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Collocations & Idioms

So, if you want to take your English to the next level then you really need to start understanding and using collocations, idioms and phrasal verbs. These 3 elements of the English language are used every day by native speakers. Furthermore, they are commonly used in daily business interactions. They can be found in emails or spoken in a meeting. So, let’s look at what they are and how we can use them.

What will we learn?

By the end of today’s lesson, you will be able to identify collocations and have a better understanding of the importance of using collocations and idioms in business.

What are collocations

Firstly, we will review collocations. All languages have collocations, they are basically a pair or group of words that are often used together. Collocations sound natural to native speakers of a language. However, they can be difficult for people learning to speak English, especially when we translate. For example, Spanish speakers often confuse ¨Do¨ & ¨Make¨, this is because the verb hace = do & make. So, make a cake and do your homework are easily confused.

There are 2 two types of collocations, strong collocations and weak collocations. Strong collocations are words that go strongly together and there are no other options. For example, take a photo. Here no other word will collocate with photo and mean the same thing. However, we can catch or take the train and it still means the same thing.  

What is interesting to know is that many native speakers of English will accept and understand collocation mistakes. So, collocations generally don’t impact negatively on understanding. Their correct use makes you sound much more fluent. In saying that, if you do say, “I did a few mistakes”. You will be perfectly understood.

Are you looking to expand your knowledge of English vocabulary and expressions? 

Grab your copy of my eBook "500 Business English Collocations for Everyday Use". Includes free download audio of pronunciation 

How to learn collocations

With that being said, let’s look at the how we can learn collocations.

Read: The best way to improve your knowledge of vocabulary and collocations is to read. When you are reading you need to read actively, this means start by trying to identify collocations within text.

Copy: if you are working with people who speak English natively, then copy them, and learn from their emails or discourse. When you see a good collocation in an email, make a note of it and make sure you look up the meaning so you can use it in your own emails.

Research: Just like you are now reading this post, be sure to do a Google search on business collocations or topic based ones. You can search for collocations based on a specific work or topic. For example, you could research all words that collocate with the verb do or make.

Dictionary: grab a copy of a collocation dictionary, there are many available. This will help you when you are stuck understanding a new collocation or looking for a specific collocation to use in your writing.

Types of collocation

Collocations are everywhere, so you need to start understanding what types of collocations you can find out in the wild. Below I have listed the most common ways to form a collocation. What is interesting though, is that collocations don’t generally have a rule they just “sound” right. That is the point that we want to reach with our understanding of collocations. We don’t want to be thinking about rules, we just want them to feel natural.

    adverb + adjective: absolutely helpless

    adjective + noun: excruciating pain (NOT excruciating joy)

    noun + noun: a surge of anger (NOT a rush of anger)

    noun + verb: lions roar (NOT lions shout)

    verb + noun: commit suicide (NOT undertake suicide)

    verb + expression with preposition: burst into tears (NOT blow up in tears)

    verb + adverb: wave frantically (NOT wave feverishly)

What are Idioms?

Idioms are groups of words in a fixed order that have a meaning that cannot be guessed by knowing the meaning of the individual words. For example, pass the buck is an idiom meaning 'to pass responsibility for a problem to another person to avoid dealing with it oneself.


I hope you now have clear how to use idioms and collocations in your business English. I will see you all next week for another episode of The Art of Business English.


Identify all the collocations included in the following text and underline them.

After giving Mark a lift to the airport, Cathy made her way home. What an exciting life he led! At times Cathy felt desperately jealous of him. She spent her time doing little more than taking care of him and the children. Now her sister was getting divorced and would doubtless be making demands on her too. Cathy had promised to give her sister a call as soon as she got home but she decided to run herself a bath first. She had a sharp pain in her side and hoped that a hot bath might ease the pain. After giving her sister a ring Cathy went to bed.

In the morning, Cathy did some work in the garden, then took a rest for about an hour before going out to do some shopping in town. It was her sister's birthday and she wanted to cook a nice meal for her. She had a look at a new Thai cookery book in the bookshop and decided to buy it. It has some very easy recipes and Cathy managed to make a good impression with her very first Thai meal.


Listen for free

Are you looking to expand your knowledge of English vocabulary and expressions? 

Grab your copy of my eBook "500 Business English Collocations for Everyday Use". Includes free download audio of pronunciation 

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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