Rob Lane

By Rob Lane

Lexical Collocations

The concept of collocation is, unfortunately, only introduced to learners in most textbooks at upper-intermediate and advanced level. However, everybody uses them every day and most of the time they work. But, sometimes they don’t.

Have you ever heard someone say they made a party? Have you ever heard a native speaker say it? Has the speaker made or done a mistake?

If two words are a collocation, that means that it is common for native speakers to use them together. If a learner uses two words together that are not a collocation, it sounds strange and it indicates a lack of fluency. A native speaker might tell you that they “understand you but we don’t say that”.


Types of Collocations

noun (subject) + verb

dogs bark
water runs
planes land

adjective + noun

woolen sweater
crumpled paper
heavy rain

verb + object

smash glass
do exercise
make pizza

adverb + adjective

incredibly exciting
bitterly cold
terribly rude


What Can I Do?

In order to become more fluent and, generally, have better English, you should actively read and listen out for them in speech. When you meet and record new vocabulary, take the time to check the word up in a collocation dictionary. Here you will find lists of classic combinations that include your word.There are a number of free collocation dictionaries online.
Also, think about how you use them in your own language. If you are a German or French speaker, you may find that many of the same collocations work in English.


You Should

Enter the words collocation dictionary into your search engine. Personally, I use but there are a number of other free alternatives. As a first test, look up the words party and mistake and read through the verb list. Is it correct to say make a party, and do a mistake?

Next, you should take a reading text and look for collocations. Record these in your vocabulary notebook, and study and practice them.