“I agree —.” Referencing with COCA

In the past couple weeks I have had reason to pull up frequencies or concordances in response to student questions on several occasions. For a teacher this is a pretty basic but useful application of corpora.

For instance, this past week in a business-focused ESP course we were reading through a role play which used the expression ‘I agree wholeheartedly’. A few types, or maybe lines, of questions arose. Is ‘wholeheartedly’ very common? Can I say ‘I wholeheartedly agree’? Can I say ‘I agree completely’? Can I say ‘I agree perfectly’? What if I agree but not that strongly? These didn’t arise all at once, but came about through discussion (some after I pulled up results in COCA).

Notably, to me, meaning was not an issue at all. All of the questions were regarding usage.

I ran a quick and relatively simple search on COCA using: I agree [r*]

([r*] is the PoS code for adverb)

Here are the first 20 results:


Across the entire corpus we can see that I agree wholeheartedly is the second most common formulation of the I+agree+adverb pattern. I agree completely is by far the most common. The top 4, 6 of the top 10, and 8 of the top 20 seem to be synonymous expressions of the sense of ‘100% agreement’.

We did not have time to go through each expression but the students said they appreciated seeing several examples of alternative phrasings. For the expression I agree perfectly, I actually thought it sounded a little strange when my student asked if it was ok, but here it was, attested. Only 2 hits, but after opening the concordance lines I saw how it was used and my hesitation about it evaporated. For me, this was a good reminder of how corpus reference can help me (and by extension my students) avoid over-generalizing from my own intuition.

The 9th most frequent hit, I agree in, is also notable, and my students asked specifically about it. So we took a look at its 6 concordance lines. 4 of the lines revealed the expression I agree in part and 1 revealed I agree in general; so they found some useful expressions for expressing various degrees of agreement to go along with hits such as (13) I agree basically, (18) I agree strongly, or (19) I agree somewhat.

We also briefly looked at the query: I [r*] agree

This resulted in a very different frequency list:


There are more overall hits for this pattern. I totally agree is the top hit, with I completely agree the second. Interestingly, I certainly agree is the 4th most frequent hit despite I agree certainly occurring zero times in the corpus. In fact, the I+adverb+agree pattern revealed several expressions that had no lexical correlates in COCA to the I+agree+adverb pattern. This wasn’t the point of the referencing in class, so we didn’t dwell on it and focused on the variety of expressions that can be used, but, for me, it was definitely food for thought. Agree?


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