Sometimes you can improve your English simply by having a deeper understanding of words you already know, as well as learning which other words they frequently go with.
Take the word so. As a native speaker of English, I can grab a pen and write a list of tons of collocations which feature so:
so + good | hard | exciting | tired | boring | many
Another option to find out more about how a word is used is to consult a corpus, such as this site: corpus.byu.edu.
Corpora are great because they collect information on how a language is used: for instance, you can search for a particular word and find out which words often go with it (ie you can carry out your own research on English collocations).
Corpora also allow you to choose the context, whether it be written, academic, spoken, in English fiction, newspapers, and so on.
I checked on this corpus for the most common collocations with so based on how it appears in spoken English, and there are some interesting results.
To clarify, my search criteria was as follows: words which come after so.
Context: spoken English
So + Much
On my particular search, so much came in as the most common SO pattern.
You’ve probably been taught that so goes with adjectives (eg he was so tired), but be aware that’s a limited rule. So much is used a lot, such as in these common spoken English collocations:
Thanks so much for helping me!
Thank you so much!
I love him so much.
He’s learning so much about the world.
This matters so much.
We’ve spent so much time doing this.
We had so much fun at the party!
There’s so much to do, I don’t know where to start.
Here are some more examples which I found. Although the context here is limited (the examples below are from the American NBC news network), there’s still a wealth of information.
What Can You Notice?
If you’re more of a grammar person, as you go about noticing language patterns see if you can work out what a particular rule is on your own before checking with a teacher or other resource. This will help you get a lot better with understanding English (nb I mentioned noticing last week here).
If you’re more of a lexical or vocabulary person, you can remember these collocations as useful spoken English phrases. That is, if you prefer, you can just remember “thanks so much” as a phrase without worrying about the grammatical aspect of it.
In short, you can see so + much is used on its own to mean “a lot” (thanks so much, I love you so much) or it can be used with uncountable nouns, or the idea of uncountability is implied:
We spent so much on our trip to Berlin.
Because we’ve used the word ‘spent‘ and have a context (going on a trip or holiday), we can see the uncountable word ‘money‘ is not needed.
We spent so much time on the bid, and still didn’t win the contract.
In this case, we do need to use the word ‘time‘ because if not, we might think that it was about money.
SO MUCH: Digging Deeper
1. So + much is often followed by an uncountable noun:
We did so much work.
We’ve had so much fun.
She has so much experience working with animals.
I can’t believe she’s bought so much clothing this year.
He’s got so much talent.
I’ve drunk so much coffee this week.
Can you think of any other uncountable examples..?
2. It can also be helpful to know words which often some before SO MUCH.
Love | Do | Work | Drink | Eat | Take often come before:
I love you so much.
I’ve done so much for you.
I’ve been working so much lately.
They drank so much at the party.
Homer ate so much – I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I can only take so much.
Usually there is the idea of uncountability in the verbs.
Can you think of any other common verbs that can go before so much..?
3. SO MUCH v. TOO MUCH
So much carries the meaning of ‘a lot’. When you say too much, you are making a judgement call, that there is more of something than you think is required or necessary. Compare:
He drank so much at the party (and had a lot of fun)
He drank too much (and then felt sick or acted like an idiot)
4. SO MUCH + comparative
You can use this pattern to make comparisons:
She’s so much taller than the others.
He’s so much more likable than Hillary.
5. SO MUCH THAT…
I love you so much that I think of you even when I’m sleeping.
I worked so much that I didn’t eat the whole day.
I’ve done so much for you that I need some time just for myself.
Mistakes To Watch
Students often learn that so goes with adjectives, so they say:
He was so much tired.
In fact, so much is not followed directly by an adjective. The correct sentence is therefore:
He was so tired.
So much for..
This idiom is used to express the idea that something has ended, or that something has changed and that there’s no reason to consider it anymore. Often it’s used to express regret about how things have turned out or it can be used humorously.
Imagine you want to go out with a woman called Samantha. You think she loves the ballet and so you’ll invite her to see Swan Lake with you:
Bill: “Hey I saw Samantha the other day, and she said she can’t stand the ballet..”
You: “Oh, so much for that idea.”
So Much For My Happy Ending!
So much the better
“If you can all come tonight a bit earlier than we had planned, so much the better.”
So much in love
“I’m so much in love with you..”
So much to say
Some common verbs (with infinitive) follow so much:
“It was wonderful meeting Pavel, he had so much to say.”
“She has so much to say about learning languages.”
So much to do
“I don’t know if I can head out tonight. I’ve got so much to do!”
So much to see
“You should check out the Crocodile Museum, there’s so much to see there!”
If you want to go crazy, you can use this binomial:
“There’s so much to do and see in Melbourne.”
(Mean) so much to me
“You mean so much to me, Kelly. Please don’t leave, let’s spend the night together…”
So much as..
“I was embarrassed..as he was walking past, he didn’t give me so much as a glance towards me.”
I looked up word combinations with so on a corpus and found that SO + MUCH was the most common SO+(word) combination in spoken English.
SO+MUCH can be followed by various words, and indeed other words can come before it.
Knowing some of these patterns and being able to recognise them will help broaden your knowledge of English, and once you know more collocations, you’ll be speaking more and more like a native or proficient speaker!
More on SO very soon!