An ELT Glossary : Collocation

Definition : The tendency of words to co-occur regularly and form "partnerships" in ways not fully explained by semantic or grammatical compatibility.

Examples :  you can have a "bad cold" or a "heavy cold". You can have a "bad headache" but not a "heavy headache"; hard  and heavily both collocate with the verb rain (it was raining hard/heavily) but only heavy collocates with the noun rain (The forecast is for heavy rain, not *hard rain).

These are examples of adjective/noun and verb/adverb collocations. Other word classes that may collocate include:

  • verbs and prepositions (comment on... believe in... belong to...  ) 
  • adjectives and prepositions (interested in... different from... surprised at... afraid of...
  • delexicalised verbs and nouns (do your  homework; make the beds; have lunch; take note)

Recommended Reading

Lewis, M. Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical ApproachThomson Heinle Language Teaching Publications ELT

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