Collocations in English are something we are confronted with constantly in language. It’s important to be aware of and spend time learning about them. If not you might stand out as a non-native speaker! In this blog I’m going to talk about collocations in the English language…
According to the dictionary, a collocation is “a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives, but might not be expected from the meaning” or “the combination of words formed when two or more words are often used together in a way that sounds correct”
I.e. they are phrases or word combinations that sound correct/natural together and are used naturally by native speakers. For example - ‘heavy rain’, ‘do exercise’, ‘depend on’.
There are literally thousands of these in the English language, as you can see, I’ve used several in only a couple of sentences in my introduction!
The importance of learning collocations is simple, to sound natural and achieve fluency. A non-native can be spotted a mile off if they are saying phrases such as ‘large rain’, ‘make exercise’ or, ‘depend of’. Whilst these other phrases make sense or work grammatically, they don’t fit together and they sound unnatural.
Collocations also make it easier to avoid overused or ambiguous words such as - “very”, “nice”, or “beautiful”, by using a pair of words that fits the context better and has a more precise meaning.
By definition, phrasal verbs are collocations (two or more words that “go together”), but not all collocations are phrasal verbs.
A collocation is a general term referring to words that usually or always go together. A collocation can perform various functions in a sentence (i.e. act as different parts of speech). Some examples are “bunch of flowers” or “commit a crime”.
A phrasal verb is usually a combination of a verb and a preposition which usually changes the meaning from that of the original verb. For example, “put + up with” means to tolerate, while “put + up” means to return something to its original/proper position (especially when cleaning), and “put + off” means to delay doing something until a later time.
There are various word combinations to create collocations which can help you to remember how to use them. There’s far too many to share all of them but...
here are the categories with some examples of common collocations to get you started!
We use adjectives to describe things and prepositions to connect two ideas, or to demonstrate the relationship between two concepts. We use adjective and preposition collocations to talk about abilities; explain feelings or connect them to something; show the connection between people and things, or talk about someone’s behavour towards someone else.
She is amazing at English.
I’m nervous about the presentation.
He is scared of flying.
I’m allergic to nuts.
They were grateful for my help.
This collocation combination is used to define what something is in more detail. Using strong accent as an example - we know that an accent is the way that someone’s voice sounds depending on which region they come from in a country. By adding strong, we can imagine that the person’s accent will have all or the majority of the characteristics associated with that accent e.g. the intonation being different or omitting certain letters from words. However, the phrase ‘powerful accent’, whilst grammatically fine and makes sense, doesn’t sound natural. We also say heavy accent, or thick accent.
Example of this in a sentence - “She had such a strong accent, I couldn’t understand her.”
Adverbs and adjectives are combined to describe the which something is done or happening in more detail. ‘Highly effective’ is commonly used to describe how well something has worked.
Example sentence - The method we use to teach English is highly effective, you can learn 5 times faster.
This combination is less common than others but are a few phrases that are used quite often such as “only just” and “quite a lot”.
I only just handed the project in on time.
You've got quite a lot of mileage on your car for only having it one year.
We adverb and verb combinations to add emphasis to how something is/was or you would like it to be done. E.g “ I strongly suggest that you use Google calendar to organise your appointments as you are often late to them.”
The car was badly damaged in the accident last week.
I greatly admire the dedication of the medical staff.
Nouns are combined to add more definition to what something is.
For example ‘core’ - the basic and most important part of something combined with ‘values’ - the principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations equates to…
Core values - the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization
We had a meeting this morning to discuss our core values.
Here are some other examples:
You can use the supermarket car park for up to two hours.
The entertainment industry was hit hard by the pandemic.
There are many, many noun and preposition combinations. Again, we use nouns plus prepositions to connect two things together.
For example - admiration for - “I have so much admiration for my sister for climbing Mount Everest.
We need to take advantage of this discount while it’s available.
She gave him credit for how well he did on the project.
I have a good relationship with my kids.
This is where we crossover with phrasal verbs as they are also combined of a verb and a preposition. We use these collocations to express how something was done.
Here is ‘pay for’ in a sentence - “My parents paid for the meal.”
Here are some more examples:
Please may I speak to the manager?
It could take up to 6 weeks to recover from this illness.
Be careful what you wish for!
Verb and adjective combinations can be used to describe actions that are happening in moe detail or a developing situation. We also often use these collocations as or a part of commands or requests.
For example - I can see you’re getting frustrated, let’s take a break and come back to this.
This music is too loud, I will go deaf at this rate!
Please come right back after the break.
Everybody keep calm as we evacuate the building.
These collocations are used again to describe an action in more detail putting the action before the description e.g to change constantly means to be switching from one thing to another in a way that is constant i.e all the time or often. The phrasing sounds slightly different to adverb and verb which prioritises the description e.g. constantly changing.
Example sentence - Flight prices are sensitive to demand and change constantly.
He was judged harshly during the interview.
If you guess all of the answers correctly, you could win a prize.
“Come to a decision”
Finally, we have verb and noun collocations. These leave room for a lot of error as there are so many possible combinations. For example ‘arrive to a decision’ makes sense but ‘come to a decision’ is much more common and natural sounding.
Example sentence - Please let me know when you come to a decision so we know how to proceed.
I do exercise every morning.
Please can you wash the dishes?
Can you keep a secret?
So, hopefully this will have given you some insight into collocations. Some of them are more common than others. Here some extra tips to help you learn: