:

  • whether or
  • if necessary
  • if not
  • if so
  • if only
Will we see more if we make it 2 words after that?

 3. Which are the popular words that come within 2 words after whether and if?

Whether VS If - within 2 words after
Images from COCA
This time, we get

  • whether * or (eg. whether he or ... / whether or not...)
  • whether * be (eg. whether it be ... / whether sb be...)
  • if * or (eg. if he or ...)
  • if * be (eg. if need be... / if sb be...)
  • if * ca__ (eg. if sb can't...)
  • if * necessary (eg. if necessary... / if absolutely necessary...)
  • if * so (eg . if so..., if needed so...)
  • if * only (eg. if only..., if I only...)
  • if * possible (eg. if possible ..., if legally possible...)
  • if * look (eg. if sb look at...)
where * can be a word or no word at all.


 4. Which are the popular words that come within 3 words after whether and if?

 
Whether VS If - within 3 words after
Images from COCA
  • whether ** or (eg. whether he or ... / whether or not they...)
  • if ** or (eg. if Iron Man or .../ if he or she...)
  • if ** ca__ (eg. if sb can't do ... / if Austin Powers can't...)
  • if ** only (eg. if only he will ..., if he can only...)
  • if ** look (eg. if the scientists look... / if I look forward...)
where * can be a word or no word at all.


From the question 2, 3 and 4, what we can conclude is, if we are looking for any patterns of whether and if, then we want all our summarised findings above from 2,3 and 4. If we want to know which are the common usage patterns of whether and if, then it is pretty obvious that the best answers are those from question 3.

If you ask me what do the answers from question 3 reflect, together with the examples given, here's how I interpret them,

  • whether he or ... , if he or ... are interchangeable
  • whether or not... CANNOT be changed to if or not...
  • whether he be... , if he be... are interchangeable
  • if need be ... CANNOT be changed to whether need be...
  • if sb can't... is an EXTREMELY popular start of a clause
  • The if in if * necessary (eg. if necessary... / if absolutely necessary...), if * so (eg . if so..., if needed so...), if * only (eg. if only..., if I only...), if * possible (eg. if possible ..., if legally possible...) CANNOT be changed to whether.
You may say, how come even the findings are so complicated? Well, tough luck, this is how English works. Probably there are many more languages out there which are even more difficult to learn.

Now, do you think you can find out the differences between

fast, quick, speedy and rapid;
appropriate and suitable;
finish and complete;
give in and give up;
effective and efficient;
elder and older;
further and farther;
gather and collect;
find, look for and find out;
match and game;
small, little and tiny;
like, alike and as;
like, love and prefer;

by yourself?

I am considering Part 3 of this series.


Resources:
Usage & Academic Research: Differences In Similar Words -- The Corpus Approach Part 1 @ Locky's English Playground
http://lockyep.blogspot.hk/2013/08/usage-academic-research-differences-in.html

Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/