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Collocation: Less Fixed Combinations
and Functional Expressions

by Luke Prodromou

• Less Fixed Combinations
• Functional Expressions
• Learning Collocation
• Activity
• In the Previous Issue

Less Fixed Combinations

"Verb + Noun" Collocations

These are very common in English. In such cases, we have more freedom to make combinations, but there are certain restrictions on what is possible or probable.

Let's take make, a verb which has many "friends". We make:

• a mistake
• the bed
• (the) dinner
• an effort
• friends

It is difficult to say exactly what make means in all these different collocations. We can look up the meaning of screwdriver or digest in a dictionary and be fairly sure what they refer to, but this strategy does not work very well with make. One important part of the meaning of make is that it contrasts with the verb do. These two verbs tend to have very different friends. For example, we do:

• the shopping
• the dishes
• our best
• someone a favor

So we can see that there are many ways of combining make and do with nouns. There are limits to the number of collocations they have and they donít often share the same collocates.

There are several other very common verbs in English like make and do (such as get, have, and take) that do not have much meaning on their own. To really get a feel for the way these very common verbs are used, you need to know the phrases they form with other words and the contexts in which we use them.

Other Common Grammatical Combinations

There are a number of other common grammatical combinations that form collocations in English:

noun + verb temperatures rise
prices fall
dogs bark
cats meow
adverb + adjective bitterly cold
hugely enjoyable
deeply upset
adjective +noun strong tea
a powerful engine
a heavy smoker
verb + adverb sleep soundly
walk briskly
rely heavily on
adverb + verb distinctly remember
flatly refuse
categorically deny

You can find many examples of combinations like these in the 130 "Collocation Boxes" in the Macmillan Essential Dictionary: see for example the boxes at the entries for cost, environment, influence, and suggestion.


Functional Expressions

In everyday conversation, there are many collocations that occur with particular grammatical structures. These structures are like frames, into which we can put different words in order to perform a variety of communicative acts. Here are some examples:

Iíd like a rouund-trip ticket to/a ham sandwich ... [buying something]
I donít suppose you could tell me the way/open the window ... [making requests]
Have you got the time/change for a dollar... [asking for information, asking a favor]
Could you tell me the way to ... [asking for directions]
By the way, ... [introducing a new topic of conversation]
Well, itís time we were going/ Well, that's all for now ... [saying goodbye, ending a conversation]

There are thousands of such sentence frames in English and many are explained in the Macmillan Essential Dictionary. They are one way in which expert users of English manage to sound so fluent.


Learning Collocation

Here are some techniques to help you to acquire greater "collocational fluency" in English:

Read widely in English — begin with simplified texts and as quickly as possible go on to authentic, unsimplified texts: newspapers, magazines, stories, etc.
Use highlighters of different colors to make the new collocations stand out.
As you read, connect keywords and their collocations by drawing lines between them.
Copy out the examples you find in your reading into a special notebook.
Organize your notebook into topics (travel, sports, etc.) and add collocations connected with the topic.

Organize your notebook into collocational patterns:

Verb + Noun
Noun + Verb
Adverb + Adjective
Verb + Adverb
Adjective + Noun
Functional Expressions
Phrasal Verbs

Organize your notebook into common keywords (get, take, come, make, do etc), and add collocations as you come across them in your reading.
Make a chart showing common verbs and their collocations:

a trip
a break
a date
the dishes
a walk

Use your dictionary to enrich your knowledge of collocations. For example, before you use a dull collocation such as "a big storm", look up the word storm in your dictionary and try to choose a more interesting adjective (e.g., fierce, raging, terrible, violent).



Read the following passage and
underline any collocations you find
organize them into separate groups (for example, verb + noun collocations, adverb + adjective collocations, phrasal verbs, idioms, and functional expressions)

The Dallas Cowboy's decisive victory over the San Francisco 49ers yesterday was overshadowed by news that Phil Harper's knee injury could keep him out of the game for up to a year. By deciding to play in last night's game, the Dallas quarterback had disregarded the advice of his doctor, and it was clear — even during Friday's practice session — that he was hurting. After 30 minutes, he limped off the field in agony, and it is now highly unlikely that he will take any further part in the playoffs.

Harper has made an outstanding contribution to the Cowboy's recent successes, and without him they face a daunting challenge as they gear up for the next game. Coach Don Hansen said, "Of course we're bitterly disappointed that Phil won't make it to the finals with us. But to be honest, we always knew his knee might cause him problems."



In the Previous Issue

If you would like to find out what collocation is and what are the main types of fixed phrases in English, you can do so by reading the first part of the article about collocation in Issue 19 of MED Magazine.