What Is Collocation?

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Collocation refers to a group of two or more words that usually go together. A good way to think of collocation is to look at the word collocation. Co - meaning together - location - meaning place. Collocation​s are words that are located together. A good answer to "What is collocation?" is: Collocation is a group of two or more words that like to hang out together. Here are some examples of common collocations that you might know:

make tea - I made a cup of tea for lunch.
do homework - I did all of my homework yesterday.

Even though it possible to use other word combinations, understanding collocations help English learners improve their fluency because they are words that usually go together.

Make and Do

I begin with 'make' and 'do' because they provide perfect examples of why collocation is so important. Generally, 'make' refers to things that are made that weren't there before. 'Do' refers to actions that we take or do such as chores. 

Collocations with 'Make'

make a cup of coffee / tea
make noise
make the bed
make a business deal
make a fuss
make sense
make time for someone

Collocations with Do

do the laundry
do the errands
do business with someone
do a chore
do the shopping

Make and Do are perfect examples of verbs that go together with specific nouns. A verb + noun combination that always go together are considered collocations.

Why Do Words Collocate?

There is often no reason for a collocation. People just put certain words together more often than they put other words together. In fact, the use of collocations has become popular in English and language teaching because of corpus linguistics. Corpus linguistics study huge volumes of data of spoken and written English to come up with statistics on how often people use certain words and word combinations. Through this study, corpus linguistics has been able to define what are strong and weak collocations.

Collocations are used especially often in business English and there are dictionaries such as the Oxford Dictionary of Collocations that can help you learn these common collocations

Strong Collocations

Strong collocations refer to words that almost always go together. It's possible that people might understand you if you don't use a strong collocation. However, if you do not use a strong collocation it will sound funny to native speakers. Let's return to our example of 'make' and 'do'. If you say:

I did a cup of coffee.

native speakers will understand that you mean:

I made a cup of coffee.

Correct use of strong collocations shows an excellent command of the English language, and can certainly help impress native speakers' of your ability to speak English well. Of course, if you are speaking to other non-native speakers the ability to use collocations correctly all the time becomes less important. That doesn't mean that correct collocation use is not important, it's just not AS important as something like correct tense. Imagine for a moment that you are speaking about a future meeting:

Our meeting was on Friday at four o'clock.
I've done an appointment at four o'clock for the meeting room on Friday.

In both of these sentences, there are mistakes. However, in the first sentence instead of using a future tense, the past tense is used. If you want your colleagues to come to the meeting, this mistake is very serious and will lead to no one coming to the meeting.

In the second sentence 'do an appointment' is a misuse of a strong collocation. However, the meaning is clear: You have scheduled a room at four o'clock. In this case, a mistake in collocations is not nearly as important as a mistake in tense usage.

Here are examples of strong collocations that you might not be familiar with:

high earnings (not big earnings)
long-range planning (not long-time planning)
urban guerrilla (not city guerrilla)

More Information

Why are Collocations Important?

There is an entire world of collocations to explore. Learning collocations is important because you begin to learn words in larger groups or 'chunks' of language. Putting together these chunks of language leads to more fluent English.

More information on other word groups in English

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "What Is Collocation?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-collocation-1211244. Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 26). What Is Collocation? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-collocation-1211244 Beare, Kenneth. "What Is Collocation?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-collocation-1211244 (accessed June 7, 2023).