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Collocations: Definition, Examples & Practice

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  • 0:03 Collocations
  • 0:33 Examples
  • 1:54 Practice
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

What do fast food and legal action have in common? They are both collocations. In this lesson, you will learn about collocations and look at more examples.

Collocations

When you eat at a quick-service restaurant, you are eating fast food. You wouldn't say you went and got 'quick food.' That is because fast food is a collocation, or a pair or set of words that are commonly put together. In a collocation, if you replace one of the words with a synonym, it sounds unnatural to native English speakers. Knowing and recognizing common English collocations is an important aspect of learning English, which is why it is often tested on English exams such as the CAE.

Examples

English has a number of common collocations. Some of them depend on the context of the sentence. For example, 'put on' and 'put away' are both common collocations, but which one you use depends on the sentence. You would 'put on' a new outfit, but you would 'put away' a book you took off the shelf. Let's take a look at a few examples of collocations.

  • The company's success has taken everyone by surprise.

'Taken by surprise' is a very common collocation that is typically broken up by a noun or pronoun, as you can see with 'everyone' in the sentence above. You might also say 'it took him by surprise,' or 'everyone was taken by surprise,' without changing the collocation itself.

  • I'm sure your glasses will turn up.

'Turn up' is a collocation meaning that the missing object will reappear at a later date.

  • She decided to seek legal action.

'Legal action' is a collocation used when a person is seeking help through the legal system, usually if they are suing somebody or trying to bring someone to court.

  • Don't hesitate to call if you need anything.

'Don't hesitate' is a very common collocation, and it is typically used with 'to call,' or 'to let me know.' As with other collocations, if you were to substitute a different word, it sounds very odd to a native speaker. For example, 'Don't wait to call' has a different meaning, implying more of a command as opposed to an offer of help.

Practice

On the CAE, you will be asked to read a passage and fill in the blanks. Recognizing common collocations is a significant part of knowing which words are correct for the various blanks. The following series of sentences are similar to to what you may encounter on the exam. Let's look at the word that would go in the blank space:

Word bank: condition, heavy, far, grave, caught


Question: My sister was taken to the hospital when her heart _____ grew worse.

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