A concordance line is a line of text taken from a corpus, i.e. a collection of language texts which are organised and stored on a computer. The concordance line may come from the beginning, the middle or the end of one of the texts. It may be made up of one sentence, part of a sentence or part of two sentences. Each concordance line in a set includes the target word, i.e. the word being studied. The target word is always in the middle of the concordance line. This means that when we study a word in a set of concordance lines we can see its context, in other words, the words which are used before it and after it.
Here is an example of a set of concordance lines for the target word: interested.
Are Gulf Arabs interested in cricket?
But she was not interested in education for its own sake.
Parents are obviously interested in the various skills and…
…to change as more women become interested in outdoor pursuits.
In other words, he was not interested, as John was, in proving…
…last month it was said that a range of other interested parties had emerged, including…
Notice that lines 1 and 2 are complete sentences. Lines 3, 4, 5 and 6 are incomplete sentences. Line 4 shows only the end of the sentence; lines 3 and 5 show only the first part of the sentences and Line 6 shows the middle of a sentence.
Analysing concordance lines
Because the target word, interested, is always in the centre, we can easily see common features in its context. If we look at the words used after interested, we can see that it is common to find the preposition in after the adjective interested. We can also see that this is not always true, when we look at Line 6.
What about Line 5? Does it show us the pattern interested in? At first glance it looks as if the preposition as is used, but if we look more carefully, we can see in used later. The phrase as John was is an extra, inserted into the main part of the sentence, to provide a comparison. The use of commas helps us to understand this. If we disregard this added comparison, we see the pattern interested in.
By analysing a set of concordance lines in, students and teachers can learn about how a given word is frequently (but not always) used; i.e. used in context.