A collocation is two or more words that tend to be used together by native speakers of a language. The best way to understand a collocation is to see one in action:
This is strong coffee.
The collocation here is ‘strong’ and ‘coffee’. But what happens if we replace ‘strong’ with a synonym like ‘powerful’? Can we say ‘powerful coffee’?
To a native speaker ‘powerful coffee’ sounds strange and incorrect. So we need to know which words will work together to make word combinations that sound correct.
This is, of course, what makes collocations difficult for non-native speakers. You have to know which words go together, and the best way to do that is to learn them together.
There are a number of different word combinations that can make up a collocation. For example, there are verb + adverb collocations (agree completely) and adverb + adjective (fully aware). Strong coffee is an example of an adjective + noun collocation, which is what we shall be looking at in this lesson.
5 Most Common Adjective – Noun Collocations
Let’s start with some adjectives and see which nouns they are commonly used with:
1. express (adjective)
an express bus / coach / train (travelling very fast; operating very quickly)
- Susan took the express train to the airport in order to save time.
express service / mail (for a letter / package)
- Send the letter by express mail if you want it to arrive tomorrow.
an express wish / aim / purpose (clearly and openly stated)
- I came here with the express purpose of speaking with the manager.
2. chilly (adjective)
a chilly day / night / wind chilly weather (too cold to be comfortable)
- Take a jacket with you. It’s a chilly night.
a chilly reception (not friendly)
- They gave him a chilly reception.
3. rich (adjective)
a rich person (having a lot of money or property)
- She is one of the richest women in the world.
a rich history / culture / vocabulary (very interesting and full of variety)
- This region has a rich history and culture.
- He has a rich vocabulary.
a rich sauce / cake (containing a lot of fat, butter, eggs, etc. and making you feel full quickly)
- The spaghetti was covered in a rich sauce.
rich colors / sounds / smells / tastes (strong or deep; very beautiful or pleasing)
- The artist is famous for the use of rich reds in her paintings.
4. heavy (adjective)
a heavy book / bag / suitcase / load (weighing a lot)
- The woman was struggling with a heavy suitcase.
heavy traffic / rain / snow (worse than usual)
- The noise of heavy traffic can drive you crazy.
a heavy coat / sweater (made of a thick material or substance)
- He put on his heavy coat and walked out into the snow.
heavy features (not delicate)
- He was tall and strong with heavy features.
5. strong (adjective)
a strong person / animal / wind / current (having great physical or natural power)
- He’s a strong athlete.
- A strong wind was blowing.
a strong supporter / opponent (holding an opinion or a belief very firmly and seriously)
- She was a strong supporter of the government.
a strong smell / taste / colour / accent (easy to see, hear, feel or smell)
- He spoke with a strong Irish accent.
- There was a strong smell coming from the rubbish bin.
strong coffee / cheese (containing a lot of substance or having a lot of flavour)
- She drinks strong coffee.
- He loves strong cheese.
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