In language there are words that go naturally together. For example, in English we “make a cake”, “do business”, “take a photo”, “have a drink”.In another language, the verb that goes with those nouns could be different. For instance, in Italian we say “take a drink”, “make business”, “make a photo”. If you were to literally translate the expression from Italian to English, it would sound strange to a native speaker.
语言中有些词很自然的搭在一起用。例如:英语中我们说“make a cake”, “do business”, “take a photo”, “have a drink”.在另外一种语言里,这些动词与名词搭配在一起意义可能截然不同。例如:在意大利语里我们说“take a drink”, “make business”, “make a photo”.如果你非要将这些文字表达按字面意思从意大利语翻成英语,那对于一个本土人来说可能会听起来很奇怪。

This is called “collocation”. The Cambridge Dictionary describes collocation as:“a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives, but might not be expected from the meaning.“

So, in one of the examples above “take a drink”would not sound as natural as “have a drink”.
所以,在上面的例子当中“take a drink”如果说成“have a drink”时,就会听起来不自然。

80% of language learning is vocabulary. All my clients tell me that they want to widen their vocabulary. When I ask them how they intend to do that, they don’t always know. Some say that they make a list of all the words they discover. When I ask them to then create a sentence with the words they’ve learned, they often don’t know what to do. And that’s the problem.

Words on their own are meaningless. You need to know how to use them in a sentence and in the right context. And for that you need to know what words go naturally together. That’s why collocation is important.

Unfortunately for learners, there are no rules that can be studied when it comes to collocations. The only thing you can do is to practice using the expressions as much as you can. That could be done through reading, listening, speaking and writing. The more you use the expressions, the more natural they will become to use.

I, like many of my colleagues, spend a lot of time teaching collocations and that’s why I thought I’d start a new series entitled “English Collocations”. I plan to select one word (normally a noun) and give examples of verbs and adjectives that naturally collocate with it. I will then show how to use those expressions in example sentences.

I’m going to start the series off with the word “conversation”.


1. Tom and James fell into a serious conversation about what would be the right step to take for the business.

2. They always get into an animated conversation when it involves football.

3. She is very good at striking up a conversation with strangers at parties.

4. I found them deep in conversation, so I left them to it.

5. After an hour of idle chat, she finally managed to bring the conversation around to serious matters.

6. We often find ourselves drifting into a conversation about our respective children.

7. As the conversation was getting very heated, I needed to steer it to a safer, less contentious subject.

8. Jack is very good at engaging his clients in a stimulating conversation.

9. I found the conversation on the traffic so boring that I tried to move it on to something more interesting like the weather!

10. I don’t mind small talk, but I can’t bear it when the conversation becomes so one-sided that it stops being a conversation and becomes a monologue!

Can you think of other words that collocate with “conversation”that you’ve used and would like to share?