English can be a confusing language. From odd spellings and pronunciations to complicated rules that native speakers seem to ignore, there’s always something new to learn. Even when you think you’ve got it right, one small mix up can lead to an awkward sounding sentence.

It might seem as if you’re using all the right words, but for some reason, what you say just makes you stand out to native speakers.

You can thank collocations for that.

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What is a collocation?

A collocation is made up of two or more words that commonly go together, such as doing the shopping or a big difference. These phrases simply sound correct to native speakers, which is why pairing them with different words can make your English sound strange.

However, once you remember to use these collocations, you’ll be surprised at how much more natural you sound when speaking English.

Verb Collocations

Many English collocations involve using a certain verb along with a noun. However, lots of English learners have trouble because they aren’t using the correct verb.

For instance, have you ever mixed up when to use the verbs to make and to do?

When it comes to collocations, you’ll definitely want to remember which one to use. Here are a few examples:

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Make a mistake

I’m sorry. I made a mistake.

Make progress

Learning a language can be hard, but I’m making progress.

Make a reservation/appointment

Can I make a reservation/appointment for 3 o’clock?

You might notice that the verb make is used to talk about creating something, like a reservation, or producing something, like a mistake. On the other hand, the verb do is used for actions, tasks, and obligations.

Do the dishes

I already did the dishes!

Do the shopping

I still have to do the shopping.

Do better

My dog was sick last week, but he’s doing better now.

Do business with

Don’t do business with them! They’re not trustworthy.

As always, there are a few exceptions:

Make the bed

Making the bed is a task, but a good way to think about this one is to remember that you are making sure the bed doesn’t look messy.

I make the bed every morning after I get up.

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Intensify Adjectives

Collocations can also be used to modify adjectives. They can help describe events, feelings, qualities, measurements, or even the weather.

Big difference

Your flat looks great! Those new rugs make a big difference.

Large amount

That’s a large amount of money!

Strong opinion

My brother has some strong opinions when it comes to politics.

Heavy rain

Heavy rain caused a lot of flooding in the area.

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Common Expressions

Other collocations are used as common expressions. They’re used to emphasize verbs, especially when you feel very strongly about something and want to express it.

Go to great lengths

He went to great lengths to get an autographed picture.

Describe something in great detail

She described the event in great detail. I almost felt like I had been there!

English has more collocations than could fit in this short guide, but English learners can certainly benefit from a good collocation dictionary. Just be sure to learn and practice these phrases together and you’ll start sounding like a native speaker before you know it.