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Even native English speakers are sometimes not sure if a phrase is correct and a dictionary or grammar search cannot always help. In my proofreading, for example, I sometimes need to verify this. In this post I share my technique for checking with you.

The basic principle is to search for the phrase in reputable British academic sources. If you find the phrase in these sources then you can use it.

Example: Checking the phrase “by different methods”. (Sometimes Czechs tend to use by when in English using or with would be used.)

I inserted the following into the search engine: “by different methods” Oxford

The results were as follows:

The phrase appeared in,, (Oxford University Press) and Lexico (the Oxford Online Dictionary).

This provides clear confirmation that the phrase is correct in English.

Be sure that you do the following two things:

1 Check that the examples you find are reputable British sources. When using the search term Oxford for example, you may also get academic papers from other countries with no link to Oxford, various Oxford Schools of English, etc.

2 Verify that the usage of the phrases you found in the search engine is equivalent to how you are using the phrase.

Reputable British sources

I always search for academic sources first, for example using the search term Oxford, Cambridge or LSE. The BBC, the Financial Times and the Economist are very useful for more specialized political and economic phrases. You might also try searching British journals in your academic specialization.

I tend not to use Cambridge as Harvard University is in Cambridge Massachusetts and I find that it is not always clear whether the sources are from Cambridge in the UK or Cambridge in the US. My rule is to always use British English when in Europe.

Please feel free to share your thoughts below. Is this technique helpful for you? Do you have other techniques for checking phrases or usage?


Pamela Cotte

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