What are collocations?

What is a collocation?

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

What are chunks?

According to the dictionary, chunks are defined as connected items or words that can be stored or processed as a single concept. This means that these pairs/groups of words should be seen as one unit. We don’t separate the two words or learn them individually.

Natural vs unnatural collocations

There are words that probably sound correct to you and actually are grammatically correct; however, they would sound unnatural to a native English speaker. It’s probably the same in your native language.

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

  • have a meal (not take a meal)

  • fast food (not quick food)

  • do research (not make research)

  • do business (not make business)

  • a quick shower (not a fast shower)

  • 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’ve taught my students single words instead of collocations. 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 sound natural to native speakers of English.

Native speakers of English acquired English by learning language chunks from the time they were babies, and it’s quite easy for them 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 quite right pretty quickly.

Collocations help you produce natural English.

Students complain about their difficulties in forming a sentence or worry that their grammar is incorrect. They fear that they sound unnatural. If you feel you’re in the same boat, then start learning collocations, and you’ll soon see a difference in your fluency development.

Collocations help 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 rapidly. Your brain loves pairs; it stores vocabulary in groups. When you learn single words, it’s harder to recall the words you’ve learnt.

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

Here are a few actions you can take:

Notice collocations

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

For more advanced learners, try to notice collocations that you see less frequent together. For example, instead of highlighting the often-seen collocation ‘big disappointment’, highlight the less common ‘huge disappointment’ instead.

Picture a Word and Its Friends Together

When you learn new words, don’t forget their friends. Words and their friends often hang out together. I want you to stop seeing them as individuals. They’re not loners. These friends like each other, so you’ll often see them chillin' together.

Bring Your Note-Taking to the Next Level

Most dictionaries will include a section to help you learn all the different ways to use a word. If your dictionary doesn't have that feature, look at the example sentences in the definition. Notice how the word is used in a sentence, and write the sentence down in your notebook.

Read books

Reading is an excellent way to learn collocations in context. When you listen to someone speaking, it’s common 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 Frequently

Once you’ve taken notes, make sure you review what you’ve written down regularly. I would say revising should be done at least four times a day when you wake up, just before you go to sleep and several times during the day. Have your vocabulary notebook with you at all times so that whenever you’re waiting to see the doctor, waiting for a meeting to start, or enjoying free time, you can quickly have a look. Practise Using 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 them without thinking.

You might be thinking ‘I can’t do that, ‘That sounds incredibly hard’ or ‘I’ll make a ton of mistakes. And that’s okay. I’m giving you permission to make mistakes (Not that you need it). 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 on the topic of food. Start with topics you like. Eventually, all the collocations you learn can be used to discuss other topics anyway. So start with a subject you find interesting. The words 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 and some examples.

  • 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 + prepositional phrase: burst into tears

Online Collocations Dictionaries

If you’ve read up until this point, you most likely understand how important collocations are to help you develop natural English. The first tool you’re going to need is an online dictionary. I have a few favourites, but most good dictionaries have a section for collocations. Here are two of my favourite free online dictionaries to start you off.

Read a full transcript of the video below:

Hello and welcome back. I'm Halima from Blackboard English and today we're going to look at collocations. Watch until the end of the video for your chance to download a free poster that will help you with collocations.


Let's begin with the first question. What is a collocation? So collocations? are words that go together that sound natural to native speakers? Who are native speakers? Where are they? So native speakers are people who learn English as their first language, so is their mother tongue and too native speakers, some word combinations might sound a little weird, or it doesn't sound right. So some word combinations sound unnatural to native speakers and these are the word combinations you should be avoiding. So these are words that don't go together. They're not wrong, but they just don't go together because they sound unnatural to native speakers. So if you want to sound natural, start using collocations.


Let's talk about words that don't go together. Why don't they go together? Let's think of colours. There's certain colours that don't go together very well. You don't know why, but they just don't look good together. So this is how you know they're wrong. They just don't go together, they don't look good together. So colours that do look good together are collocations. For example, black and white. These are colours that go very well together. So colours that go together are like collocations. So they look good together. So beige, and brown, or black and white. These are colours that look nice together. But if you have other colours that just don't go very well together. They don't look right. S o words that are, like say invented by somebody that is just learning English will sound very strange to someone who's a native speaker of English. Let me give you another example. Water with cornflakes. This is something that just doesn't go together. We don't know why with milk, it's great, but with water, it just tastes weird, so consider words that don't go well together as cornflakes and milk or colours that don't go together. If you learn collocations, they will help you sound natural and that's what you want, you want to sound natural. So start learning collocations they will help you structure the language properly, so that when somebody else listens to what you're saying, they can understand you better, your language skills will also be richer and you'll have more than one way to express what you want to say.

Another reason you should be learning collocations is your brain actually finds it easier to store language in chunks. So if you learn single words, it's actually harder to retrieve, to remember, or when you're trying to say it, it's harder for you to try to communicate single words rather than groups of words. So remember, when you're learning new words, to learn in chunks, so group of words. So instead of one word, you find another word, and neighbour that always sticks around that word often. So that way, when I'm trying to speak, I'm already setting myself up for success. I already have part of the sentence, so that way your language will be much more accurate.


So how do you learn collocations. First thing you need is to know the different dictionaries that you can use. So find all the dictionaries. I have a few videos talking about collocation dictionary, you can use us Ozdic.com or Longman Dictionary, which has a very good collocation section. I have videos in the description below talking about these two different types of dictionaries, so you can have a look after this lesson. It's also worth getting a dictionary that you can actually use, so a dictionary without you having to go online. A good dictionary that I always recommend is a Longman collocations dictionary and thesaurus. I will put a link in the description below to an Amazon link where you can actually find this book, if you would like to buy it.


Start noticing collocations being used everywhere. So when somebody's speaking, or when you're reading, try to start noticing the different words that go together, read, read, read, read as much as you can. This is the best way for you to actually see how these words are formed. So you can see the collocations being used in a newspaper or in an article online or in a book, try to read as much as possible. This will allow your brain to understand what words go together frequently. So you see it again and again. together that way, when you see it in the wrong form, or somebody's using it differently, you know, when it's wrong. Listen as much as you can. This is another way just like the reading, for you to understand words that go together naturally. Now, when you're listening to something, make sure it's authentic listening. So it's made for native speakers. So listen to the radio, BBC Four is a great way to get that listening happening. BBC four is a radio station that can actually help you practice this listening. Native speakers are always speaking on there and even if you don't understand everything, it's a great way for you to be exposed to real natural English. There's also different places that you can go online. Watch YouTube videos that are made for native speakers and not English learners. That way you can you can actually get exposed to real life English, natural English. It's okay to watch English lessons - please keep watching - when you're learning English, so when you're taking lessons. You need a teacher to speak slowly so that you may understand, but you also need authentic listening to improve your English skills and also for you to be exposed to more collocations so that you can sound a lot more natural.


Now let's look at types of collocations. There are seven types of collocations they are; adverb plus adjective, verb plus adverb, adjective plus noun, noun plus noun, noun plus verb, verb plus expression with preposition, and verb plus noun. Did I say noun plus verb? Okay, if I didn't, that's fine. So all these, so these are the seven types of collocations that exist. To help you I've created a poster giving you all the examples of these different types of collocations. So you will get the type of collocation and examples I've created a beautiful poster for you and I will put the link in below this video. So click on the link and download your free poster for you to familiarise yourself with the different types of collocations

Start learning collocations today and remember, be a fearless learner. Thank you very much for watching my video guys. If you found it useful, please share it with your friends and make sure that you like and subscribe to my channel, if you haven't done so already. And I'll see you next week with another new video.

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