Students' resources

Collocations and the use of a collocation dictionary

Students resources collocation dictionary

Collocations and the use of a collocation dictionary

In my last post on ‘How to expand your vocabulary and avoid repetition’ I explained the importance and the usage of a thesaurus to upgrade/vary your English by using synonyms. So the next step in your speaking and/or writing expansion is adding some more words to what you’re saying. Here I’m talking about collocations and the use of a collocation dictionary.

What are collocations?

These are words that go together for no apparent reason other than that ‘it sounds right’. There are many different collocations, and I will do a post on that one day soon, to dive a bit deeper. (dive deeper: collocation)

For example, why do we say ‘heavy smoker’? Is the person fat or overweight when he smokes? Not really, you just say heavy smoker and not ‘big smoker’. You also don’t say: ‘very amazing’, but ‘really, absolutely, truly amazing’.

Why are collocations important?

As an English learner or teacher you need to know the exist and that they are an extremely important part of your English language development. You already look at collocation in Elementary (A1): have breakfast, have dinner, have lunch, have a shower… (collocations with have) But the more you progress in your learning the more important they become, because you want to ‘sound right’, don’t you?

What's a collocation dictionary?

It’s a dictionary that shows you the most common words that go with another word. For example: just, pretty, really, truly, absolutely, most, quite all collocate with amazing. Isn’t the collocation dictionary truly amazing?

Where can I find a collocation dictionary?

There are various ones, but the one I like the most is:

It gives you verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, prepositions,… that go with another word.

Watch out!

Of course you can’t find collocations for every word, so for some words you won’t find any. As with synonyms, words have a context, they also have formality and there might be some grammar attached to them, so be careful with which collocations you use when.

How can I use a collocation dictionary?

You can use it for both writing and speaking, it’s just that for writing you have the time to look things up and use them in your writing. For your speaking you will need some preparation time before to think about them or look them up.

Remember ‘important’ the word that is part of any Cambridge exam First certificate (FCE), Advanced (CAE), Proficiency (CPE) or IELTS: ‘How important is…’, and I showed you some synonyms for important in the previous post? You could potentially use important, but you will have to grade it and put an adverb in front of it. For example it is critically important, or rather important, or terribly important,…

So, to make your writing or speaking a bit more interesting don’t say:

  • I have a car. But, I have a used car. Put an adjective before your nouns
  • I love pizza. But I absolutely love pizza. Use some adverbs with your verbs
  • It is interesting. But it is particularly interesting. Use some adverbs with your adjectives

Especially the last one, adverbs + adjectives collocations are important for those exams, because the question is HOW important….? This means they want you to express if it has no importance whatsoever, if it is the most important thing ever, or anything in between. So, show off that you can use adverb + adjective collocations and you will get a better score.

So, go and look up some collocations and tell us in the comments below which collocations you found rather surprising, genuinely useful and or incredibly interesting.

Spread the word

Kristof Abrath
Teacher, Trainer, Course Designer
Teaching in English on 4 different continents since 2006.

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