speak or write English like a native speaker of English, and
to do so with a high degree of fluency, you need a good command
of a large collection of habitually occurring word combinations.
The technical word for these combinations is collocations.
This book covers essential collocations having the pattern
adjective + noun.
As you know, if you want to speak or write good English with
a high degree of fluency, you must achieve a total mastery
of the frequently-occurring words in English. It wont
do if you only know the meanings of these words and their
grammar and usage. You must have a total mastery. And an important
element in this kind of mastery is a good command of the word
clusters that these words habitually combine into.
Let me explain.
Individual words cant, by themselves, help you very
much in producing English (that is, in speaking or writing)
or in receiving English (that is, in listening and
understanding or in reading and understanding). No, they cant.
The reason is this: Words are not independent units of the
language, and no word can work in isolation. Every word in
the English language is part of a unified vocabulary-driven
system, and theres a network of meaning-based connections
among all these words.
These meaning-based connections influence language production
in two ways:
On the one hand, any given word needs support from other words
to do its work, and so words can only work in the company
of other closely related words. And inevitably, certain words
tend to cluster together with certain other words.
On the other hand, the frequently-occurring words (especially,
the most frequent 3000 and odd words among them) tend to do
the bulk of their job as members of a series of habitual word
clusters, rather than as individual words strung together
on the spot. This is because they can combine among themselves
in a number of fixed and semi-fixed ways and form a large
number of fixed and semi-fixed word clusters of great general
utility. And everyone who speaks and writes English naturally
tends to use them again and again as prefabricated language
chunks, because these chunks make it easier for them to compose
speech and writing spontaneously, and so are a great boon
These prefabricated language chunks can save you a lot of
language processing time and language processing effort, because
you can run them off easily as wholes (as though theyre
single words rather than groups of words) instead of
stringing them together anew every time you have to use them.
And you can then use the time and effort so saved in planning
what to say or write next, and how to say or write it. This
kind of on-line planning time is very important if you want
to avoid breakdowns and unwanted hesitations while youre
speaking or writing spontaneously.
Remember this: Were not speaking about random combinations
that happen by chance and without following a definite pattern.
Were speaking about combinations that happen habitually
and by following a definite pattern and with a frequency
greater than mere chance. And the reason why two or more words
cluster together in this way is that there is an area of overlap
among some of the characteristic features of their meanings
and, in that way, theyre connected together.
These habitual clusters, together with other makeshift combinations
that speakers or writers newly create for a particular occasion
(by stringing individual words together on the spot), can
meet about 80% (and sometimes, even more) of all the vocabulary
needs of everyone speaking and writing everyday English
no matter what the topic.
So if you want to achieve a total mastery of the frequently-occurring
words, you need to have a clear idea of the various types
of clusters that these words habitually enter into. And you
must learn to put together what you want to say or write as
much by stringing these word clusters together as by stringing
individual words together.
In the broadest sense, the term word clusters
include the following types of multi-word units:
Prefabricated structure segments
Fixed phrases and formulaic expressions
Similes, proverbs, wise sayings, etc.
these different types of multi-word units, collocations are
of the most frequent utility in producing as well as
in receiving English.
Now what are collocations?
I told you at the very outset about the underlying meaning-based
connections among words. You know, because of these meaning-based
connections, many words in English show an interesting tendency:
When they occur in speech or writing, they generally tend
to cluster together mainly in three ways:
First, in order to convey a particular meaning, some words
habitually occur together with a particular word, and with
no other. For example, the noun coffee can combine
with the adjective strong, and the result is the collocation
strong coffee. Now the words concentrated, intense,
powerful, etc. are synonyms of the word strong.
But coffee does not combine with any of these words and produce
an alternative to strong coffee. Collocations like
the common good, cheap finance, the general public,
etc. are other examples of adjective + noun collocations
belonging to this category. And here are a few verb
+ noun collocations belonging to this category: drop
a subject, gather dust, make gains, choose a favourite.
Second, some words habitually occur together with a limited
number of other words having the same or similar meaning.
For example, the noun air combines not only with the
adjective clean, but also with its synonyms clear,
fresh and pure and we get the collocations clean
air, clear air, fresh air and pure air. The noun
risk combines not only with the verb face, but
also with the words run and take and produce
collocations that convey the same or similar meaning: face
a risk, run a risk, take a risk. The verb laugh
combines not only with the adverb gently, but also
with the words quietly and softly and produce
collocations that convey the same or similar meaning: laugh
gently, laugh quietly, laugh softly. The adjective short
combines not only with the adverb extremely, but also
with the words really, very and quite and produce
collocations that convey the same or similar meaning: extremely
short, really short, very short, quite short.
Third, some words habitually occur together with all or most
of the words belonging to a particular semantic category.
For example, the adjective bitter combines with several
words that have the general meaning conflict.
And so we have a series of collocations bitter argument,
bitter attack, bitter disagreement, bitter fight, bitter quarrel,
etc. In the same way, the verb export combines with
any word that can be brought under the category a product.
And so we have a series of open-ended collocations to export
cement, to export cars, to export books, etc.
When one word occurs habitually with another word or other
words in this way, its said to collocate with
those words, and the combination of the words is called a
Most often, the term collocation is used in a
restricted sense to refer mainly to four types of habitually
adjective + noun
Eg: correct decision, fine dust, reasonable proportion,
verb + noun
Eg: achieve freedom, peel an orange, show understanding,
turn a key.
noun + verb
Eg: my health collapsed, his muscles ached, his opinions
changed, the temperature dropped.
adverb + verb (or verb + adverb)
Eg: bitterly regret sth, examine sth briefly, happen suddenly,
adverb + adjective
Eg: clearly evident, completely happy, perfectly obvious,
Now let me clarify something: The term collocation
is not limited to a combination of just two words or
to a combination of two lexical words. In the widest sense,
a collocation is a combination formed by the co-occurrence
of two or more words. And the co-occurrence of the member-words
does not always have to be immediately next to one another.
One or two non-member words may also happen to occur between
every two member-words of the collocation. For example, show
understanding is a collocation of show and understanding.
So are show a little understanding and show great
understanding. The intervening words dont prevent
the words show and understanding from being
collocates of each other. The determining question is, do
the member-words habitually occur together with a frequency
greater than mere chance (though with some other words occurring
And theres no reason why all the member-words in a collocation
have to be lexical words. They can be grammatical words also.
For example, beyond your control, by choice
and in conclusion are collocations of grammatical words
(beyond, by, in) and lexical words (control, choice,
The present book covers collocations. Not collocations of
all types, but collocations of one particular type: adjective
+ noun. And again, not all adjective + noun
collocations that are possible in theory, but only those formed
by adjectives and nouns that are frequently needed for the
production of English.
Ive called these frequently-needed productive collocations
fluency clusters to underline an important
point: To achieve a high degree of fluency in English, you
need a good command of these clusters.