What are collocations?

Apr 15, 2021
What is a collocation?

What is a collocation?

A collocation is a group of words that goes together and sounds natural to native speakers. Other word combinations sound unnatural to native speakers of English. These words co-occur naturally together and it’s your job as a learner to notice them early on in your learning journey.

What are chunks?

In the dictionary, chunks are defined as  (connected items or words) so that they can be stored or processed as single concepts. Which means pairs/groups of words should be seen as one. We don’t separate the two words or learn them individually

Natural vs unnatural collocation  

There are words that probably sound correct to you and are also grammatically correct however it will sound unnatural to a native English speaker. It’s probably the same in your language. 

Let’s take a look at some examples of unnatural word combinations that are common in the English language and the unnatural ways to say them.


  • Natural: Have a meal (NOT take a meal )

  • Natural: fast food (NOT quick food)

  • Natural: do research (NOT make research )

  • Natural: do business (NOT make business )

  • natural: quick shower (NOT fast shower)

  • Natural: have a party (NOT do a party)

Why collocations?

Your brain stores and recalls word chunks quickly

I’ve tested this theory in my classroom. I taught my students single words instead of collocations and it was hard for them to remember the words they had learnt. And when they tried using the words in their writing they would sound unnatural. By learning collocations, your English will develop faster and you will be able to remember more. 

Collocations are words that sound natural together to native speakers of English

Native speakers of English learn English by learning language chunks when they were babies and it’s quite easy for English speakers to notice unnatural language. When you learn collocations it will be the same for you. You will notice if something doesn't sound or look right pretty quickly. 

Collocations help you produce natural English

Students complain about not knowing how to form a sentence or  that their grammar is bad and they sound unnatural. If you feel you’re in the same boat then start learning collocations and start seeing a difference in your fluency development. 

It helps you build a larger vocabulary bank

Since collocations are easier to remember, you’ll be able to learn more vocabulary hence your vocabulary bank will start to grow. Your brain loves pairs, it stores vocabulary in groups and when you learn single words it’s more difficult to recall the words you’ve learnt.

Now you’re familiar with collocations, how can you learn them successfully? 

Here are a few things you can start doing:


The easiest way to notice language is by grabbing a piece of text e.g. newspaper and start highlighting collocations that naturally appear together. You can use a dictionary to help you. I will talk more about collocation dictionaries and resources later. 

For more advanced learners try to notice collocations that you wouldn’t expect to see together e.g. instead of highlighting big disappointment, highlight huge disappointment instead

A Word And Its Friends

Words have friends and they hang out often together. I want you to stop seeing them as individuals. They’re not alone. These friends like each other and so you’ll always see them chilling together.

Take Your Note-Taking To The Next Level

When you learn words don’t forget their friends. Most dictionaries will give you a section to help you learn all the different ways to use the word. If your dictionary doesn't have that look at the example sentences. Notice how the word is used in a sentence. Write the sentence down in your notebook. 

Reading Will Help You With Collocations 

Reading is an excellent way to learn collocations in context. When you listen to someone speaking, it’s not unusual for them to make mistakes, start again etc. However, books have been edited and refined and it will be easier for you to learn collocations more accurately. 

Review The Vocabulary You Learn A Lot

Once you’ve taken notes, make sure you review what you’ve written down regularly. I would say at least 4 times a day. When you wake up and sleep and during the day. Have your vocabulary notebook with you at all times so that whenever waiting to see the doctor, waiting for a meeting to start, or have free time you can quickly have a look.

Practise Using The Collocations As Much As Possible

When you learn new collocations, do your best to use them as much as you can. You might find it hard at first but eventually, it will feel natural and you’ll be able to use it without thinking. 

You might be thinking ‘I can’t do that ‘That sounds incredibly hard’ ‘I will make a ton of mistakes. And that’s okay, I’m giving you permission to make mistakes. Start using the collocations even if you speak slowly.

Learn Collocations By Topic Or By A Specific Word

Do you enjoy food? Then start learning collocations in the topic of food. Start with topics you like. Eventually, all the collocations you learn can be used in other topics anyway. SO start with what you like, it will be easier for you to remember and help you enjoy the journey of learning collocations.

Types of collocations

There are many types of collocations. If this is your first time reading about collocations I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on this section. Come back to it when you’re much more comfortable with the idea of collocations. Let’s take a look at the most common types of collocations 

  • adjective + noun: small population 

  • verb + noun: make a generalisation 

  • noun + noun: a ballet teacher

  • noun + verb: a bird sings 

  • Verb + adverb: whispered softly

  • adverb + adjective: highly sophisticated 

  • verb + expression with preposition burst into tears 

Online Collocations dictionary

 If you’ve read until here, you have understood how important collocations are to help you develop natural English. This means the first tool you’re going to need an online dictionary. I have a few favourites but most good dictionaries have a section for collocations. Here’s are two of my favourite Free online dictionaries to start you off. 

  1. Ozdic.com

  2. Longman dictionary