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A word is known by the company it keeps (JR Firth)

- tremble with fear tremble with excitement* - quiver with excitement quiver with fear* There is no definable reason why we choose to say tremble with fear but not quiver with fear. It is simply a question of COLLOCATION.

COLLOCATION refers to a relationship between words that frequently occur together The words together can mean more than the sum of their parts (The Times of India, disk drive) - other examples: hot dog, mother in law Examples of collocations noun phrases like strong tea and weapons of mass destruction phrasal verbs like to make up, and other phrases like the rich and powerful. Valid or invalid? a stiff breeze but not a stiff wind (while either a strong breeze or a strong wind is okay). Broad/bright daylight (but not narrow darkness).


Collocational meaning refers to the associations that a word acquires in its collocation:
girl boy woman flower garden colour village
boy man handsome car overcoat


A word can gain different collocational meaning in different contexts:

green on the job green fruit green with envy white man white wine white noise white coffee


These different meanings of green and whiteare polysemous but they are caused by the different collocation, i.e. the change in verbal context

Typical criteria for collocations:

- non-compositionality - non-substitutability - non-modifiability.

Collocations usually cannot be translated into other languages word by word. A phrase can be a collocation even if it is not consecutive (as in the example knock . . . door).

A phrase is compositional if the meaning can predicted from the meaning of the parts. e.g. new companies A phrase is non-compositional if the meaning cannot be predicted from the meaning of the parts e.g. hot dog Collocations are not necessarily fully compositional in that there is usually an element of meaning added to the combination. e.g. strong tea. Idioms are the most extreme examples of noncompositionality. e.g. to hear it through the grapevine.

We cannot substitute near-synonyms for the components of a collocation.

e.g. We cant say yellow wine instead of white wine even though yellow is as good a description of the color of white wine as white is (it is kind of a yellowish white).

Many collocations cannot be freely modified with additional lexical material or through grammatical transformations (Nonmodifiability).
e.g. white wine, but not whiter wine mother in law, but not mother in laws

Light verbs:

Verb particle constructions

Proper nouns
- e.g. to go down

- Verbs with little semantic content like make, take and do. - e.g. make lunch, take it easy,

Terminological expressions refer to concepts and objects in technical domains.

- e.g. Hydraulic oil filter

- e.g. Bill Clinton


collocations occur at variable distances. For example knock collocates with door but at a distance

- she knocked on his door - they knocked at the door - 100 women knocked on Donaldsons door - a man knocked on the metal front


Software is able to scan texts for the most frequently collocated words using the criterion of frequency, i.e. by counting the words which most frequently appear together This usually produces a lot of function words which need to be filtered out


This shows the most frequent collocations of pairs of words (bigrams) in a corpus of newspaper articles. The are all function words (except New York)


This chart shows the most frequent collocations after filtering out the function words. The capital letters refer to the part of speech (A = Adjective, N = Noun)

Idioms are strictly non-compositional Although the word that make up the idiom have Their own literal meanings, in the idiom they have lost their individual identity. You canot predict the meaning of an idiom from the sum of its parts: e.g. how do you do?

Im under the weather to wear your heart on your sleeve red herring


Structural stability (syntactic frozenness)

1. Constituents cannot be replaced e.g. as good as gold / as good as play ? 2. Constituents cannot be deleted or added to
e.g. out of the question / out of question ?


Collocation is important at all levels for Writing Translation You will only be able to write well if you know which words go together.


Noticing collocations when you read Storing collocations: organised lexical notebook

Revising and practicing collocations


Unique collocations (foot the bill, shrug your shoulders) Strong collocations (ulterior motives, rancid butter, trenchant criticism, to be moved to tears) Medium collocations (to make a mistake, to be recovering from a major operation) Weak collocations (white wine, red hair, a black mood, a blue movie)

It is best to learn the strong collocations because they are unusual


Collocation is mostly about pairings of words so students will often use a miscollocation, e.g. high house You should record your written miscollocations


Note down the extra collocations you learn in class: e.g. S: I have to make an exam T: what verb do we use with exam? S: take T: thats right; other verbs we could use are to pass, to fail or also to retake


Even when you get something right you can extend your collocational knowledge e.g. S: I was very disappointed T: You could also say bitterly or deeply disappointed


Underline useful collocations and put them in your notebooks Read different types of text so you build up your mental lexicons in a balanced way


Synonyms: identify words appearing frequently in similar contexts

Blast victims were helped by the neighbours Flu victims were helped by the doctors Crime victims were helped by the police

Collocations: identify synonyms that dont appear in similar contexts

Flu victims, flu sufferers Crime victims, crime sufferers??


Always write down new collocations in special notebooks in a systematic order such as recording them in topic groups.
It is important to repeat the content of the notebook in order to acquire it fully (recycling)


Prepare a special lexicon for collocations. It is helpful to organise it like this:

- do not record more than five collocates
- use only strong, frequent

attract be subject to
collocates criticism

react to


Since collocations and idioms have a lot in common they should be learned in a similar way

e.g. identifying of idioms, guessing meaning from context, recording them in notebooks


The LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Students of English Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Idioms Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms


Tapor freeware (this will give you concordances of any word in a text) Wordsmith Tools (excellent but expensive)