What are grammar patterns?

Grammar patterns are ways of describing how words are used in English. A
grammar pattern tells us what phrases or clauses are used with a given
adjective, noun, or verb. For example the adjective afraid can be
used with a that-clause (He was afraid that…) or a prepositional
phrase with of (She is afraid of…). The verbgive can be used with one noun phrase (She gave some money) or two noun phrases (She gave the children some money) or a noun phrase and a prepositional
phrase with to (She gave some money to the children).

This website is unique in listing all the grammar patterns used in English,
and all the words regularly used with a given pattern. These lists are
based on corpus research carried out by lexicographers at Collins COBUILD
and by experts at the University of Birmingham. Grammar patterns can be
seen in the Collins learner’s dictionaries as well on this website.

If you are looking for exercises and activities based on pattern grammar, the teaching resources area of our website will give you lots of useful information along with downloads you can use in the classroom.

Our series of video guides presented by Prof. Susan Hunston gives an overview of pattern grammar with simple examples.

Some grammar patterns are very familiar. For example, some verbs take no
object (e.g. He sang loudly); some take one object (e.g.She bought a car); some take two objects (e.g. I read them a story). The grammar patterns shown on this
website take this idea much further. Firstly, they list the grammar
patterns used with adjectives and nouns as well as verbs. Verbs followed by at, such as shout at are well-known, but we list here
also adjectives followed by at, such as angry at, and
nouns followed by at, such as his anger at….Secondly,
this website lists a lot of patterns that other kinds of grammar do not.
For example, as well as identifying verbs used with on, such as agree on or decide on, it shows verbs used with a noun
phrase (object) and then with on, such asadvise someone on something or consult someone on something.

The words that are used with a particular pattern do not form a random
collection, but have meanings in common. For example, adjectives used withat express feelings towards something ( astonished at, angry at, unhappy at) or they tell us that someone
is good or bad at doing something ( bad at, expert at, good at, skilled at, terrible at). This website
groups together words with similar meanings.

You can find out more about grammar patterns and learner’s dictionaries in:

S. Hunston. 2004. ‘The corpus, grammar patterns, and lexicography’ Lexicographica 20: 99-112

What do grammar patterns look like?

This website uses a simple coding to show grammar patterns. It uses single
words or letters to represent types of words or clauses. For example:

  • V n
    means ‘verb followed by a noun phrase’ e.g. (he) was eating a biscuit.
  • N that
    means ‘noun followed by a that-clause’ e.g. the suggestion that we should leave.
  • ADJ to-inf
    means ‘adjective followed by a to-infinitive clause’ e.g. surprised to see him.

It uses actual words when these are an essential part of the pattern. For

  • V n into n
    means ‘verb followed by a noun phrase followed by into
    followed by a noun phrase’ e.g. (she) talked him into leaving his job.
  • ADJ of n
    means ‘adjective followed by of followed by a noun phrase’
    e.g. (he was) fond of her.
  • it v-link N to-inf
    means ‘the word it followed by a link verb followed by a noun
    phrase followed by a to-infinitive clause’ e.g. it was madness to come here.

The grammar patterns on this website are listed using their coding. At the
beginning of each grammar pattern entry you will see an explanation of the

How many grammar patterns are there?

English has tens of thousands of words, but only a few hundred grammar
patterns. It is difficult to say how many there are because some grammar
patterns are variants of other patterns. For example, say that and point out that could be labelled as the same pattern or as
different patterns. On this website, phrasal verbs are treated under the
same heading as single verbs, and passive uses are treated the same as
active uses. For example, you will find say that and point out that in the same pattern entry (V that)
and you will find ask them to do something andbe asked to do something in the same pattern entry ( V n to-inf). This reduces the number of
patterns. In this website there are about 200 grammar patterns.

How many patterns can a word be used with?

English words vary a lot in respect to how many patterns they are used
with. For example, the verb buy is used with two patterns: V n (bought a bicycle) and V n n
(bought her daughter a bicycle), but the verb forget is
used with seven: V (don’t forget),V n (forgot my name), V that (forgot that it was late), V to-inf (forgot to post the letter), V wh (forgot how to swim), V about n (forgot about the accident) and, with a particular meaning, V pron-refl (forgot himself). When you see a word
listed with a particular pattern in this website, it does not mean the
pattern is the only way the word is used. Look in the Collins on-line
dictionary for other patterns the word is used with.

Is it useful to know about grammar patterns?

It is useful for teachers and learners to know about grammar patterns for a
number of reasons. Learners can find out what patterns are and are not used
with a particular word. For example, give, hand, lend andoffer are all used with the pattern V n n (e.g. give me the book), but the word donate is not used with
that pattern. Learners can also increase their vocabulary by finding groups
of words used with the same pattern. For example, the patternit v-link ADJ to-inf is used with the common word important (it is important to use a good dictionary), but
also with compulsory, critical, crucial, essential, imperative, necessary
and vital. Learners can also explore how to express ideas in a
variety of ways according to context. For example, emotion can be expressed
using a that-clause in an adjective pattern (ADJ that:be afraid that), a noun pattern (N that:his fear that), or a verb pattern (V that: he feared that). Getting to know these patterns can help learners
find new ways to say something.

You can find out more about grammar patterns and teaching English in:

S. Hunston 2002 ‘Pattern grammar, language teaching, and linguistic
variation: applications of a corpus-driven grammar’ in Reppen, Biber and
Fitzmaurice (eds.) Using Corpora to Explore Linguistic Variation.
Benjamins. 167-186.

S. Hunston 2007. ‘Grammar patterns and literacy’ in McCabe, Anne,
O’Donnell, Mick & Whittaker, Rachel (eds.) Advances in Language and Education. London: Continuum. 254-267.

S. Hunston 2009. ‘The usefulness of corpus-based descriptions of English
for learners: the case of relative frequency’ in K. Aijmer (ed.) Corpora and Language Teaching. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 141-156.

Are Grammar Patterns and Pattern Grammar the same thing?

Grammar patterns are the individual patterns that are listed on this
website. Pattern Grammar is the concept, the idea behind the grammar

You can find out more about Pattern Grammar in:

S. Hunston & G. Francis 2000.

Pattern Grammar: a corpus-driven approach to the lexical grammar of

. Benjamins.

S. Hunston 2009. ‘A corpus-driven lexical grammar of English: observation
and theory’ Anglistik 20: 125-138.

S. Hunston 2014. ‘Pattern Grammar in Context’ in T. Herbst et al (eds.) Constructions Collocations Patterns Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter
Mouton. 91-111.

S. Hunston 2015. ‘Lexical grammar’ in Biber and Reppen (eds.) Cambridge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics. Cambridge University
Press. 201-215.

The adjective patterns

There are 4 kinds of adjective patterns.

1. Patterns indicating the position of the adjective. There are four such

a. ADJ n

b. v-link ADJ

c. ADJ after v

d. n ADJ

Most adjectives can come before a noun (a tall tree) or
after a link verb (the tree was tall). Some adjectives only
come before a noun: these have the pattern ADJ n. Some
adjectives only come after a link verb: these have the pattern v-link ADJ. Some adjectives are regularly used after a
verb (it was lying flat ordo you drink your coffee black): these have the patternADJ after v. A few adjectives are used after a noun (e.g.the grass was knee high): these have the pattern n ADJ.

2. Patterns where the adjective is followed by a clause. There are four
such patterns.

a. ADJ that

b. ADJ wh

c. ADJ to-inf

d. ADJ ing

In these patterns, the adjective comes after a link verb and is followed by
a clause. A that-clause is a finite clause that may begin withthat, or the word that may be omitted ( He was worried (that) the dog would follow them home.) A
wh-clause is a finite clause that begins with a question word such aswhat, where, who, how and if ( They were unsure what they should do). There is a
non-finite variant that is ADJ wh-to-inf ( They were unsure what to do). A to-inf clause begins with a
to-infinitive verb (He is certain to be elected). An ‘ing’
clause begins with the ‘ing’ form of a verb ( They were lucky winning the lottery).

3. Patterns where the adjective is followed by a prepositional phrase.

There are 15 adjective patterns with prepositions shown on this website.
The prepositions are:

about, against, as, at, between, by, for, from, in, of, on, over, to,
toward(s), with

. In each case, the adjective follows a link verb and is followed by the
prepositional phrase. Examples are:

be happy about, feel defenceless against, behelpful as, be expert at, become concerned by, be suitable for

and so on.

4. Adjective patterns with it and there

There are a number of patterns beginning with ‘dummy’ subjects: either it or there.

a. Patterns with it, an adjective, and a clause. One example isit v-link ADJ that (it is astonishing that…). Another isit v-link ADJ wh ( it is uncertain whether…)

b. Patterns with it, an adjective, a prepositional phrase, and a
clause. An example isit v-link for n that ( it is lucky for him that…).

c. Patterns with it, a verb and a noun phrase, an adjective and a
clause. An example is it v n ADJ that ( it makes me sad that…).

d. Patterns where it is the object of the verb. An example isv it ADJ to-inf ( make it easy to find the pattern).

e. Patterns with there and something / anything / nothing
. An example is there is something funny about the film.

The noun patterns

There are 5 kinds of noun patterns.

1. Patterns with determiners and modifiers

a. a N; the N; poss N; num N

b. adj N; n N; ord N

All nouns are used with determiners (a toy, the table, my chair)
and with modifiers (large building, first house), but some nouns
are mostly used with specific determiners or modifiers. Some nouns are used
only with a, sometimes with a specific meaning ( give me a call; he had a sleep). Some are
used with the, again often with a specific meaning ( the autumn; the bottom line; the bagpipes).
Some are used with possessives: these often indicate relationships ( my sister; her classmate) or are nouns that come
from verbs and indicate actions ( her portrayal of; your remark). Some nouns, mainly
those relating to measurements, are used with numbers ( three kilometres).

Similarly, some nouns with some meanings are mostly used with adjectives,
noun modifiers or ordinal numbers. Examples include

a fussy eater, a nervous disposition, a picnic area, a rifle range

and the first stage.

2. Patterns where the noun is followed by a clause. There are two such

a. N that

b. N to-inf

An example of the N that pattern is the suggestion that he should work harder. Notice that
there is an equivalence between the noun (‘suggestion’) and the content of
the clause (‘he should work harder’). This makes the N that pattern different from a relative clause. We can
see this by comparing two examples:the claim that the news was fake and the claim that he made yesterday. In the first example we
know what the claim was: ‘the news was fake’. This is the pattern N that. In the second example we do not know what the
claim was, only who made it and when. This is not an example of the pattern N that. An example of the N to-inf
pattern is her promise to complete the project on time.

3. Patterns where the noun is followed by a prepositional phrase.

There are 19 patterns where nouns are followed by prepositions shown on
this website. The prepositions are:

about, against, among, as, at, behind, between, by, for, from, in, in
favour of, into, of, on, over, to, towards, with

. In each case, the noun is followed by the prepositional phrase. Examples

on, argument over, loyalty to, attitude towards, patience with

and so on. These patterns are coded as N about n, N against n and so on. Where
the noun phrase has to be plural, this is shown in the pattern (e.g.N among pl-n: competition among the brothers).

4. Noun patterns with be, it and there

Some noun patterns consist of a noun followed by be and a clause.
An example is the N be that. This means
that the noun is used with the and is followed by be and
a that-clause (the answer is that…). Some noun patterns
begin with a dummy subject it or there. One example is it v-link det N to-inf, where the noun is used
with a determiner and is followed by a to-infinitive clause: it was a shock to see such a mess. The it can also
be object of a verb, as in the patternv it det N to-inf (I made it my mission to track him down). The patterns withthere have about or in in them, as in there is a fascination about map-making.

5. Patterns where the noun follows a preposition

Most nouns are sometimes used after a preposition, but some nouns are
mostly used after a specific preposition, such as in hospital, at school, on Thursday. There
are 13 patterns where nouns follow prepositions on this website. The
prepositions are:

at, by, from, in, into, of, on, out of, to, under, with, within,


The verb patterns

There are 5 main types of verb patterns.

1. Simple patterns

In simple patterns, the verb is followed by one noun or adjective phrase,
or by a clause of a specific kind. There is also the pattern V, where the verb is followed by nothing (it is an
intransitive verb). This website lists 16 simple patterns. Some examples

a. V n: bake a cake

b. V adj: feel lonely

c. V that: said that…

d. V as if: felt as if

e. V and v: went and forgot…

f. V: ran

2. Simple patterns with prepositions and adverbs

In most of these patterns, the verb is followed by a prepositional phrase
beginning with a specific preposition. Some examples are:

a. V against n: fought against the enemy

b. V as adj: qualify as medicinal

c. V of n: approved of his choice

d. V over n: argued over the meaning

e. V with n: was bursting with flavour

In some patterns, a prepositional phrase or adverb must be used, but it can
be one of several prepositions or adverbs. These patterns are:

a. V prep/adv: raced down the corridor

b. V adv: was doing well at school

c. V prep: nodded towards his friend

3. Complex patterns

In complex patterns, the verb is followed by two elements. This might be
two phrases, as in V n n, where the verb is followed by
two noun phrases, or V n adj, where the verb is followed
by a noun phrase and an adjective phrase. Alternatively, it might be a noun
phrase and a clause, as in V n that, where the verb is
followed by a noun phrase and a that-clause. The website lists 10 complex
patterns. Some examples are:

a. V n n: gave them some money; called him a cab

b. V n to-inf: asked her to wait

c. V n that: told them that…

d. V n –ed: get my watch repaired

The types of clauses identified in these patterns are: that-clauses,
wh-clauses, -ing clauses, to-infinitive clauses and infinitive clauses.

4. Complex patterns with prepositions and adverbs

In these patterns, the verb is followed by a noun phrase and then by a
prepositional phrase or adverb. The website lists 27 patterns of this kind.
Some examples are:

a. V n about n: told them about the problem

b. V n at n: aimed a shot at the enemy

c. V n in n: interested me in the project

d. V n into ing: talked him into staying longer

e. V n off n: borrow money off your friend

f. V n over n: spread butter over the bread

g. V n to n: gave the book to the child

h. V n with n: bored them with too much information

One unusual pattern is the way pattern: V way prep/adv. The verb is followed by a
possessive and way and then by an adverb or prepositional phrase.
Examples are: he elbowed his way across the room and she talked her way into the top job.

5. Patterns with it

There are 4 types of verb patterns with it. There are several
detailed patterns in each type. Here we explain the main ones.

a. Introductory it as subject. In these patterns, the subject of
the verb is it. The it refers to a clause that comes
after the verb. An example is it v that: it seems that... Another example, where the verb has an
object,is it V n that: it strikes me that…. In another large group of verbs, the
verb is passive, as in it be V-ed that: it is argued that…

b. Introductory it as object. The main patterns areV it that andV it n that. Examples of these are: loved it that… and thought it a shame that…

c. General it as subject. In these patterns, the word it
is not introductory and does not refer to a clause later in the sentence.
On the other hand, it does not have a specific meaning. Common examples in
English include it’s raining, which it the pattern it V.

d. General it as object. Again, the word it has a general
meaning. Examples are phrases such ascool it, knock it off and rough it. The pattern is V it.

If you want to find out more, visit the Grammar Patterns area of our website.

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