What language is most commonly used in online dating profiles? Chris Ożóg delves into the Cambridge English Corpus to find out, and provides a fun class activity download to incorporate these patterns into a lesson with your adult learners.
Students are people. They do things that people do, like eat and sleep and talk. They also look for love. There’s many ways people go about looking – from more formal events like singles’ nights and speed dating, to more casual chance encounters or meeting through a friend. The list goes on.
More and more, people use the internet and dating apps. Many of our adult learners – and even some teenagers – will have used an online dating service. And even if they haven’t, they’ll probably be curious about it or at least have an opinion. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, this short post looks at some common patterns with five frequent words from a small corpus of dating profiles. Would we find any surprises?
A simple look at word frequency reveals that the top five words (lemmas) were: be, the, you, I, and. It’s no surprise that I should be very frequent, but you is actually more common. Digging deeper, you is used in some of the questions people answer in their profiles, but it is also used a lot in what people are looking for:
- You should message me if…
o … I can learn something new about the world from you
o … you truly love a subject and can convey that in an interesting way
o … you can hold a conversation / talk about + N
So maybe it actually is you, and not me, after all.
It had to be there and indeed it was. Though everyone is looking for love, it actually appeared as the top verb (after the more grammatical be, do, have, go). So is everyone saying I love you already? Well, not quite. The examples reveal that love is used to give opinions mostly, as in:
- I love + Ving + N (e.g. I love taking photos/seeing friends)
• I love + N (e.g. I love nature/animals)
Among other less common uses, another to stand out was using love as a filter of potential partners:
• You must love + N (e.g. you must love tattoos)
Love, it seems, lets us explain what we like, but also what we expect. It’s a complicated business.
Looking more at content words, the top adjective was good. Two examples which tell us a lot about the writer’s confidence levels were:
- S + Be (really) good at + Ving/N (e.g. I’m really good at cooking)
• I’m told my N is pretty good (e.g. I’m told my lasagne is pretty good)
The first example is common and appears in all coursebooks. The second is more nuanced, however, hedging the fact or even being a type of ‘humble brag’. Being good at something, then, does not mean being brash about it.
Dating sites aren’t just used to meet the love of your life. Some people are looking for friends:
- …here to meet friends as I’m happily single…
Meeting friends is a useful collocation because it also comes up a lot as something people enjoy doing. Others are:
- Be out with friends (e.g. I could be out with friends doing various things)
• Try to convince my friends to + V (e.g. I’m likely trying to convince my friends to drink wine)
Convincing friends is a good way to highlight something you like doing, e.g. drinking wine, but as part of a larger group. People do like popular people, after all.
It might be a small word, but for is important on a dating site. The fifth most common preposition in the sample, its main use was with “looking for” to say what type of relationship the writer wanted. The pattern was:
• S + Be + looking for + relationship type
It typically appeared towards the start of the end of the profile, rather than in the middle. People were looking for:
- a serious/possible relationship
Interestingly, females (in particular) stated they were not looking for fun:
• … and not just for “fun”
• Please don’t contact me if you are looking just for “fun”
And I think we all know what they mean.
So there we are. Can we use any of this in the classroom? Have a look at the attached activity below and see what you think! We hope you’ll love it.