Much of the vocabulary work we do in English Club is around learning collocations, so I thought it might be nice to quickly review what collocations are and why I insist on you learning them!
In this post you’ll learn what a collocation is and why it is important to learn collocations. Don’t forget to try out the quizzes at the end!
A collocation is basically a predictable combination of words. It is a combination of two or more words that frequently occur together.
These combinations sound “right” to native English speakers, whereas other combinations can sound unnatural and “wrong”.
If someone says “I felt a rush of anger” they would be understood, but it is not what would ordinarily be said in natural English. We’d say “I felt a surge of anger“. In other words, ‘rush‘ does not collocate with anger in everyday English. Rush collocates with, for example, a mad rush, Christmas rush, halt the rush, avoid, beat, escape the rush, leave in a rush …
As you become more aware of collocations, and start incorporating them into your study, your English vocabulary will not only grow, you will become more fluent and natural sounding.
Collocations are not just a matter of how adjectives combine with nouns
Collocations can refer to any kind of typical word combination:
- adverb + adjective: fundamentally different (NOT
- adjective + noun: excruciating pain (NOT excruciating
- noun + noun: a surge of anger (NOT a
- noun + verb: dogs bark (NOT dogs
- verb + noun: commit suicide (NOT
- verb + expression with preposition: burst into song (NOT
- verb + adverb: fail miserably (NOT fail
Phrasal verbs and compound nouns can be thought of as collocations
If it helps you, why not consider these lexical items as collocations?! (For example, come up with, adhere to, stock market, market share).
Of course, phrasal verbs and compound nouns can also be collocated (used in combination with other words) such as: come up with a suggestion, run up a bill, play the stock market, carve out market share
Why learning collocations will help you improve your English
✓ You will use the words you know more accurately and you’ll make fewer mistakes
You see! make a mistake, not
do a mistake!)
✓ You’ll sound more natural when you speak and write
By saying, for example, “I was in excruciating pain” rather than hard or high pain, you will sound like a fluent user of English
✓ You can vary your speech AND your writing
Instead of repeating overused words like very, nice, good you will be able to exploit a wider, more sophisticated range of vocabulary. Find out here how to stop using boring vocabulary!
✓ You will deepen your comprehension of English and be able to understand the finer meanings, humour and satire
For example, native speakers often create an effect by NOT choosing the expected collocation. An article entitled No place like Rome for example, is a reference to the popular expression there’s no place like home.
✓ Lastly, it is easier for our brains to remember and use language in chunks or blocks rather than as single words.
How to learn collocations
It can be difficult to know which words to collocate especially since natural collocations are not always logical or guessable. There is no logical reason why we say heavy rain rather than
strong rain, or make friends rather than get friends …
You also have to be able to to know when to use some collocations and when specific collocations are appropriate (in other words, knowing which register to use). For example: compare:
Please submit your paper by May 12th (formal, written)
You have to hand in your paper by May 12th (Neutral, spoken)
Given all of this, what are the best ways to actually learn collocations? …
6 ways to help you learn collocations
- Awareness: be aware that collocations exist- try to recognise them when you see or hear them and take note
- Chunks: treat collocations as single blocks of language. Learn them TOGETHER. So instead of learning the word ‘surge’, learn ‘a surge of anger’. WRITE THE WORDS DOWN!
3. Read: Reading is absolutely one of the best ways to learn collocations in context. (If you love reading and talking about books, check out our Book Lab course)
4. Imitate: mimic native English speakers and pick up natural collocations along the way
5. Review: revise and try to use what you learn regularly. Practise using new collocations in context as soon as possible after learning them
6. Join English Club! Learning collocations is a huge part of what we do in our English Club! Join us for engaging tasks and join our monthly meet up, led by Kerin Goodall, Cambridge certified English teacher.
ps. quizzes work best on Google Chrome and are easier to view on a computer or tablet.
Let’s warm up with something nice and easy! “Do” versus “make”
Now match the two parts of these common collocations
Correct the mistake!
Quizzes dedicated to my English Clubbers ♡
Everyone is welcome to have a go at the quizzes below, but be warned! If you haven’t done the English Club session you will find these extremely difficult!
Talking about celebrations, traditions and festivals
Using some of the collocations from the last two quizzes, write a short paragraph describing a festival or celebration from your own country. Share in the comments 👇
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