English collocations

In the English language, collocation refers to a natural combination of words that are closely affiliated with each other. Some examples are "pay attention" ,"fast food", "make an effort", and "powerful engine". Collocations make it easier to avoid overused or ambiguous words like "very", "nice", or "beautiful", by using a pair of words that fits the context better and has a more precise meaning. Skilled users of the language can produce effects such as humor by varying the normal patterns of collocation. This approach is especially popular with poets, journalists and advertisers.

Collocations may seem natural to natural writers and speakers, but are not obvious to non-native English speakers. For instance, the adjective "dark" collocates with "chocolate", but not with tea.


natural English unnatural English
the fast train the quick train
fast food quick food
a quick shower a fast shower
a quick meal a fast meal

Some collocations are fixed, or very strong; for example, "take a photo", where no vocabulary other than "take" collocates with "photo" to give the same sense. Many collocations are more open, where several different words might be used to give the same meaning, as an example keep to or stick to the rules.[2]

Compounds and idioms

Compounds are units of meaning formed with two or more words. The words are usually written separately, but some may have a hyphen or be written as one word.

Often the meaning of the compound can be guessed by knowing the meaning of the individual words. It is not always simple to detach collocations and compounds.

Idioms are collection of words in a fixed order that have a sense that cannot be guessed by knowing the meaning of the individual vocabularies. For example: pass the buck is an idiom meaning "to pass responsibility for a problem to another person to avoid dealing with it oneself".[3]


There are many different types of collocations.

adjective and nouns

Nouns and verbs

Noun + noun

There are a lot of collocation with pattern a ... of ...

Verb and expression with prepositions

Verbs and adverbs

Adverbs and adjectives

See also

SkELL – free online tool for finding collocations in common language


External links

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