A collocation is a group of words that usually go together. For example, in English, we usually say ‘heavy rain’. It’s correct grammatically to say ‘strong rain’ or ‘big rain’, but both of these sound completely strange. A native English speaker would never say ‘big rain’. If you use the normal collocation (‘heavy rain’) your English will sound a lot better and more natural and it will be easier for native speakers to understand you. Collocations are very, very important.
It’s very difficult to give a list of collocations, because there are so many. In fact, I think that almost every word in English has other words that it usually goes with.
Set phrases, verb patterns, and idioms are really just strong examples of collocations too. For example, in English, we say ‘get married to someone’. Many languages use ‘with’ after ‘marry’ (which certainly seems more logical!). But this isn’t the normal way in English. If you learn the whole phrase (‘get married to someone’), then you won’t make this mistake.
How to improve your use of collocations:
Notice collocations. When you’re reading, look at which words go together. If you have to write about a topic, try to find a newspaper article or a magazine article about that topic and look at the phrases that the journalist uses. You’ll often see the same phrases again and again. It’s a good idea to learn these.
Use a collocation dictionary. I don’t think there’s one online, but the Oxford Collocations Dictionary is a very useful book. You can look up any word and see which other words are usually used with it.
If you don’t have a collocation dictionary, a learner’s dictionary (like this one by Oxford, free online) will give you several good example phrases for each word, as well as telling you which prepositions and so on the word is used with.
When you study vocabulary, learn whole phrases, not single words. For example, it’s better to learn ‘to insist on doing something’ rather than just ‘insist’. If you need to learn ‘effort’, make sure you study ‘make an effort’
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