If you’ve ever studied any language, chances are you’ll hit a point where something that makes sense to you, and is technically correct, is still somehow inherently wrong to native speakers. A great example of this is when using certain adjective-noun combinations just sound wrong – for example Share Market as opposed to Stock Market. Saying Share Market isn’t incorrect, but it doesn’t sound quite right – it’s unnatural English. Certain words and phrases just don’t work together, even though they still make sense, whereas other words or phrases are frequently paired together for seemingly no inherent reason.
This phenomenon is known as Collocation. Collocations are the habitual pairing of two words or phrases. If you’ve ever asked a language teacher why we say Stock Market instead of Share Market and gotten the unhelpful response “Because Share Market doesn’t sound right” or “Because that’s just how it is”, it’s because Stock Market is a collocation.
Collocations are typically either Grammatical or Lexical.
1. Grammatical Collocations
Grammatical Collocations are a combination of a dominant word, such as a Noun, Verb, or Adjective, coupled with grammatical words, most commonly prepositions. Grammatical collocations can be some of the harder collocations to remember due to the number of prepositions that could be used. An example of this type of collocation is:
– Agree On (Verb + Preposition)
– Associate Of (Noun + Preposition)
– Proud Of (Adjective + Preposition)
If you tried instead to say “I am proud with you” it wouldn’t sound correct, even though the meaning would still come across.
2. Lexical Collocations
Lexical Collocations are combinations of dominant words, such as noun-verbs, adjective-nouns, verb-noun, noun-noun, verb-adverb and adverb-adjective. Within lexical collocations, verb-noun has an interesting component, with the use of “Do” and “Make”.
“Do” is used:
– For jobs, tasks, and work
– Intangible concepts
– Unspecific Activities
– Presumed activities
“Make” is used:
– For speaking and sounds
– Decision making
– Action or reaction
– Describing origin or material
Some examples include:
– “Do your homework”
– “The ring is made of silver”
– “Did you do your hair?”
– “Let’s make a plan”
An important point to note when it comes to collocations is to be careful not to confuse them with idioms or compound words. Compound words are words typically starting with an adjective, followed by a noun, that create a word with its own meaning. Some examples are “sometimes”, “crossword” or “bookstore”.
An Idiom is a combination of words whose meaning cannot be garnered from all individual components. Some idioms are “Spill the beans” – (reveal a secret), “Speak of the devil” – (when someone appears after being mentioned) and “Break a leg” – (wishing someone luck).
And that is a brief overview of collocations. So, unless it’s an idiom or a compound word, if it sounds unnatural to your native friends, it’s likely because the words don’t collate.