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What are Collocations?

What are Collocations? Read to learn more.

In English there are many words that go together or form fixed relationships. You will need to have a good understanding of these phrases and relationships to answer a number of PTE test items.


Collocations are combinations of two or more words that often go together. These combinations sound natural to native speakers e.g. heavy rain. Other word combinations may be grammatically correct, but are unnatural or sound wrong eg big rain, strong rain. These are not commonly used. Learning and using correct collocations are important because they are the essential building blocks of natural-sounding English. As collocations follow a particular order, knowing common collocations is useful for answering questions in PTE. It will help you use the structure of these fixed phrases to determine answers, especially in the Fill in the Blanks test items.

Compound nouns

A compound noun is made with two or more words. A compound noun is usually noun + noun eg lawsuit or adjective + noun eg greenhouse, but there are other combinations. Each compound noun acts as a single unit and can be modified by adjectives and other nouns. It is important to understand and recognise compound nouns.

Multi-word prepositions

Prepositions are words like in, from, of, for, and by that show the relationship between other parts of a sentence. They are usually short words, but there are a few longer ones such as throughout, alongside, and regarding. There are also multi-word prepositions such as due to, in regards to, because of, apart from, and except for. In fact, there are over one hundred prepositions in English and you can find the complete list on this website.

Phrasal verbs

You may have noticed that verbs are often accompanied by prepositions. Some of these are referred to as phrasal verbs, such as: wake up, hand in, take after. Phrasal verbs sometimes have a special meaning that is different from the meaning of the individual words by themselves.

Learn more about prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs in this video and complete the interactive practice activities that follow.

Words that go together in reading

For Reading: Fill in the Blanks you need to read a passage with missing words and use language clues and word knowledge to fill in the blanks.

Before reading, skim the entire text quickly to understand the topic and identify the main idea. Fill in the blanks using the context and language cues:

  • Pay attention to words that go together to form a familiar phrase: Think about words that you often see or hear together. Look for common collocations, compound nouns, prepositional phrases and phrasal verbs.
  • Pay attention to the grammar of the sentence: Look at the words and sentence structure on each side of the missing word and decide what part of speech is missing, if the word is a noun, decide if it should be singular or plural.

Let’s look at an example:

Paragraph with blank spaces

First, let’s see how using words that go together can help you recognise the correct word for each blank. For example, the phrase general public and contribute to (the) development are collocations, so you can quickly see they might be good choices. Due to is a multi-word preposition and tap into is a phrasal verb.

Next, use your knowledge of grammar to help you select the correct word. Read around the blank and decide which part of speech the missing word is, for example citizen science as a ____ tells us the answer should be a singular noun so tool would be the best choice. Instrument fits for meaning but is plural and should be preceded by an rather than a as it begins with a vowel.

Now check your answers by completing the Reading: Fill in the Blanks practice task.

For more information about Reading: Fill in the Blanks click on the link in the SEE ALSO section.

Words that go together in listening

You also need to use your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar in the Listening: Write from Dictation test item. This item assesses your ability to understand and remember a sentence you hear, and then write it exactly as you hear it using correct spelling.

While listening you should focus on the meaning of the sentence to help you remember it. Write or type the content words as you listen: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Leave the minor words (prepositions, articles) out for now. Immediately after the recording stops, write or type as much of the sentence as you can. Go over the sentence and use your knowledge of words that go together and grammar to add any words you left out eg prepositions and articles.

Look at the following example:

Text box with instructions to hear a recording of a sentence and text field to enter the words as heard

When listening you might write:

arguments / widely accepted / researchers / field
When typing:
  • add these and are because the noun researchers is plural.
  • widely accepted is a collocation and accepted is commonly followed with by + person/group.
  • the fixed phrase in the field should help you remember in the.
These arguments are widely accepted by most researchers in the field.

Your task

Here is a practice example of Listening: Write from Dictation. Listen to the sentences and type them in the box exactly as you hear them.


  • Write or type the content words as you listen.
  • Immediately after the recording stops, write or type as much of the sentence as you can.
  • Go over the sentence and use your knowledge of words that go together and grammar to add any words you left out.

For more tips on how to tackle Listening: Write from Dictation follow the link in the SEE ALSO section.


Nordquist, Richard. (2020). Definition and Examples of Complex Prepositions. Retrieved from here.

Pearson. (2019). PTE Academic Test Tips (Version 2). Pearson.

Disclaimer: The question prompts are for practice purposes only and are not official PTE Test materials.

© Griffith University
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