This refers to words (often two or three) that are commonly placed together.
There may be grammatical reasons for this, but there may not be. It may be that through long-term usage, it just sounds correct.
It is one of the most important things to understand and practice when you learn the English language.
Here is an example of some common verb-noun combinations to illustrate:
- To make the bed / money / a noise
- To catch a cold / a bus / a fish
- To come late / on time / to a decision
- To do homework / the shopping / nothing
You can’t say ‘do the bed‘ as these words do not collocate together.
There are several different types of collocation. Collocations can be adjective + adverb, noun + noun, verb + noun and so on. Below you can see seven main types of collocation in sample sentences.
1. adverb + adjective
- Invading that country was an utterly stupid thing to do.
- We entered a richly decorated room.
- Are you fully aware of the implications of your action?
2. adjective + noun
- The doctor ordered him to take regular exercise.
- The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage.
- He was writhing on the ground in excruciating pain.
3. noun + noun
- Let’s give Mr Jones a round of applause.
- The ceasefire agreement came into effect at 11am.
- I’d like to buy two bars of soap please.
4. noun + verb
- The lion started to roar when it heard the dog barking.
- Snow was falling as our plane took off.
- The bomb went off when he started the car engine.
5. verb + noun
- The prisoner was hanged for committing murder.
- I always try to do my homework in the morning, after making my bed.
- He has been asked to give a presentation about his work.
6. verb + expression with preposition
- We had to return home because we had run out of money.
- At first her eyes filled with horror, and then she burst into tears.
- Their behaviour was enough to drive anybody to crime.
7. verb + adverb
- She placed her keys gently on the table and sat down.
- Mary whispered softly in John’s ear.
- I vaguely remember that it was growing dark when we left.
Why are they important for IELTS?
The examiner will be judging you on this. For example, here is what the IELTS public band descriptors say for an IELTS band 7 for lexis (vocabulary):
“uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation“
So to achieve a band 7 in this criteria, not only do you need to be using some less common words, you also need to show to some extent that you know what other words these less common words are usually used with.
However, this is important for any band – if you have a bad grasp of them, this will have a negative impact on your writing and your speaking.
Collocation Quiz – DO, HAVE, MAKE