What are basic collocations?

Basic Collocations are combinations of easy words that are often used together. Many of the most common basic collocations include a verb such as make, do and have, together with a particular noun or noun phrase. 


Some examples of basic collocations are “make an appointment”, “make time”, “make an excuse”, “make a mistake” and “make a choice”. In some languages, when English uses “make”, that language uses the equivalent of “do”. If you say “I did a choice” in English, the meaning is probably clear but it sounds really strange. It is not the way that we express that idea in English. You are making a mistake, not “doing” a mistake.

Some common expressions with “do” include “do the dishes”, “do well”, “do your hair” and “do your best”. They are all simple expressions with clear meanings. Sometimes the meaning can be a little bit more complex even though the words that you are using are very simple. There is a difference between doing the washing and doing the washing-up. “Doing the washing” means washing clothes.” Doing the washing-up” is another way of saying “doing” the dishes, which means washing the dishes. “Dishes” in this case also includes other things like glasses, cups, pots and pans.

Basic collocations with “have” include “have a birthday”, “have fun”, “have a shower”, “have a holiday” and “have lunch”. In fact, we nearly always use “have” when we are talking about food. It would be unusual to say “I ate breakfast at seven” or “What did you eat for dinner?” We generally say “I had breakfast at seven” and “What did you have for dinner?”.In English we don’t use “have” for our age, we use a form of “be”. We say “I am twenty-nine” rather than “I have twenty-nine.” American English sometimes uses “take” where British English uses “have”, for example, have a break, have a rest, have a bath, have a shower and have a nap. Both are correct. 

Noun and verb collocations

Some nouns can collocate with several different verbs with no difference in meaning. For example, we can say “have a party”, “hold a party” and “throw a party”. The meaning is the same. Similarly, we can say “do a test” (or exam), “take a test” (or exam) and “sit a test” (or exam). English language learners quite often say “write a test” because that is how they say it in their language. It is wrong in English because “write” and “test” do not collocate. They do not go together.

Noun and noun collocations

Some other basic collocations involve nouns that go together. We tend to say things in a particular order and it sounds very strange if we say them around the wrong way. For example, it would be very unusual to say “dogs and cats”, “pepper and salt”, “chips and fish” or “white and black”. We say “cats and dogs”, “salt and pepper”, fish and chips” and “black and white”. 

Numbers in basic collocations

When we put numbers together in a collocation, we always say the smaller number first. We say “It will take two or three hours”, not “three or two hours”. We say “I’ll be back in five or ten minutes”, not “ten or five minutes”. 

At the beginning of a formal speech, people usually say “Ladies and gentlemen”. However, we normally say “boys and girls”. With these collocations, the order is important simply because it sounds unusual if we say it in the wrong way. There isn’t really a good reason. As with many other aspects of grammar and vocabulary, a really good strategy is to read and listen to as much English as possible and copy the phrases that you hear and see.