Frequency and adverbial collocates


The examination of frequency for affect revealed that affect was way more frequently used in the BNC written texts, with 12,324 occurrences (122.57 per million tokens) compared to 152 reduced to 107 instances of impact (1.51 per million tokens) after eliminating the examples with irrelevant meaning to the one under investigation. Table 1 below illustrates some of the excluded instances of impact. It can be noticed that the verb is used to mean hitting forcefully or to refer to senses that are not relevant to the current analysis.

Table 1 A sample of excluded instances of the verb impact

To examine potential differences in nominal and adverbial lexical collocates of affect and impact, the function WS was used. Table 2 shows only the top adverbial collocates from the first 30 collocates generated by the program (the list of all adverbial collocates is shown in “Appendix A”). Three adverbs (this, so, similarly), which did not meet the criteria, were excluded.

Table 2 Top 30 adverbial collocates of the verb affect

The generated list of adverbial collocates shows a variation in their frequency, ranging from 8 to 307 instances reported for adversely, placing it as the most frequent adverbial collocate for affect. Differences in the strength of association were also noticed with adversely having the highest LogDice score of 11.3 out of 14., the maximum score possible, while the adverb especially reported the lowest with 5.94.

A qualitative analysis was conducted on the adverbial collocates of affect and three semantic or thematical categories were identified, as shown in Table 3: (1) adverbs denoting intensity, (2) adverbs denoting type/specificity, and (3) adverbs denoting possibility. Each collocate was then assigned to its relevant category.

Table 3 Lexical grouping of the adverbial collocates of the verb affect

The semantic grouping of adverbial collocates of affect shows that the majority of its adverbial modifiers describe a degree of intensity. These adverbials can be further classified based on their connotative meaning into modifiers with strong negative connotations (adversely, badly, directly, seriously, worst, severely), modifiers signaling power or significance (profoundly, greatly, deeply, radically, disproportionality, strongly, mainly, considerably, powerfully) and modifiers indicating lack of strength (marginally, partially, little).

To a lesser degree, the verb affect collocates with adverbs indicating possibility (e.g., potentially) and with adverbs signaling type/specificity (materially, particularly, especially), respectively.

As for the syntactic placement of the adverbial collocates, the analysis of concordance lines showed that adverbial collocates of affect have a greater tendency to occur as premodifiers with over 95% of the top 30 adverbs occurring before affect. For example, only three instances of adversely out of 307 (see Table 4) and six instances of directly out of 146 instances were post-modifiers whereas all examples of badly were premodifiers (Table 5).

Table 4 Examples of concordance lines of adversely
Table 5 Examples of concordance lines of impact adverbial collocates

Contrary to affect, the verb impact was shown to have a smaller set of adverbial collocates. The generated list included 22 adverbial collocates total, six of which were excluded, two were linking adverbials, two adverb of frequency and two adverbs (deeply, overhead) were irrelevant examples in which impact was used in a sense not within the scope of the current analysis. Besides the small number of adverbial collocates (see Table 6), the scores of the strength of association were relatively lower than that of affect collocates. Except for the four top collocates whose typicality scores ranged from 8. to 6., the majority of impact adverbial collocates have typicality scores between 5.4 and 1 (i.e., lower than the minimum LogDice score of affect adverbial collocates, which was almost 6.).

Table 6 Adverbial collocates of impact (verb)

The lexical grouping of impact adverbial collocates resulted in two semantic groupings: intensity/emphasis and gradation. Almost all adverbial collocates, except progressively, belong to the intensity category, hence, overlapping with that of affect adverbial collocates. Nevertheless, out of the shared adverbs (e.g. adversely, partially, inevitably, significantly, dramatically, severely, strongly) only two have a negative connotation (adversely, severely). These findings are supported by frequency counts and LogDice scores of adverbials from the intensity category, suggesting that affect tends to prime more intensifying modifiers, particularly those of negative connotation, than its near-synonymous verb impact.

As for the syntactic placement of impact adverbial modifiers, the concordance lines revealed that compared to the adverbial collocates of affect, the adverbial modifiers of impact tend to appear more frequently in a post-modifier position. In fact, only six out of the 16 adverbial collocates of impact appeared in a pre-modifying slot.

Nominal subject collocates


The nominal subject collocates of affect were shown to have 4492 instances in the written corpus. The qualitative analysis of the first top 30 collocates revealed that all subject collocates were inanimate abstract nouns. Although the analysis focused on the top 30 collocates shown in Table 7, a quick look at the rest of the subject collocates point to a similar conclusion (see “Appendix B”). The analysis also revealed five semantic categories: cognition and aptitudes, action/behavior and motion, life and environment, law and order, problems/issues (see Table 8). The semantic group labeled problem/issues (e.g. HIV, pollution, recession, animosity) and the law order category provide further support for the findings from adverbial collocates that affect appears in more authoritarian and/or negative contexts.

Table 7 Nominal subject collocates of affect
Table 8 Semantic categories of nominal subject collocates of affect


Compared to affect, the subject collocates of impact (see Table 9) are relatively small, with only14 instances reduced to nine after eliminating irrelevant collocates (plane, plume, goblin, lightening, road). Similar to its adverbial collocates, there is a relatively lower association between impact and its subject collocates compared to affect collocates. Except for the word initiative, all the generated subject collocates have a typicality score less than six, which is the lowest score of affect subject collocates, indicating that subject collocates of impact co-occur frequently with other words in the language. In addition, the small frequency counts of the collocates (1–2) indicate their scarcity in written discourse. As for shared collocates, the examination of the generated list revealed that, minus the exception of the word process, no shared subject collocates were found between affect and impact. Furthermore, similar to subject collocates of affect, all subject collocates of impact are abstract entities.

Table 9 Subject collocates of impact

Despite having small number of collocates, the very low frequency and the miscellaneous semantic fields of impact subject collocates make it difficult to assign them into semantically parsimonious categories. Overall, four categories can be identified: cognition and aptitudes (fact), action/process (initiative, activity, process), business/technology (price, technology), and institutions/divisions (profession, department/section). The first two semantic categories overlap with that of affect. Nevertheless, the small number of collocates under cognition and action/process categories and no collocates related to problems/issues and law/order semantic groupings support findings from the analysis of adverbial collocates in that, unlike affect, impact is less likely to collocate with authority/law or problem-related words. While the shared semantic categories and the one shared collocate (process), suggest that both near-synonymous verbs can collocate with subject nominals relating to cognition and action, impact tends to demonstrate not only a diminished frequency, but also a weaker association with words related to cognition and action.

Nominal object collocates


The quantitative analysis of object nominal collocates of affect revealed that nominal collocates are relatively more frequent in the object category with 8477 instances, almost double their subject counterparts (see the whole list in “Appendix B”). As shown in Table 10, the nominal collocates in the object category are mainly abstract nouns and, to a lesser extent, impersonalized animate nouns (people, woman, individual, family and child). The qualitive analysis of the top 30 collocates, as shown in Table 11, pointed to six thematical or lexical groupings: nature/environment, action/behavior, cognition and aptitudes, cause and relationship, degree/ quality, and trade/material.

Table 10 Nominal object collocates of affect (Verb)
Table 11 Semantic categories of the object nominal collocates of affect


As shown in Table 12, compared to affect, the verb impact has a smaller number of nominal object collocates (28 collocates) after excluding items not meeting the preset criteria. Similar to its adverbial and subject nominal collocates, almost half of impact’s object collocates show relatively lower association scores compared to their affect counterparts.

Table 12 Object collocates of impact

The nominal object collocates are mainly abstract, except for the words employee and father. They can mainly be categorized under the following lexical groups: action/process/behavior (performance, availability, speed, operation, change, research), cognition/aptitudes (perception, conduct), business/communication/technology (isv, cpu, vision, screen, employee, program, earning, market, plan, offer,contact, means, margin,business, contact,end), and people (father). It is worth mentioning that the collocates isv, cpu, and vision were categorized under business, because they were found to refer to commercial brands (see Examples 1–2 below). Similarly, the word screen was also used to refer figuratively to the business of broadcasting.

While categories of cognition, action, and people overlap with that of the affect object collocates, the near-synonymous verbs share only one object collocate: performance.

Comparing the findings from subject and object collocates of impact versus affect indicates that while the subject category for both verbs primes abstract nouns, the object category can include both abstract and concrete entities. Another noticeable difference between impact versus affect collocates is that while affect is used in a wider range of contexts, as reflected by the semantic grouping of its collocates, impact seems to be used in relatively restricted contexts, mainly in business and technology. This is supported by the examination of concordance lines for impact nominal collocates, which were mainly business- or technology-related (see Examples 4–9).


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  9. 9.

    Samsung’s original plans were impacted by HP’s trouble getting floating point units out of Texas Instruments Inc.

Summary and conclusion

This study was conducted to examine potential variations in the collocational behaviors of the near-synonymous verbs affect and impact. The examination of adverbial and nominal collocations of the two verbs revealed some finite similarities and differences that are not explicated by the dictionary definitions. Both affect and impact have been shown to prime mainly abstract entities in the subject category and abstract and concrete object collocates. The analysis also revealed some significant differences between the verbs. It was found that affect tends to be more frequent with more frequent collocates in the written BNC corpus. It also shows that affect as a verb tends to collocate with nominal subjects and adverbs with more forceful and negative connotations. Although Partington (1998) contended that the object of verbs can be indicative of their semantic prosody, the current study findings shows that subject and adverbial verb collocates can also be strong indicators of verbs’ favorable semantic connotations. The examination of concordance lines suggests that impact tends to be used in more restricted contexts- primarily in business-technology- than affect collocates. In addition, the analysis revealed variations in the preference of syntactic placement of adverbials. While affect is more likely to collocate with pre-modifying adverbials, impact tends to collocate with post-modifying adverbs.

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