I know several sites that provide plenty of example sentences for a given word, but they are usually rather colloquial.

I also have one dictionary that provides example sentences from classic English language literature for many entries, but it can naturally only list one or two examples.

Would there be a resource that allows (by word) queries for sentences from classic English literature? I imagine this would be of considerable help, particularly when trying to emulate the style of an era long past.

2 Answers 2


The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) online provides words used in sentences with their different meanings. The examples are usually taken from literature. In the UK, many libraries, including county libraries, subscribe to the OED and if you have a library card you can use it online for free.

Otherwise, there are various 'corpus' sites. These allow you to look for specific words, but I don't want to recommend a particular one because it depends on what country you are in and exactly what type of text you want e.g. a spoken language corpus isn't going to be much use to you.

  • The oed seems to include but few sentences, especially for the cases where one is unsure; but the corpus sites are extremely useful. They allow searching for strings and turn up lots of searches for valid strings. When you only get two results, you can already suspect your choice is peculiar.
    – Ludi
    Jul 3, 2017 at 20:35
  • I just tried the OED and it had many sentences for the words I tried. Are you sure you are not looking at a reduced Oxford Dictionary? Jul 3, 2017 at 21:25

Well, the obvious answer is Project Gutenberg. All the material is there and searchable. The question would be how to confine your search to just the works that fit your definition of classic English literature.

What I think you are really looking for is a concordance of English literature, and Google does not return any direct results for one. This page (http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng240/use_of_concordances_in_the_study.htm) has some informaiton on creating your own form digitized sources, such as Project Guttenberg. The library of congress also has links to some resources that may be relevant: https://www.loc.gov/rr/main/alcove9/literature/concordances.html

  • This is certainly useful and not only by providing the right English word! I don't see, though, what you mean by Gutenberg being 'searchable'. When I go to the Gutenberg site and search for a word, I end up with titles. Usually, for the rare words I am interested in, there are no titles. In my native languages, I own the entire work of several great authors in digital form. I know which are likely to have used a rare expression and search manually. I was hoping to find a better solution for English. It will be years, before I see 'adverse from' and think 'ah, Joseph Conrad' ;)
    – Ludi
    Jul 2, 2017 at 13:35
  • 2
    @Ludi I can't speak the the specific qualities of project Gutenberg's search. Using Google's search and confining it to that one site is often better than using the site search itself. You can also download the works you are interested in and search them with any tool you can find, or write your own analysis tools (Python + NLTK, for instance). Unless you can find an existing concordance, I can't think of any other options and the fact that Google does not return anything for "Concordance of English Literature" makes it unlikely there is one central resource.
    – user16226
    Jul 2, 2017 at 17:02
  • Adding to @MarkBaker s comment: duckduckgo also has site:. In the old days, English researchers used to use SNOBOL4 for such things. Its decendent, Unicon, is still alive. If you have GNU tools available, grep and sed can rip through large bodies of text in multiple files at high speed and find anything if you can write a regular expression pattern for them to match against. I.e.: no programming required aside from writing the regex - which can be challenging at times. awk is also good because you can do things step by step procedurally and even add print statements for debugging purposes.
    – Joe
    Jul 5, 2017 at 6:44
  • I haven't used Windows in awhile, but Windows 10 is supposed to have a Linux shell built into it these days and should have some or all of these GNU tools already available. If not, there are other ways to get them - for free.
    – Joe
    Jul 5, 2017 at 7:01

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