Collocation

by Craig Shrives

What Is a Collocation? (with Examples)

A collocation is a group of words that sound natural when used together. For example:
  • fast train correct tick
  • (Using "fast" with "train" sounds natural to a native speaker. This is an example of a collocation.)
  • quick train wrong cross (unnatural)
  • (This is not technically wrong, but using "quick" with "train" sounds unnatural, even though the words are perfectly understandable.)

Examples of Collocation

Here are some more examples:
Natural EnglishUnnatural English
quick showerfast shower
strong windfast wind
utterly ridiculousvery ridiculous
fully awarevastly aware
take medicinedrink medicine
catch a coldreceive a cold
The unnatural examples are fully understandable, but a native English speakers would not say them.
collocation examples

Types of Collocation

Collocations exist because, over time, some words have developed natural partners. Here are six common formats for collocations with examples:
[adverb]
+
[adjective]
  • Janet is not fully aware of the situation. correct tick
  • The boss was extremely interested in your proposal. correct tick
  • Your suggestion is utterly ridiculous. correct tick
[noun]
+
"of"
+
[noun]
  • It was an unusual chain of events. correct tick
  • I have bought you a bar of chocolate. correct tick
  • John received a round of applause. correct tick
[verb]
+
[noun]
  • John gave a presentation to the senior managers. correct tick
  • Janet caught a cold on the plane. correct tick
  • He committed crimes to feed himself. correct tick

Have, Take, and Make

The verbs "have," "take," and "make" are worth a special mention because they have lots of common collocations:

have

  • have a baby, have breakfast, have fun, have a headache, have an illness, have a good time

take

  • take advice, take a bath, take medicine, take a picture, take a shower, take your time

make

  • make breakfast, make a cake, make a mistake, make some tea, make a wish
[verb]
+
[adverb]
  • I remember vaguely what happened before the crash. correct tick
  • John whispered softly into her ear. correct tick
  • Janet waved frantically as the train left. correct tick
[noun]
+
[verb]
  • The snow fell all night. correct tick
  • The dog barks when the doorbell rings. correct tick
  • The doctor saw Janet yesterday. correct tick
  • (This means the doctor had an appointment with Janet yesterday.)
[adjective]
+
[noun]
  • The heavy rain has caused a lot of problems in the village. correct tick
  • Janet has a keen interest in politics. correct tick
  • Opening the car door was a nice gesture. correct tick
If you want to write and speak like a native English speaker, then you must use collocations (i.e., natural-sounding word groupings). If you use collocations, your English will be easier for others to understand, and you will be able understand spoken English faster.

Collocations help with speed because our brains find it easier to process set phrases rather than computing through every single word for meaning.

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