How to build Vocabulary using Collocations

Everyday english in 50 days

Language is a means of communication among people, and linguistic ability is influenced by how this language is acquired. Vocabulary plays vital role in acquisition of language. Wider vocabulary enables learner to comprehend the language easily and use the language more effectively. There are certain words in English language which naturally combine together. These word combinations are known as “collocations”.

A collocation is a pair or group of words that are often used together. Since these combinations sound natural to native English speakers and students of English can learn them to make their writing and speaking more effective. For example, the adjective fast collocates with noun cars. Similarly we have collocations like make an appointment, political correctness, commit a crime etc.

After careful examination of the facts of the case, judge gave his verdict in favour of the aggrieved.

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Why learn collocations?

Learning collocations is a good idea because they can:

# make your English sound more natural: smoking is strictly forbidden is more natural than smoking is strongly forbidden.

# give you alternative ways of saying something, which may be more expressive or more concise: instead of repeating – It was very cold and very dark, we can say it was bitterly cold and pitch dark.

# improve your writing style: instead of saying unemployment causes crime, you can say unemployment breeds crime, instead of saying a big meal you can say a substantial meal.

# help you learn grammar intuitively: The Company is going to introduce an exciting new product in June. With collocations you can relate different parts of speech quite easily.

Types of collocation

There are many different types of collocations in English language. Here are some common examples.

Adjectives and nouns

Notice adjectives that are typically used with particular nouns.

  • We had a brief discussion about the new product but he didn’t have time to discuss them properly.
  • Unemployment is a major problem for the government at the moment.
  • Improving the healthcare service is another key issue for government.

Nouns and verbs

Notice how nouns and verbs often go together.

  • The company has grown in last few years.
  • The two companies merged in 2014.
  • The Internet has created opportunities for many technology companies.

Adverbs and adjectives

Adjectives often have particular adverbs which regularly collocate with them.

  • I am fully aware of the fact.
  • They are happily married.

Verbs and adverbs

Some verbs have particular adverbs which regularly collocate with them.

  • She pulled steadily on the rope and helped him to safety.
  • He placed the beautiful vase gently on the window ledge.
  • She smiled proudly as she looked at the photos of her new grandson.

Noun + noun

There are a lot of collocations with the pattern a … of … .

  • As Sam read the lies about him, he felt a surge of anger.
  • Every parent feels a sense of pride when their child does well.
  • 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 he went on stage to receive his gold medal, he was brimming with confidence.

I was filled with horror when I read the newspaper report of the explosion.

Resources – Ways to learn Collocations


This is a part of newspaper article:


Towns and villages in the North Eastern region were battling against floods tonight as heavy rain continued.

When you come across a new words, try to note down the entire sentence and identify the collocation like “battling against” in the above news item. When you review your vocabulary notebook do revise all the collocations instead of individual words. Your English will improve dramatically.

Using your dictionary

A good learner’s dictionary will give you information on collocations. Sometimes the information is highlighted in some special way. In other cases, the examples used in the dictionary include the most common collocations.

A good dictionary will also tell you if a collocation is formal or informal. For example, the dictionary will tell you that take up an offer is an informal collocation (accept an offer would be a more formal alternative).

Write the collocations you find in an appropriate way in your vocabulary notebook or use apps in your smartphones.

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