What do we mean by ‘collocation’? Collocation refers to how words go together in real language use. For example, you can say in English that you take a picture/photo, but you don’t *do* a picture/ photo. Maybe theoretically you could say that, but real speakers don’t. (More information and examples here).

What tends to happen with students of English at an advanced level is that they look words up in the dictionary for their writing tasks, or even look for synonyms in a thesaurus (excellent, that’s what they should do); and yet, sometimes they may end up producing certain combinations of verb + noun, or adjective + noun…that sound unnatural, because they don’t collocate together. Maybe they should, but the resulting expression is not in actual use.

To avoid this, what you can do is to check whether this expression exists or not by using one/some of these resources below. Teachers can also use them, to decide whether this collocation they find unnatural or unheard of in their students’ writing actually exists or not:

If you’re looking for the right word to collocate with another, this is what you need. Type a word in the search box, and the database will suggest adjectives, verbs, nouns… that are usually found ‘collocating together’ with that term, as well as some examples. You can also find suggestions for similar words.

For example, you want to use the word ‘expense’. Rather than ‘big’, what other adjectives can you use? You could use ‘considerable’, ‘vast’…  And what verbs? ‘go to’, ‘incur’

Database of online newspapers, magazines…type your collocation into the search box, and if it can find those words, it will show you real examples where this expression appears. Once there, you can also click for more context.

If your collocation exists, you will find a list of examples, like this:

As you can see, there are many examples showcasing “take a photo” together.

However, if the words do not collocate, you will find something like this:

You do find the words, but in different parts of the sentence, not together, which means it’s not a collocation. Some other times the search may yield no results whatsoever, which makes your collocation even more unlikely.

Fraze.it is also connected to YouGlish, (click on ‘pronunciations’), so it also provides you with videos featuring the pronunciation of the word/collocation (as well as giving further evidence that the collocation actually exists). (More on YouGlish here)

enter a word, and how words form into collocational patterns will be revealed by looking across different academic and social corpora.

Look up a noun / verb/ adjective… The website will suggest nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, that tend to go either before or after your word.

Works in a very similar way to ProWriting Aid.

Describing words and Related words (via @onthesamepagelt)

You can also read:

(updated 20.04.20)