A Corpus-based Investigation into English Synonymous Verbs ‘Restrict’ and ‘Constrain’

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Nateethorn Narkprom


Through consultations with the online version of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), this study focuses on distinguishing between the two synonymous verbs ‘restrict’ and ‘constrain’, both part of Coxhead’s (2000) Academic Word List, in terms of formality and collocations. The COCA-informed findings revealed that both near-synonyms are most prevalent in academic genres, sharing an equally high level of formality, and exhibit six overlapping groups of noun collocates. Interestingly, the target synonyms, along with their left- and right-sided noun collocates, form context-specific clusters. The verb ‘restrict’ is associated with terms related to governance and rights (i.e., laws and regulations restrict liberties) while ‘constrain’ with governance and commerce (i.e., rules constrain spending). The two are also characterized by unique patterns of collocating with nouns that have opposite morphological meanings: ‘restrict’ pairs with noun collocates containing morphemes representing inbound activities (e.g., acc- in access, as in restrict access), while ‘constrain’ with those indicating outbound directions (e.g., ex- in expansion, as in constrain expansion).

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Narkprom, N. (2024). A Corpus-based Investigation into English Synonymous Verbs ‘Restrict’ and ‘Constrain’. LEARN Journal: Language Education and Acquisition Research Network, 17(1), 688–714. Retrieved from https://so04.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/LEARN/article/view/270439
Research Articles
Author Biography

Nateethorn Narkprom, Faculty of Education, Phetchabun Rajabhat University

A lecturer of English in the Faculty of Education of Phetchabun Rajabhat University, Thailand. His research interests involve corpus linguistics and textual analysis.


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