A collocation is a pair or group of words that are often used together.
These combinations sound natural to native speakers, but students of English have to make a special effort to learn them because they are often difficult to guess.
Some combinations just sound ‘wrong’ to native speakers of English. For example, the adjective fast collocates with cars, but not with a glance.
There are many different types of collocation. Here are some examples.
Adjectives and nouns
Notice adjectives that are typically used with particular nouns.
Emma always wears red or yellow or some other bright colour.
We had a brief chat about the exams but didn’t have time to discuss them properly.
Unemployment is a major problem for the government at the moment.
Improving the health service is another key issue for government.
Nouns and verbs
Notice how nouns and verbs often go together. The examples below are all to do with economics
The economy boomed in the 1990s. [the economy was very strong]
The company has grown and now employs 50 more people than last year.
The company has expanded and now has branches in most major cities.
The two companies merged in 2013 and now form one very large corporation.
The company launched the product in 2012. [introduced the product] The price increase poses a problem for us. [is a problem] The internet has created opportunities for our business. [brought new opportunities]
Noun + noun
There are a lot of collocations with the pattern a … of …
As Max read the lies about him, he felt a surge of anger. [literary: a sudden angry feeling]
Every parent feels a sense of pride when their child does well or wins something.
I felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw the old photos of the village where I grew up.
Verbs and expressions with prepositions
Some verbs collocate with particular prepositional expressions.
As Jack went on stage to receive his gold medal for the judo competition you could see his parents swelling with pride. [looking extremely proud]
I was filled with horror when I read the newspaper report of the explosion.
When she spilt juice on her new skirt the little girl burst into tears. [suddenly started crying]
Verbs and adverbs
Some verbs have particular adverbs which regularly collocate with them.
She pulled steadily on the rope and helped him to safety. [pulled firmly and evenly]
He placed the beautiful vase gently on the window ledge.
‘I love you and want to marry you,’ Dylan whispered softly to Madison.
She smiled proudly as she looked at the photos of her new grandson.
Adverbs and adjectives
Adjectives often have particular adverbs which regularly collocate with them.
They are happily married.
I am fully aware that there are serious problems. [I know well] Harry was blissfully unaware that he was in danger. [Harry had no idea at all, often used about something unpleasant]