Here we are with another part of the body: heart.

The most interesting collocations are the verbal ones, so I’ll just report on the nominal and adjectival ones very briefly as most of them pose no problems.

This is the table for the first ten nominal collocations, that is, a noun immediately preceding heart (

If you look carefully, you will notice that the table includes some words that may be nouns but which, when preceding heart, are adjectives. Kind may mean type, as in ‘What kind of car is that?’, but in the collocation kind heart it is an adjective and means goodBeating, pounding, and sinking are nominalizations, that is, noun-forms derived from verbs. A beating heart is ‘a heart that beats’, a pounding heart is ‘a heart that pounds’ and a sinking heart is ‘a heart that sinks.’ However, using the collocations makes for a much more natural text.

A beating heart and a pounding heart differ in intensity. While a beating heart has a normal heart rate, a pounding heart has an abnormally accelerated heart rate. Notice also that a pounding heart implies an undesirable situation:

  • I think my beating heart kept me warm.
  • Some mornings I wake up and listen for the sound of my own beating heart. Only then do I know that I am alive.


  • Suddenly aware of his pounding heart and of the blood throbbing in his ears, Rees took several deep breaths.
  • With a pounding heart Lara walked along the empty streets.
  • The profuse perspiration and pounding heart that he had experienced last night had been terrifying.


Beating heart can also be used figuratively, meaning ‘the most important part’, as in


  • I still think of Market Street as the beating heart of San Francisco.
  • Dr Tim Johnson, our colleague, called him the beating heart of the news division.
  • Health care has become the beating heart of America’s economy.


Any problem understanding the following examples?


  • But she had a kind heart and she cared about him.
  • You’re a good soul with a kind heart and a sweet disposition.



Neighborhood and Angel are actually part of proper names


  • Neighborhood Heart Watch’s ambitious goal is to protect the 400,000 people predicted to die from SCA [sudden cardiac arrest] each year.
  • The first neighborhood to try Neighborhood Heart Watch is Wynnedale, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • Jon Emanuel, 43, is the amiable executive chef for Project Angel Heart, a Denver nonprofit that delivers meals to 800 of the city’s residents coping with life-threatening illnesses.
  • Television’s Lisa Bonet made her movie debut in “Angel Heart,” one marked more by controversy than art. [“Coração Satânico,”, 1987, in Brazil]



Here is something that is not easy to come by – a donor heart:


  • A murder mystery: Will the desperate donor heart shortage result in murder for money?
  • For some patients, ventricular assist devices are lifesavers until a donor heart can be found.



Another figurative use meaning ‘disappointment, sadness, discouragement’:


  • With a sinking heart, Lilly realized Mama would never accept her viewpoint.
  • With a sinking heart, Olivia began to suspect that her precious boarder already regretted staying in her establishment
  • With a sinking heart she knew he was going to demand something dangerous of her.



This comes from the verbal collocation heart + to sink:


  • Her heart sank but she refused to let disappointment show on her face.
  • I turned and felt my heart sink as I met the eyes of a pretty middle-aged woman with cropped hair.
  • My heart sank, the realization setting in that maybe the miracle wasn’t going to happen.



Honey heart is a short story for children by J.B. Blackfoot


  • I will give this honey heart to Granny Fox. She needs some meat on her old bones.



 The next table shows nominal collocations with a noun immediately following heart. As you will notice, with the exception of association, all the other ones are related to heart problems, with heart attack(s) being the most frequent collocation with a total of 6349 occurrences, if we add up the singular attack (2nd position) and the plural attacks (5th position). Notice also that the usual collocation to refer to a heart infirmity is heart disease, not *heart illness or *heart sickness.


Here are a few examples:
  • Her heart rate ramped up, and sweat ran down the sides of her face. 
  • Pol Pot died of heart failure in the Cambodian jungle.
  • She reached the door, her heart pounding.
  • Nobody knew it at the time, but Bill had some serious heart problems.
  • Viagra is bad if you have a heart condition.

Let’s move on to adjectival collocations:




Some diseases for a change:


  • He had been living with congestive heart failure for more than four years.
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is big business for the NHS [National Health Service].
  • Neighborhood violent crime and unemployment increase the risk of coronary heart disease.



But a figurative meaning too:


  • No one dies of a broken heart. However, despair could weaken an already compromised constitution.
  • It means that grieving the loss of a loved one or nursing a broken heart can still point to new life on the horizon.



In fact – jumping ahead a bit -, this comes from the verbal collocation to break one’s heart:


  • It broke my heart when Chung Ja didn’t show up for our meeting that day.
  • His birds never left him, except when they died, which always broke his heart.
  • It breaks my heart when I see people selling comics collections they’ve spent a lifetime collecting.
  • If he ever breaks your heart, I’ll be there.
  • It will break his heart to keep her hidden away like that.

And Purple Heart is the name of a medal:


The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed, while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military.



  • After a year in the boonies, a bullet wound and a Purple Heart, he switched from a telescope to a typewriter.
  • Her most recent book is “Purple Heart,” about a young American soldier fighting in Iraq.

The other ones are pretty straightforward, aren’t they? No need to elaborate on them.

But before we finish, here’s a little bonus for you

beating heart (fig.) – coração pulsante
broken heart – coração partido (Google: 525.000), coração quebrado (Google: 191.000)
congestive heart failure – insuficiência cardíaca congestiva
coronary heart disease – doença cardíaca coronária
heart failure – insuficiência cardíaca
heart rate – batimento cardíaco
pounding heart – coração acelerado / coração disparado
sinking heart – desânimo, tristeza
to break one’s heart – partir o coração de alguém

Hope you’ll come back next month for some “hearty” verbal collocations and idiomatic expressions!!

See you!!

*Song by Coldplay –, translated as Não deixe isso quebrar seu coração. Please see number of occurrences for “coração quebrado” and “coração partido” in the bonus box.

Stella E. O. Tagnin professora associada do Departamento de Letras Modernas, FFLCH, da USP. Embora aposentada, continua orientando em nível de pós-graduação nas áreas de Tradução, Terminologia, Ensino e Aprendizagem, sempre com base na Lingüística de Corpus. É coordenadora do Projeto CoMET.e-mail: