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More about collocates

Look at the differences between Farah’s and Omar’s emails.

Farah Omar
I will make a great experience you will have a great experience
Will I have to work difficult You will definitely have to work hard
I hear that there is thick rain every day they have heavy rain sometimes

So, we can see that the words Omar has used fit together better than the words Farah has used. Omar has used strong collocations in his email, which makes his writing easier to understand.

For example, which do you think is the best word to fill in the gap:

She didn’t need any help, she was _____ independent.

A. absolutely B. completely C. unquestionably

These three options have similar meaning but only one of these words goes together with the word ‘independent’. When you use weak collocates in your speaking or writing it can sound strange and make it difficult for your audience to understand your meaning.

Your dictionary will tell you strong collocations to use with the word you have looked up.

Look at the list of collocates for ‘independent’ in the table below and decide which answer from above, A, B, or C, is correct.

Collocates: independent
Adverbs frequently used with independent: completely, entirely, genuinely, totally, truly
Nouns frequently used with independent: advice, adviser, arbitration, body, expert, inquiry, observer, tribunal

… independent

So, we can see from using the dictionary that writing ‘absolutely independent’ or ‘unquestionably independent’ would sound wrong and make our writing less clear. You should add strong collocations for words you are learning to your vocabulary log whenever you read or hear a new one.

You need to think about the type of word you are trying to match with your word carefully.

If you want a word to show how independent something is you need to choose an adverb because we want to change the adjective (independent), eg ‘she was totally independent’.

However, if you want to use independent to describe a thing you should choose a noun collocate, eg ‘he tried to get some independent advice’.

Your task

Use your learner dictionary to find strong collocates for the following words and add them to your vocabulary log. You should read the example sentences and try to notice the word next to the word you are looking for. This will give you a good example of a collocate for your word.

  • Genre
  • Discipline
  • Community
  • Successful
  • Lecture
  • Assignment
  • Peer

When you have finished adding to your vocabulary log, post your favourite collocate in the forum and notice if your peers have chosen the same or different words.

If you would like more information about collocates, look at the links in the ‘see also’ section.

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This article is from the free online course:

English for Academic Study

Coventry University