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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
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