Word of the Week: Consolidate

Copyright 2013 © Laraine Flemming.
Distribution and redistribution for commercial purposes are strictly prohibited. Use for non-commercial educational purposes is permitted, provided that this copyright notice is not removed. As a courtesy, please notify us if you link to our site.

The word consolidate turns up in all types of disciplines, from history to psychology. Much of the time, it suggests that individual items, groups, people, or ideas have been united or combined in some way (sentences 1 and 4). But it can also refer to internal strengthening or deepening (sentences 2 and 3). In the context of subjects like earth science, it's more likely to mean that different small particles get compressed into one solid mass (sentence 5).

  1. People who are having money problems are usually advised to consolidate their debt.
  2. Once the military dictator Octavian had defeated Cleopatra and her lover Mark Anthony in the Battle of Actium (31 BC), he moved to consolidate his power over Rome.
  3. After the Southeast-Asian country of Viet Nam was divided into two parts in 1954, the South was led by Ngo Dinh Diem. But as a Catholic in a largely Buddhist country, Diem was unable to consolidate his rule and the United States military stepped in to prop him up.
  4. With the help of Google Drive, the accountant was able to quickly consolidate all of the separate mailing lists into one.
  5. The kind of soil stability that can bear the weight of, for instance, a house comes about only after pressure has consolidated the soil and made it stable enough to bear a heavy load.

Related forms: consolidation


Memory Pegs. The prefix con carries with it meanings like "together," "with," or "jointly." Keep the meaning of that prefix in mind to remember the definitions for consolidate, all of which suggest bringing or holding some things "together." If you need an image to help you remember the meaning of consolidate, keep in mind how the pieces of a puzzle look when they fit together.

Image courtesy of Amada 44, who released it into the public domain.

Specialized Use in Psychology. The term Memory Consolidation describes the process by which the brain responds to incoming information registered by the senses but not yet firmly anchored in memory. Through consolidation, the brain finds a way to hold on to new information (or at least some of it) and transfer it into long-term memory.

Oddly enough, it's during sleep that consolidation often takes place, and while you may be out cold, your brain is busy. It's sorting through the day's news and figuring out where the new information fits or hangs "together" with what you have already learned or experienced. That's one of the reasons why learning researchers suggest that students go to sleep right after studying for a test.

And you know what else helps consolidation? Believe it or not, coffee! According to a new study published in the January 2014 issue of Nature, the caffeine in coffee enhances memory consolidation if the coffee is consumed within 24 hours of learning. So if you can't take a nap right after studying, drink a cup of coffee!


Comprehension Checks

1. Consolidating your debt is a useful financial strategy because then you can pay lots of small bills rather than one large one.

2. Given what you know about the word consolidate, which of these sentences uses it correctly?

Because he had won the contest and beat out his archrival, the snow boarder had a consolidated look on his face that irritated even his most devoted supporters.
Once the individual trade unions were consolidated into one single organization, the union movement had some serious clout.
The building had a smooth, consolidated line that is the mark of modernism.

3. Which of the three definitions described above—unite, strengthen, combine particles into a solid mass—fits the use of consolidate in this quotation?

"We're going to have to put in money if Russia is really going to consolidate a democracy."
    Jeffrey Sachs, American economist

Back to Home Page

Last update of this page: March 22, 2014