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Unpacking the Concept of Collocations: Benefits and How to Effectively Apply Them

The use of collocations holds immense significance in both written and spoken language, regardless of the language being utilized. These combinations of words are typically recognized by native speakers, making them easily identifiable and distinct.

What are Collocations?

Collocations refer to the pairing of words found within a sentence. Similar to relationships, collocations can be seen as a duo or small group of words. Some collocations, like "take a look," are typical and natural, while others, such as "grab a peek," are untypical and may sound odd or incorrect.

For instance, when finishing household tasks, we "make the bed" and "do the dishes," not "do the bed" or "make the dishes." Similarly, in a weather forecast, we often hear "heavy showers" and "strong winds," but rarely "strong showers" or "heavy winds." These are examples of typical and untypical collocations, respectively.

Using untypical collocations, like "strong showers," may be understandable in some cases, but they are not as commonly used or natural-sounding as typical collocations. Consider the comparison table below:

  • Typical Collocations
  • Make the bed
  • Do the dishes
  • Heavy showers
  • Strong winds
  • Untypical Collocations
  • Do the bed
  • Make the dishes
  • Strong showers
  • Heavy winds

Typical collocations come naturally to native English speakers because they are widely used. There is no specific rule to explain why certain words go together, they simply sound right.

Tip: While we may refer to collocations as "typical" and "untypical," others may use the terms "natural" and "unnatural." Some may even classify collocations on a spectrum between "fluid" and "fixed," based on their frequency of usage in the English language. What's important to remember is that some collocations are more familiar and sound more natural than others.

Types and Examples of Collocations

Although there are many different types of collocations, understanding these six common types is enough to grasp how they function.

1. Adjective + Noun Collocations

"I had a high temperature, so I sat down with a tall glass of water." In this sentence, "high" and "tall" have similar meanings. However, if we switch them, it doesn't sound as natural: "I had a tall temperature, so I sat down with a high glass of water." These are untypical collocations because these combinations are not commonly used or familiar enough. Other typical adjective + noun collocations include:

  • Strong coffee
  • A hearty meal
  • Drastic change
  • A bright future

2. Adverb + Adjective Collocations

"After cycling through the rain, I arrived soaking wet." This phrase is a typical collocation as it sounds natural and familiar. However, if we change the adverb, it becomes untypical: "After cycling through the rain, I arrived soggy wet." The words don't fit together as seamlessly as in the previous example. Other typical adverb + adjective collocations include:

  • Slightly late
  • Filthy rich
  • Highly intelligent
  • Ridiculously expensive

3. Noun + Noun Collocations

Here are some examples of typical noun + noun collocations. Notice the connecting words, such as "and" and "of," that join the collocating nouns:

  • Flash of lightning
  • A sense of achievement
  • Safe and sound
  • Pros and cons

Collective nouns can also be considered a form of noun + noun collocations.

Collocations in English Collocations are common combinations of words used in a sentence. Essentially, a collocation is the way in which two or more words relate to each other to form a new meaning when placed together. Various types of collocations exist in the English language, such as noun + noun, verb + noun, verb + prepositional phrase, and verb + adverb.

Verb + Noun Collocations: A Guide to Natural Word Combinations

A group of words, known as a collocation, can greatly affect the flow and meaning of a sentence. Understanding common verb + noun collocations is essential for effective communication in English. Some examples of verb + noun collocations include "make money," "gain speed," "break the silence," and "pay attention." Other combinations, such as "gain money" and "make speed," may make sense but are not typically used in everyday language.

Verb + Prepositional Phrase Collocations

Prepositions are words that indicate the relationship between a noun and something else, such as time, place, or location. A common type of collocation is verb + prepositional phrase, which includes a verb and its object noun. Examples of this type of collocation include "listening to the radio," "brimming with joy," "falling in love," and "paying for shopping."

Verb + Adverb Collocations

In addition to noun and prepositional phrase collocations, verb + adverb collocations can also have a significant impact on the meaning and fluency of a sentence. For example, "aimlessly wander" sounds more natural than "pointlessly wander." Some common verb + adverb collocations include "openly admit," "deeply regret," "strongly agree," and "softly whisper."

The Importance of Collocations in English

In creative writing, a writer may purposefully use unconventional collocations to create a specific effect. However, in everyday language, native English speakers are more likely to use typical collocations, making them crucial for effective communication. For instance, the phrase "the time has come" may be used for a jarring effect, while "to and fro" is a more common collocation.

In Summary

Collocations play an integral role in English as they provide a natural flow to the language and are familiar to native speakers. While they can affect the sentence structure, collocations are primarily used to create a desired tone or effect in writing. For language learners, a collocations dictionary, such as the Oxford Collocations Dictionary, can be a valuable resource for identifying common word combinations.

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