Collocations for Advanced Learners

In our January issue we discussed collocations – words that are used together so often, they sound more natural than other possible combinations. In the January issue we gave an overview of all the different parts of speech where collocations occur, but today we will focus on verb collocations because they are crucial to speaking and understanding English well.

But first let’s warm up with a few exercises.

Exercise: Collocation Basics

Let’s review the basics. Please choose the correct answer from the choices below.

  1. What is the best definition of collocation?
    1. fixed phrases,
    2. words that are used together more frequently than by chance,
    3. another word for semicolon,
    4. another word for idiom
  2. Collocations can occur in what parts of speech?
    1. noun-noun,
    2. adverb-verb,
    3. adjective-noun,
    4. verb-noun,
    5. adverb-adjective,
    6. verb-verb,
    7. all of the above
  3. Which of the following statements are correct?
    1. Word combinations that are not collocations can sound unnatural in English even if they are grammatically correct and make sense.
    2. Using collocations makes your English easier to understand.
    3. Using collocations means you are too lazy to come up with an original phrase.

Answer key

Exercise: Right or wrong

And now, please decide which of the following collocations are correct and which are incorrect. If you decide a collocation is incorrect, can you come up with a correct alternative?


Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don‘t.

Pete Seeger

  1. high priority,
  2. commit a mistake,
  3. wide awake,
  4. greatly successful,
  5. make homework,
  6. awfully perfect,
  7. get dressed,
  8. bar of soap,
  9. altogether enjoy,
  10. stick of chocolate

Answer key

Verb Phrases

It’s worthwhile to pay special attention to collocations with verb phrases. If you can’t think of the right intensifying adverb to use with “sorry” you can still fall back on “very”. But there are often no alternatives to verb collocations. You just need to know and understand them. (For tips on how to learn collocations, look up our January 2013 issue. If you can’t find your copy, just log in and read it online!)

Exercise: Do or make

We will begin with a basic, but very important kind of verb collocation. Which of the following things do you do and which do you make?
a favour, your nails, a fool out of yourself, the bed, arrangements, a job, money, nothing, a mess, the laundry, plans, a promise, business, a difference, the shopping, room, progress, light of something

Answer key

Exercise: Break or change

You might find this a bit more challenging. Which of the following collocate with break and which with change? Keep in mind that the nouns in the list may collocate with the verb as either subject or object.
the news, your mind, your mood, the silence, a record, a habit, a storm, your clothes, an appointment, a promise, the subject, the rules, waves, day, the weather.

Answer key

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