An ELT Glossary : Colligation


Definition : The tendency of certain linguistic items to occur in specific syntactic contexts and not in others.

Example : Much and many + noun phrase tend not to occur in object/complement position in affirmative sentences Eg:  *There are many trees in my garden/ *She has much money. with alternative expressions such as a lot of being preferred. They do however occur in the equivalent negative sentences (There aren't many trees in my garden / She doesn't have much money), or in subject position : Many people have argued that.... / Much fuss has been made about ...

Example : Intensifying adjectives such as  mere, utter, sheer etc can only be used in attributive position - It was mere folly / It was sheer nonsense / It was utter stupidity - and not in predicative position - *The folly was mere /*the nonsense was sheer / * His stupidity was utter.

(An asterisk * indicates an unnatural sentence)


Further Reading

Hoey, M. Lexical Priming - A New Theory of Words and Language, Routledge