In my last post I set a challenge that required you to understand the concept collocation, but later it occurred to me that you might not understand what it is.
There is no grammatical reason why we cannot say Merry birthday. In fact the only explanation is that, well, that’s just the way it is! Welcome to the frustrating world of collocation.
We can think of ‘collocation’ as co + location, meaning together in the same location. Two or more words often appear together – or close to each other – in a phrase or sentence.
In the above example we have adjective noun collocation – Merry (adj) + Christmas (n). Other combinations are possible. Verb noun (v-n) is one of the most common:
In this case the verb take collocates with the noun medicine. Aha, so we can say that one word collocates with another word (or words):
We can also say that examples 1 and 2 are examples of adjective-noun (adj-n) collocation, while example 3 is an example of verb-noun (v-n) collocation.
If words always go together in a phrase or sentence, this is called strong collocation. On the other hand if they only appear together some of the time, this is weak collocation. Including strong collocation in your IELTS speaking and writing gets you a high score for vocabulary.
Beyond IELTS, if you don’t use collocation in your speaking and writing, your listeners and readers will know very quickly that you are not a native English speaker. This is because collocation is often different in different languages:
If you tell your Australian friend that you need to drink your medicine, he will understand you, and will not correct you, but you will sound like a foreigner!
The best way to acquire collocation in a language is to read as much as possible in that language. Only by seeing examples of collocation, repeatedly, can you begin to get a feel for what words go together with other words.
You will find that collocation is strong in certain situations:
(Click on highlighted words for information)
Words that collocate are like peas in a pod! Noticing how words appear together requires effort, but – in my experience – it is a much better investment of your time than studying grammar – those grammar habits are difficult to change!
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