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adjective-noun collocations
Heavy rain

Amin studying English in New Zealand writes:

I usually get confused using adjectives like heavy, strong, severe, hard. For example, should it be :

heavy traffic or severe traffic or
heavy / strong / severe wind
or
heavy / strong / severe / hard rain
or
They hit me so hard/strongÖ?

I would be much obliged if you could give me an answer.

Roger replies: more questions

As you progress further with your English studies, Amin, you will become more sensitive to which adjectives best collocate with which nouns and which adverbs best collocate with which verbs. You can learn this by listening to as much spoken English as possible and reading as much written English as possible. Always try to learn use of vocabulary from the context in which it appears and with the help of an English-English dictionary which gives plenty of examples of use as well as definitions. In your examples, we would talk about:

  • The heavy rain and heavy traffic made me late for my appointment.
  • The strong wind whipped the waves up into three-metre-high breakers.
  • They hit me so hard that I found it difficult to stay on my feet.
Other examples or contexts of usage with
heavy / strong / severe / hard
might be:

heavy

  • He wonít be able to lift such a heavy suitcase. Heís only nine years old.
  • Heís been a heavy smoker and drinker all his adult life.
  • It was a very heavy meal Ė far too much meat and not enough vegetables or salads.
  • She had a very heavy cold and her breathing was heavy too.
  • Iíve had a really heavy week Ė Iíve got a really heavy timetable this term.
  • The First World War yielded much heavier casualties than had ever been known before.
Interestingly, thinking about antonyms of heavy, although we would talk about light suitcases, light meals, light weeks, light timetables and light casualties, we wouldnít quite so often say a light smoker or a light drinker. I think you would rarely hear someone say a light cold. Instead it would be a slight cold, although you might say that someoneís breathing was very light.(The antonyms of a word is another word which means the opposite.)

strong

  • Martina Hingis has always exerted a strong influence on the way I play tennis.
  • Although I have strong views on this, I had the strong support of everybody in the room.
  • He has a strong case and there is a strong chance that his appeal will be successful.
  • She speaks English quite well but with a strong French accent.

I am strong in the social sciences and psychology is perhaps my strongest subject.

Thinking of antonyms of strong in these contexts, although we would talk about a weak influence, a weak case, being weak in social sciences and my weakest subject, we would have to say a slight chance, and a slight accent.

For the converse of strong views and strong support, we would probably say: I donít have very strong views on this and I had some support.(The converse of a statement or fact is the opposit of it.)

severe

  • The severe weather/severe winter meant that hundreds of schools had to be closed.
  • The heavy rain caused severe damage to crops and, later on, a severe shortage of food.
  • We are under severe pressure to reduce the wage bill and make 500 workers redundant.
  • The magistrate imposed severe penalties Ė they were severely punished.
Conversely, we would talk about mild weather and mild winters, slight damage and slight shortages, some pressure, lenient penalties or leniently punished.

hard

  • It was a hard exam and the final question was really hard Ė it was a hard nut to crack!
  • Itís been a long hard day and Iíve been working very hard.
  • They had a hard life and worked through hard times. We had no hard evidence that they had used hard drugs.
Conversely, we might say an easy exam, easy questions, an easy day, an easy life, easy times, soft drugs, circumstantial evidence and I havenít worked very hard. The expression a hard nut to crack, which means that it was difficult to do this, has no converse form.

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