What are Collocations and How Can You Use Them Correctly in Your Writing

impactio blog:What are Collocations and How Can You Use Them Correctly in Your Writing

The English language is considered one of the hardest languages to learn. It is rife with similarly spelled words with completely different meanings and complex sentences. There are hard and fast rules to the language, then there are bits of language that have no rhyme or reason, making even native English language speakers scratch their heads and wonder if they’re right or not.

Collocations fall in the latter category. If you’ve never heard of this term, you’re not alone. It’s not something taught in detail in the average English curriculum. A collocation is defined as two or more words that join together to form a unique meaning that is readily understood by English speakers but probably not by those who speak it as a second language. In many cases, the speaker isn’t aware of the collocation. They’re simply repeating a phrase they’ve heard during prolonged exposure to the English language.

While the scientific community is composed of different nations and languages, journals are primarily published in English. English was adopted centuries ago as the communal and universal language for scholars and researchers, back when it was the most common second language learned by those in medical and business industries.

Of course, a vast percentage of researchers aren’t native English speakers, which means that many higher education articles are written with English as the author’s second language. This can cause translation problems, particularly when using collocations, which can’t be replaced with a synonym. 

Understanding Collocations

There are two types of collocations – a weak one and a strong one. A collocation is pairing one or more words together to create a particular meaning.  A weak collocation includes a word that pairs with many other words within the English language. 

A strong collocation is comprised of at least one word that doesn’t pair well with others. For example, blonde hair is a strong collocation because blonde doesn’t pair with many other English words.

How to Write a Collocation

Collocations can be difficult to teach and to learn. They are inherently part of a native English speaker’s language to the point they may not even notice the collocation. There may not be strict rules regarding collocations, but there are guidelines to follow instead of mashing two random words together.

Of course, to non-native English speakers, the words in the collocation will seem like randomized word pairings. There are at least six types of collocations.

Adjective + noun

Example: She was in excruciating pain after the car accident. 

Noun + verb

Example: People in the South are relieved when temperatures fall.

Verb + noun 

Example: The happy couple couldn’t wait to get married and spend their lives together.

Verb + adverb

Example: I can vaguely remember her face, but not her name.

Adverb + adjective

Example: She was completely satisfied with the house renovations.

Noun + noun

Example: He felt a surge of anger when a classmate plagiarized his work.

Academic writing is much more complex than the above examples. How should scholars incorporate collocations into their academic papers?

Common Collocation Phrases Used in Academics and Their Improper Counterparts

A scholar or researcher likely defaults to their academic vocabulary when comprising their findings into a research paper. The text of the paper must be accessible to all readers, even when explaining complex ideas. Collocations are commonly used in academic papers.

But those common phrases won’t have the same meaning if replaced with a synonym. What are some of the most frequent collocations used in academic writing? And which phrases don’t pair well together? Here’s one example of an academic collocation:

Correct Collocation: A scholar’s job is to search for evidence that supports their hypothesis.

Improper Collocation: A scholar’s job is to research evidence that supports their hypothesis.

If you’re unsure about how to use collocations, several online collocation dictionaries can help.


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