Understanding NLTK collocation scoring for bigrams and trigrams



I am trying to compare pairs of words to see which pair is “more likely to occur” in US English than another pair. My plan is/was to use the collocation facilities in NLTK to score word pairs, with the higher scoring pair being the most likely.


I coded the following in Python using NLTK (several steps and imports removed for brevity):

bgm    = nltk.collocations.BigramAssocMeasures()
finder = BigramCollocationFinder.from_words(tokens)
scored = finder.score_ngrams( bgm.likelihood_ratio  )
print scored


I then examined the results using 2 word pairs, one of which should be highly likely to co-occur, and one pair which should not (“roasted cashews” and “gasoline cashews”). I was surprised to see these word pairing score identically:

[(('roasted', 'cashews'), 5.545177444479562)]
[(('gasoline', 'cashews'), 5.545177444479562)]

I would have expected ‘roasted cashews’ to score higher than ‘gasoline cashews’ in my test.


  1. Am I misunderstanding the use of collocations?
  2. Is my code incorrect?
  3. Is my assumption that the scores should be different wrong, and if so why?

Thank you very much for any information or help!

Asked By: ccgillett



The NLTK collocations document seems pretty good to me. http://www.nltk.org/howto/collocations.html

You need to give the scorer some actual sizable corpus to work with. Here is a working example using the Brown corpus built into NLTK. It takes about 30 seconds to run.

import nltk.collocations
import nltk.corpus
import collections

bgm    = nltk.collocations.BigramAssocMeasures()
finder = nltk.collocations.BigramCollocationFinder.from_words(
scored = finder.score_ngrams( bgm.likelihood_ratio  )

# Group bigrams by first word in bigram.                                        
prefix_keys = collections.defaultdict(list)
for key, scores in scored:
   prefix_keys[key[0]].append((key[1], scores))

# Sort keyed bigrams by strongest association.                                  
for key in prefix_keys:
   prefix_keys[key].sort(key = lambda x: -x[1])

print 'doctor', prefix_keys['doctor'][:5]
print 'baseball', prefix_keys['baseball'][:5]
print 'happy', prefix_keys['happy'][:5]

The output seems reasonable, works well for baseball, less so for doctor and happy.

doctor [('bills', 35.061321987405748), (',', 22.963930079491501), 
  ('annoys', 19.009636692022365), 
  ('had', 16.730384189212423), ('retorted', 15.190847940499127)]

baseball [('game', 32.110754519752291), ('cap', 27.81891372457088), 
  ('park', 23.509042621473505), ('games', 23.105033513054011), 
  ("player's",    16.227872863424668)]

happy [("''", 20.296341424483998), ('Spahn', 13.915820697905589), 
 ('family', 13.734352182441569), 
 (',', 13.55077617193821), ('bodybuilder', 13.513265447290536)
Answered By: Rob Neuhaus
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