In a previous post, I talked about the components of word knowledge, which include meaning, orthography, pronunciation, part of speech, morphology, register, collocations, and connotation. Today I’d like to elaborate on collocations, which I think is one of the most challenging components of word knowledge.
Collocations are words that frequently occur together. As a language learner myself, I try to pay attention to collocations as I read, and I think our students should be encouraged to notice collocations as well, particularly when they learn individual words. Knowing frequent collocates of the target word will tremendously expand learners’ vocabulary; as a result, it will help them increase their comprehension in reading and become more fluent in speaking and writing. Sometimes language learners make mistakes called literal translations because they are not familiar with the collocations that exist in the target language for a particular word. For example, look at the following collocations in these four different languages and notice that different adjectives are used with the word “tea” to describe the same meaning:
English: strong tea, weak tea
Italian: strong tea, long tea
Japanese: dark tea, thin tea
Russian: strong tea, liquid tea
Common Types of Collocations
Below is a list of some common types and examples of collocations in English academic texts:
Adverb + Adjective
Examples: completely satisfied, fully aware, downright rude, very little, totally wrong
Adjective + Noun
Examples: major problem, sufficient information, common knowledge, different approach, personal experience
Noun + Noun
Examples: piece of cake, key issue, chocolate bar, water bottle, bird’s eye
Verb + Adverb
Examples: depend largely, fully appreciate, effectively communicate, examine thoroughly, hold tightly
Verb + Noun
Examples: resolve the problem, present information, gain knowledge, take an approach, lack experience
Verb + Preposition
Examples: rely on, deal with, consist of, contribute to, respond to
Examples: on the other hand, in other words, in addition to, in that case, from this perspective
Online Collocation Dictionaries
Students can also consult online collocation dictionaries. Two of my favorite collocation dictionaries are:
One way to learn collocations is using a computer tool called concordances. A concordance is a collection of sentences that have the same word or phrase. By examining concordances, students can see how a target word is used in authentic sentences and what words are used with the target word.
Below is a snapshot of the concordance sentences containing the word alleviate. The sentences were taken from the PolyU Language Bank at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Notice how out of seven sentences, in three the word alleviate was used with the word problem. Therefore, you can say that alleviate the problem are collocations.