Skip main navigation

What are collocations?

Learn about collocations and improve vocabulary range and accuracy in the IELTS speaking test.
What Are Collocations
© Macquarie University

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.

© Macquarie University
This article is from the free online

Improve your IELTS Speaking score

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education