Improving English Fluency by Learning Collocations

Did you know that word combinations are a huge part of the English language? Today’s discussion is about how to become fluent by learning and using these word combinations.

Let’s look at these sentences and identify which one is more natural in English.

*The car has a really strong engine.

*The car has a really powerful engine.

If you have never heard of collocations, you should try using them in your English speaking and writing. They will make you sound really fluent and natural. English collocations are words put together to make a phrase or an expression which is regularly used in every day speaking and in different situations. They are a combination of words that NATURALLY go together and native speakers expect to hear them. These can be difficult to learn and even more difficult to use in the correct situation. Well, it’s a challenge, but let’s look at many of the common ones in today’s discussion.

Just remember that the more your English level becomes advanced, the more you will start to rely on these collocations to make your speaking and writing smooth. There are several different types of collocations, such as verb + noun and adverb + adjective

Examples of verb + noun collocations are:

answer + door

strong + coffee

serve + tea

do + housework

order + food

give + presentation

do + homework

make + bed

answer + phone

choose + outfit

try + clothes

make + mistake

make+ money

Native speakers use collocations naturally and you’ll start to notice them when they are spoken and written. They appear everywhere.

EXAMPLES:

*fast food (NOT: quick food)

Quick and fast mean the same, but it is better and more natural to use fast than quick.

*extremely fast car ( NOT: quick car)

So let’s go back to our first two sentences earlier:

*The car has a really strong engine.

*The car has a really powerful engine.

Powerful goes together with the engine naturally. Strong is not incorrect but it is NOT natural. You will, later on, see that collocations make you sound more native-like.

*I’m deeply unhappy. (NOT: strongly unhappy)

Strongly unhappy is unnatural English. These two words don’t match well, and so they are not a good combination.

Here are more sentences. Try to think and then choose which one is more natural:

1) Michael Jackson published many number one songs.

2) Michael Jackson posted many number one songs.

3) Michael Jackson released many number one songs.

Item number 3 is a natural collocation. Released sounds very well with songs, while published goes well with books.

1) Our baby is due next week.

2) Our baby is coming next week.

3) Our baby will be delivered next week.

Item number 1 is a natural collocation. This means our baby is going to arrive next week. The second and third ones sound awkward.

1) I love worldwide food.

2) I love international food.

Item number 1 sounds very odd because worldwide and food don’t collocate well.

So here’s a challenge for you. When you’re out and about and then you hear English spoken or when you read English anytime, you need to start thinking about what words go together very well in phrases.

Collocations are used in different topic areas, for example eating and drinking collocations.

“I ate a light meal.”

These words, “light meal”, collocate very well. It means eating a very small portion.

“Let’s have a quick snack.”

“The restaurant is reasonably priced.

“She has a really healthy appetite.”

All these words are great collocations for an eating or drinking setting. Can you think of others that you may have heard in a movie, news, or TV show?

Now, here are people’s behavior collocations:

“Jason heard his mother fell ill. He took it too hard.”

“I lost my patience and shouted at John.”

“Sam revealed his true character.”

(This means he showed his real self, and it’s something negative. Usually, someone showed his bad side.)

“Let’s play a joke on Dean today.”

(The word joke collocates well with play.)

“The coach can’t take a joke.”

(This means that if someone plays a joke on him, he doesn’t think it’s funny.”

To help build your vocabulary, I have here 10 more common collocations that you can start using. These are ADVERB + ADJECTIVE collocations.

Adverbs include very, absolutely, extremely, really, absolutely, etc. And, examples of adjectives are cold, hot, beautiful, short, thin, far, fast, slow, etc.

1) Blatantly obvious. This is kind of like saying it is super obvious and clearly seen. Something is so ‘in your face’ that it’s very easy to see.

“Your feelings for her are blatantly obvious.”

2) Absolutely incredible. This means that something is really really good that you’ve enjoyed it so much.

“Coldplay concert was absolutely incredible!”

“Their sushi tastes absolutely incredible!”

“The view from that hill is absolutely incredible!”

3) Totally wrong.

“You’re totally wrong about Ben.”

This means your ideas about him are wrong. 

So you can use this collocation in a variety of situations. Another example is, “your answer in item number 7 is totally wrong.”

4) Cautiously optimistic. This means you are not 100% positive about something.

“I am cautiously optimistic about the wedding tomorrow. The weather doesn’t look too good.”

I follow the Fast and Furious movies, but since Paul Walker died in the middle of the shooting for the recent one, I am cautiously optimistic about it. I am not too sure if I will totally enjoy the movie since Paul Walker was not able to finish shooting the film. Knowing that he’s no longer in the movie leaves me cautiously optimistic.

5) Incredibly lazy.

“My brother is incredibly lazy. He does not even pick up the books on his bed.”

This boy just plays video games, eats Doritos and drinks Coke all the time. He skips school and doesn’t do what his parents tell him. He is so lazy that it is INCREDIBLE!

6) Virtually impossible.  This means almost not possible!

“This game is virtually impossible to beat!”

“This small town is virtually impossible to locate!”

7) Highly probable/ highly likely. This means there is a huge chance it will happen.

“According to the weather news, it is highly probable that it will rain tomorrow.”

8) Fully aware. This means you have complete knowledge of something.

“Vincent was fully aware of the consequences, but he still chose to do it.”

So if you have a job, and you know that something is against company policy, yet you still do it, you will surely be suspended or fired.

9) Seriously injured/ seriously hurt.  You usually hear this in sports or in the hospital during emergencies.

“She was seriously injured in the second half.”

This means it is just too painful you couldn’t walk or move. It’s possible that the cut or wound is so deep. You may use VERY hurt but somehow, when seriously and injured are put together, it’s beautiful to hear.

10) Thoroughly enjoy.  This means you enjoyed something so much you can’t stop talking about it, or your actions are showing that you really liked it.

“The kids thoroughly enjoyed the ball games!”

So you can find these types of collocations everywhere. You can see them in different news stories or advertisements, you can read them in books, see them in movies, and hear them on the streets. They make up a massive part of the English language. Challenge yourself now. Be more observant. How many more can you find or hear?

Once you’re more familiar with collocations, English speaking and writing will come so easy for you.


Author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.