Collocations In English - Vocabulary Lesson

source: Oxford Online English    2014年11月10日
See the full lesson (with text and exercises) here:
Why we say 'make a mistake' and not 'do a mistake'? When someone eats a lot, we say he/she is a 'big eater', but when someone smokes a lot, they aren't a 'big smoker' but a 'heavy smoker'? Why?
The answer is collocations. Collocations are words which just 'fit' together. There isn't always a logical or clear reason. Collocations are very common in English, so it will help your English greatly if you learn about them. In this free English video lesson, you can learn more about collocations, how you can learn them, and why you need them.

1. Every language has collocations, but collocations are often different between languages

Let's look at an example: do you know the verb 'catch'? How do you say it in your language?

Now, think about the phrase: 'catch a bus'. How do you say it in your language? Do you use the same verb? Maybe you do, but most probably, you use a different verb.

What about 'catch a cold'? Do you use the same verb as 'catch a bus'?

This is one of the reasons why collocations can be difficult: when you think in your language, you'll use certain collocations. When you speak English, you have to learn to use different collocations.

2. Collocations are easy to understand, but can be hard to guess

If you hear the collocation 'strong coffee', it's easy to understand even if you've never heard it or used it before. Many collocations are like this: you can understand them easily when you hear them.

For example: how could you complete this sentence?

- There was some __________ rain, but it stopped after five minutes

'Light' is the only real possibility which makes sense. Did you get the right answer?

If you don't know the collocation, it can be very hard to guess. That's because collocations aren't really logical or regular; either you know them or you don't.

3. Different types of collocations

There are many different types of collocations. The most common are:

Verb + noun:
- catch a bus
- make a mistake

Adjective + noun
- strong coffee
- heavy traffic

Adverb + adjective
- terribly sorry
- absolutely awful

Verb + adverb
- talk softly
- fall heavily

Verb + preposition
- depend on
- talk about

Adjective + preposition
- interested in
- angry with

4. Advice for learning collocations

Generally, learning collocations is like learning any other vocabulary. However, here are some tips which are specific to learning collocations:

- Remember that collocations are not usually logical or regular—it's not helpful to ask why something is this way and not that way.
- Most learner's dictionaries will give examples of collocations after the explanation of a word. For example, if you look up the word 'make', you can find examples of common collocations with 'make'.
- Focus on collocations which are different in your own language. For example, where English has two verbs 'make' and 'do', many languages have one verb which has both of these meanings. Because of this, collocations with 'make' and 'do' are difficult to remember for many English learners.

5. Learning collocations is much more useful than learning single words

If you just learn a single word, by itself, that doesn't help you to use the word. Generally, if you try to learn a word but you can't/don't use the word, you'll forget it again.

When you learn collocations, it gives you some context and meaning which will help you to use the words in your speaking or writing. There's another big advantage to learning collocations: it can help your spoken fluency, by allowing you to remember language in chunks.