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What is a collocation?
A collocation is two or more words that often go together. These combinations just sound “right” to native English speakers, who use them all the time. On the other hand, other combinations may be unnatural and just sound “wrong”. Look at these examples:
See more below:
|natural English…||unnatural English…|
|the fast train
|the quick train
|a quick shower
a quick meal
|a fast shower
a fast meal
Why learn collocations?
- Your language will be more natural and more easily understood.
- You will have alternative and richer ways of expressing yourself.
- It is easier for our brains to remember and use language in chunks or blocks rather than as single words.
How to learn collocations
- Be aware of collocations, and try to recognize them when you see or hear them.
- Treat collocations as single blocks of language. Think of them as individual blocks or chunks, and learn strongly support, not strongly + support.
- When you learn a new word, write down other words that collocate with it (remember rightly, remember distinctly, remember vaguely, remember vividly).
- Read as much as possible. Reading is an excellent way to learn vocabulary and collocations in context and naturally.
- Revise what you learn regularly. Practise using new collocations in context as soon as possible after learning them.
- Learn collocations in groups that work for you. You could learn them by topic (time, number, weather, money, family) or by a particular word (take action, take a chance, take an exam).
- You can find information on collocations in any good learner’s dictionary. And you can also find specialized dictionaries of collocations.
Types of collocation
There are several different types of collocation made from combinations of verb, noun, adjective etc. Some of the most common types are:
- adverb + adjective: completely satisfied (NOT downright satisfied)
- adjective + noun: excruciating pain (NOT excruciating joy)
- noun + noun: a surge of anger (NOT a rush of anger)
- noun + verb: lions roar (NOT lions shout)
- verb + noun: commit suicide (NOT undertake suicide)
- verb + expression with preposition: burst into tears (NOT blow up in tears)
- verb + adverb: wave frantically (NOT wave feverishly)
Strong and weak collocations
Collocations may be strong or weak. Strong collocations are where the link between the two words is quite fixed and restricted. Weak collocations are where a word can collocate with many other words.
express + a wish
|Very few words can collocate with the nounwish. This makes wish a strong collocator.|
apartment, beach, car, camera, chance,
big + disappointment, fight, gun, lamp, moon, news,
ocean, pain, pity, price, queue, table, umbrella,
upset, wait, window
|big can collocate with hundreds of words, therefore it’s a weak collocator.|
|whisk an egg||curly hair|
|winding road||blissfully ignorant|
- big/enormous/large + house/lorry/cup
- fast/shiny/expensive + car/motorbike/aeroplane
- very/really/extremely + interesting/hot/generous
- brown/straight/long + fence/hair/line
Becoming aware of collocations is part of vocabulary learning. All languages have a large number of collocating words. A good dictionary will help you and dictionaries of collocations are also available.