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Why collocations matter...

Mastering Advanced Collocations

Have you ever wondered why some word combinations flow effortlessly while others feel awkward, despite making perfect sense? The effortless word combinations are called natural collocations – pairs or groups of words that are commonly used together. These collocations often develop over time through cultural usage and linguistic convention, becoming ingrained in our speech patterns without even realizing it.

They're like the besties of the word world, hanging out together all the time, like "strong coffee" or "heavy rain." They're the ones you don't even have to think about using – they just come naturally. But if you try to force different words to be friends, it can sound somewhat unusual and strange. Using natural collocations is your secret weapon for advanced English:  to elevate your English from good to great. Mastering them is the key to achieving that coveted "native speaker-like" fluency.


Did you know that not all collocations are 'equal'?

The Collocation Spectrum:

  • Weak Collocations: These pairings offer flexibility. You can often swap one word for another without a major shift in meaning. Weak collocations are where a word can collocate with many other words. Here are some examples:

    • Make a significant contribution (provide, offer): Her research made a significant contribution to the field of medicine.

    • Conduct a lively debate (have, hold): The students conducted a lively debate about the upcoming election.

    • Express strong feelings (show, voice): She expressed strong feelings of disappointment after the team lost.  

  • Strong Collocations: Here, the bond between words is remarkably strong. Replacing one can drastically alter the meaning or sound awkward. Observe these examples:

    • Pay close attention: The teacher asked the students to pay close attention to the instructions.

    • Launch a surprise attack: The army launched a surprise attack on the enemy camp.

    • Burst into tears (started crying): When she heard the news, she burst into tears.

The Inseparable Duos

  • Fixed Collocations are word pairs that, when used together, create the most natural and idiomatic way to express a certain idea. Changing either word can disrupt the flow or even render your speech nonsensical. So mastering these collocations will not only enhance your fluency but will also make you sound more proficient and natural in your speech.

Have a look at these examples:

  • Play a key role (functioning as an essential part): Artificial intelligence will likely play a key role in future transportation systems.  ("Has" or "Fulfills" wouldn't sound as natural)

  • Make a difference: Small acts of kindness can make a difference. ("Cause" or "Create" wouldn't work as well here)

  • Spill the tea (reveal gossip): Don't spill the tea about the celebrity's latest project! 

  • Reach a consensus (arriving at a joint agreement): After a lengthy discussion, the team finally reached a consensus on the project plan.

  • Form an alliance (creating a formal agreement between groups): The two countries formed an alliance to combat terrorism.

  • Express condolences (offering sympathy): She expressed her condolences to the family of the deceased.

  • Pay close attention (focusing intently): The students need to pay close attention in class.

  • Take into account (considering something): The manager will take into account your experience when making a hiring decision.

  • Break the ice (starting a conversation in a new situation): Feeling awkward at a party? Try breaking the ice with a friendly introduction.

  • Cost a fortune (cost a lot) :The designer handbag she bought must have cost a fortune; it's made of genuine leather.

  • Keep an eye on (monitor closely) Could you keep an eye on my dog while I run to the store?


Challenge Time!

Can you identify the collocations in the following sentences? Are they weak or strong? Or fixed?

  1. Scientists are developing groundbreaking technology in the field of sustainable energy.

  2. We need to formulate a comprehensive strategy to reach our target audience.

  3. They launched a successful marketing campaign that increased brand awareness.

  4. The nervous presenter took a deep breath to calm her nerves.

  5. The company is committed to providing excellent customer service.

  6. The siblings argued but eventually made amends.

  7. He expressed his gratitude for the thoughtful gift.

  8. The new law will likely have a significant impact on the environment.

Bonus Tip: For an extra challenge, try replacing one word in each sentence with a synonym. Does it sound natural?



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