What a headache!
How would you translate schwere Kopfschmerzen?
A heavy headache? A strong headache?
Those don't sound right, do they? Those words don't go together. Another way of expressing whether words "go together" or not is "collocation". Collocation is the way words combine in a language to produce natural-sounding speech and writing. Sometimes words that collocate strongly are called "word partnerships" — for example, "heavy rain", "a fast car" and "a slap-up meal".
Which one noun do you think these adjectives could be used together with?
thumping · piercing · irritating · niggling · annoying
Have a look at this ad for painkillers.
In the ad, the adjectives are used together with the word headache. But do they really form strong word partnerships? You could use annoying and irritating to describe just about anything: the weather, your husband, traffic jams... anything apart from chocolate, maybe. Mind you, raisins in chocolate are very irritating, I find. Disturbing, even. Not a good combination.
Annoying and irritating are also not types of headache, but rather ways to describe types of headache. Nurofen has made the five adjectives into characters that star in its latest television advertisement for painkillers. But what about the characters splitting, throbbing and pounding? What about bad, severe, terrible and violent?
Perhaps Nurofen has a different product to combat those. And perhaps you can't learn the most natural-sounding English from this ad. You can, however, improve your English by becoming aware of collocation and learning combinations of words or chunks of language so that your English gradually does sound more natural.
I'll be back on 18 June.
* Find out more about collocation in the Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Students of English by Oxford University Press.