Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Macquarie University's online course, Improve your IELTS Speaking score. Join the course to learn more.
wooden letters spelling out 'choose your words'

What are collocations?

Ming Wei tried to used a range of vocabulary but some collocations were used incorrectly. But what are collocations?


A collocation is a group of two or more words that are almost always put together to create a specific meaning. Using a different combination of words sounds unnatural or awkward. Some common collocations are:

  • to make a mistake, but not to do a mistake
  • a big decision, but not a large decision
  • to commit a crime, but not perform a crime

Ming Wei used the following collocations incorrectly:

  • the most enormous city (the correct collocation is the largest city)
  • business region (a more common collocation would be business centre or financial hub)
  • tall rise (the correct collocation is high rise)
  • shopping in the window (window shopping would be the right collocation).

Collocations in the English language can follow several structures:

  • adjective + noun (e.g. He gave me some excellent advice.)

  • noun + verb (e.g. The disease spread before anything could be done to prevent it.)

  • verb + noun (e.g. I have always tried to follow my father’s advice.)

  • verb + adverb (e.g. Consider the proposal carefully before you make a decision.)

  • adverb + adjective (e.g. An ability to speak Japanese is highly desirable for this job.)

  • noun + noun (e.g. The coach pushes the players to perform beyond their comfort zone)

For a single word, there can be more than one collocation. Let’s take the word rain as an example:

  • There was heavy rain last night. (adjective + noun)
  • At sunset, rain began to pour down. (noun + verb)
  • It rained non-stop all night. (verb + adverb)
  • A few drops of rain had fallen. (noun + noun)


Think of a collocation that you often use and write a sentence using this collocation in the comment box below. Feel free to comment on other participants’ sentences.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Improve your IELTS Speaking score

Macquarie University