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Concourse 2

Colligation: classification by syntactic properties


A definition

This is a term often contrasted with collocation (to which there is a separate guide on this site).
The clue is in the name:

  1. collocation derives from the Latin collocare meaning place together.  It refers to items in the language which are conventionally found together, placed that way, in other words.
  2. colligation derives from the Latin colligare meaning tie together.  It refers to items which form a set with syntactically identical properties.  Such items are said to colligate.  A careful definition is:

A term ... for the process or result of grouping a set of words on the basis of their similarity in entering into syntagmatic grammatical relations.
(Crystal, 2008:86)

Because the term refers both to the process or result of grouping a set of words we can refer to items colligating and to the resulting group sharing the same colligation.  A colligation, therefore, refers to sets of items which are primed to co-occur with certain grammatical structures.  We can say that, for example:
    The verbs speak and tell colligate differently
or we can prefer:
    The verbs speak and tell belong to different colligations.


An explanation of syntagmatic

Syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations

Take the sentence:

  1. He bought a hat.

In this sentence, hat can be replaced by almost any noun but it must be a noun or a noun phrase.  Likewise, bought can be replaced by many verbs but they must be verbs or a verb phrase.  So we can get, e.g.:

  1. He sold a hat.
  2. He bought a car.
  3. He stole a gadget.
Syntagmatic relationship
This describes the relationship between, e.g., He, bought and a hat in Sentence 1, He, sold and a hat in Sentence 2, He, bought and a car in sentence3 and He and stole and a gadget in Sentence 4.
These relationships work horizontally between words.  Subjects use Verbs, Verbs sometimes take Objects, Adjectives modify Nouns, Adverbs modify Verbs and so on.  The relationship is to do with syntax (hence the name).
Paradigmatic relationships
These are exemplified by the changes we have made between the sentences and describe the relationships between:
    bought, sold and stole
    car, gadget and hat
These relationships work vertically in the sense that Noun phrases can be replaced by other Noun phrases, Verb phrases by other Verb phrases, Adjectives by other Adjectives, Adverbs by other Adverbs and so on.  The relationship is to do with word and phrase class.

It all works like this:


The words in each box have paradigmatic relationships to each other.  The red arrows show the syntagmatic relationships.


Collocation vs. colligation

is one type of syntagmatic relationship describing the phenomenon we observe of, e.g., the adjective genuine often being seen in conjunction with a noun like article, painting, excuse, antique etc. but not with money, pen, computer, glass etc.  In the same vein, we close the door but switch off a light.  Some languages will use the same verb for both.
Collocation is also a paradigmatic relationship insofar as it is possible to have, e.g.:
   a heavy cold
and we can replace heavy with a range of other adjectives which collocate with a cold to get, e.g.:
    a terrible cold
    a bad cold
    a nasty cold

and so on but not:
    *a large cold
    *a weighty cold
    *an evil cold

Paradigmatically, then, we can replace the adjective with a range of others with similar collocational characteristics.
What we are referring to here is lexical collocation because we are focused on the content words (adjectives and nouns in this case but the focus could be on verb + noun and so on).
There is a form of collocation which is often referred to as grammatical collocation because it concerns function words rather than content words.  For example:
    admit to a mistake
    abstain from voting
    care for the children

are all collocations of verb + preposition (and are analysed in more depth in the guide to multi-word verbs of which they form a subset).
Mistakenly, this sort of relationship is sometimes referred to as colligation because it is grammatical rather than lexical but, as can be seen from the examples, is probably better considered just a simple form of grammatical collocation.  Colligation proper, as we shall see, is more complicated.
There is a guide to collocation linked in the list of related guides at the end.
describes a different but allied relationship.  Just as an adjective can be, as it were, primed to appear before a particular set of nouns so can a word be primed to enter into certain grammatical relationships.  For example, the verbs allow, permit, forbid, force, enable are often seen in constructions like:
    I allowed him to go
    Mary permitted him to come
    I forbade him to speak
    I forced him to go
    The operation enabled him to walk
Where the form is: Subject (often but not always human) + object (often human) + to + infinitive.
Moreover, the second verb in such structures is usually dynamic rather than stative in use.  Things like:
    I allowed him to understand
    They permitted him to be
are vanishingly rare because understand and be are not being used dynamically in this meaning.
Other verbs which may mean very similar things such as authorise, let, approve, make, coerce, necessitate, tolerate, consent will not enter the same sorts of syntactical relationships so are not colligates of allow, permit, forbid etc.  We cannot, therefore, say:
    *I let him to come
    *I consented him to come

    *I made him to come
and so on.

Both colligation and collocation are language-specific phenomena.  What collocates in one language may not in another and the same applies to colligation.

Collocational phenomena are sometimes described in terms of what is 'done' and 'not done' in the language so we prefer, for example:
    a wide street
    a broad street
    a narrow street
    a thin street
although we are quite happy with both
    a narrow line
    a thin line.

By the same token, colligation can be described in terms of what is done and not done in the language but the advantage of looking at colligation over collocation is that colligation can be explained and taught on the basis of patterning in the language which follows rules.  That's much harder to do with collocation because that phenomenon seems, superficially at least, random.

Unlike collocation, in which it is possible to identify a range of simple types, adjective + noun, verb + noun, adverb + adjective etc., colligation is a somewhat more slippery concept pedagogically.  Nevertheless, Hoey suggests:

Colligations are particularly important to learners of the language because they explain why it is that a learner may feel he or she knows a word and yet produce a sentence that is grammatical but ‘not English’.
(Hoey 2003)


Examples of colligational issues

First, a simple test of your colligational competence

thinkwrite Mini-task
How do the verbs authorise, approve and tolerate form colligates?
What kinds of subjects do they allow?
Are they transitive?
What kinds (if any) of objects do they allow?
Click here when you have an answer.

The description of the type of subject or object (human vs. inanimate) above is strictly speaking an aspect of collocation, not colligation.  The concepts overlap to some extent but the nature of the subject or object of the verb is rarely mentioned in the context of collocation where the focus is more firmly on meaning and lexical relationships rather than structure.  As we shall see, the nature of the subject and the type of object in clauses is often constrained by both meaning and structural characteristics.
This goes some way to explaining why a grammatically well-formed utterance may not sound English.
For example, there is nothing grammatically wrong with:
    The car tolerated his poor driving
    I approved the bicycle

but most people would reject the sentences because the verb tolerate colligates with animate (usually human) subjects only and approve usually takes an abstract noun as it object.

There are some other phenomena associated with grammatical function.  We saw above how the verbs allow, permit, forbid and enable colligate.  These verbs frequently come in clauses with this structure:

subject + verb + object (usually animate) + to + verb (dynamic not stative)

so we arrive at

The teacher allowed the children to go home
The boss enabled his staff to take a holiday
She forbade him to shop

and so on.  Once the colligational structure of the verbs has been mastered, it is possible to construct an almost infinite number of correct clauses with the verbs.  The nature of the second verb also explains, incidentally, why:
    *She forbade him to be old
    *He permitted his mother to enjoy Mozart

    *It enabled Mary to like ice cream
are not English (i.e., wrong) even though they are, superficially at least, grammatically well formed.  These verbs, and many like them, simply do not form colligations with stative uses of other verbs.

As we also saw, the verbs authorise, approve and tolerate although they are connected semantically with allow, permit etc. have different colligational characteristics, not in terms of meaning but in terms of the structures with which they occur.  There is no obvious semantic reason that we could not produce:
    They enabled rudeness
but it is still 'not English'.
And, if we can say:
    He allowed me to come
why is
    He approved me to come
not permissible?
The answer is that it contravenes the colligational nature of the verb and not that it is ungrammatical in terms of an overarching structural rule.


issues of transitivity and intransitivity
hide and conceal

We'll start with a simple example of colligational effects on how things are expressed in English.  This issue is to with transitivity and, as we shall see, so are many others.

  1. I hid it in the cupboard
    I concealed it in the cupboard
  2. I hid behind my father
    *I concealed behind my father

The verb conceal is always transitive, hide can be both.


the passive and issues of transitivity and intransitivity
have, possess and own
endure, stand for
and tolerate
and let

There are three more-or-less synonymous verbs relating to ownership but they have slightly different colligational characteristics.
In the active voice we can accept:
    The girl owns a book
    The girl has a book
    The girl possesses a book
and all three verbs are monotransitive so capable of forming a passive construction.
However, when we try to make a passive, we run into:
    The book is owned by the girl
    *The book is had by the girl
    *The book is possessed by the girl

and only the verb own can be used in a passive construction.

The same phenomenon occurs with endure, stand for and tolerate.  We allow:
    She endured his continual chatter
    She stood for his continual chatter
    She tolerated his continual chatter

but not:
    *His continual chatter was endured by her
    *His continual chatter was stood for by her
but we can have:
    His continual chatter was tolerated by her

Finally, we have the issue of make and let which differ in their grammatical, i.e., colligational characteristics.  We can have:
    They made me go
    They let me go
and in both cases, we use a bare infinitive for the second verb.
However, in the passive:
    They were made to go
    I was let go
it is non-intuitive that make requires a different grammatical construction (the to-infinitive) in the passive from the one it uses in the active form but let does not.


say, tell, talk and speak

Because colligation varies across languages and translation is perilous, these four verbs cause a good deal of difficulty for learners.  If, however, we look at colligational issues concerning transitivity and the types of objects the verbs allow, much becomes clearer.

is always a transitive verb but the objects it takes are slightly anomalous:
  • we allow direct speech to be the object:
        He said, "Good morning"
  • we allow the description of a communicative function to be the object
        He said good morning
        He said that's different
  • we allow a verb phrase plus the subject and the adjunct to be nominalised as the object:
        He said that he was leaving today
  • we allow an inanimate noun phrase as the object if it refers to something one can say:
        He said his prayers
        He said it aloud
  • we do not allow an inanimate object if the verb means read aloud:
        *He said the poem
  • we do not allow the verb to take an animate object:
        *He said Mary
        *He said her
  • we do not allow an intransitive use (unless the object is clearly omitted because it is understood):
        *She said
        *I have said
        *Who is saying?
is a verb which can be transitive or intransitive but, again, the objects it takes are anomalous:
  • we allow an inanimate noun phrase as the object only if it refers to words or language:
        He spoke the words
        He spoke (in) German
        I don't speak the language
  • we allow the verb to operate intransitively:
        She spoke loudly to me
        I have spoken
        Will you speak at the meeting?
  • we do not allow an inanimate object if the verb means read aloud:
        *He spoke the poem
  • we do not allow direct speech to be the object:
        *He spoke, "Good morning"
  • we do not allow a subject plus its verb phrase to be nominalised as the object:
        *He spoke that he was leaving today
  • we do not allow the verb to take an animate object:
        *He spoke Mary
        *He spoke her
    and must use a prepositional phrase with to:
        He spoke to Mary
        He spoke to her
    This is akin to what is known as a dative shift with a ditransitive verb (see under tell, below) because we allow, e.g.:
        He spoke French to Mary
    but not:
        *He spoke Mary French
is always intransitive
  • we allow only intransitive uses:
        She talked persuasively
        They talked for hours
        Will you talk at the conference?
  • we must use a prepositional phrase to introduce any reference to what the talking was about or to
        He talked to Mary
        They talked about the programme
        They talked in German
  • we allow only a language to appear to be the object of the verb but then it acts as an adverbial rather than the direct object:
        They talked French together (meaning in French)
  • we do not allow true transitive use:
        *They talked me
        *They talked the book
        *She talked the meeting
        *She talked the poem
  • we do not allow a verb phrase plus its subject to be a nominalised object clause:
        *He talked that he was happy
        *She is talking that she will leave soon
is always transitive and sometimes ditransitive (see below for more)
  • we allow an inanimate noun-phrase object:
        He told a story
        He told a lie
  • we allow ditransitive use with an animate indirect object and a noun-phrase direct object:
        He told the children a story
        She told me the truth
        They told us their problems
        She was telling me the way to the shops
  • we allow a dative shift using to as in:
        He told a story to the children
        She told the truth to me
    But we do not allow this structure when the verb means inform or command and / or is used with a nominalised clause, so:
        *They told the train was late to me
        *She told to get the work done to me
        *They told their problems to us
        *She told the way to the shops to me
    are not encountered because the dative shift cannot be used with any nominalised clause operating as the direct object of the verb.
  • we allow ditransitive use with an animate indirect object and a nominalised verb-phrase direct object, usually as reported speech:
        He told her that he was going home
        She told me where she got the book
  • we allow a single direct animate object only if the indirect object (a noun phrase or nominalised verb phrase) is understood:
        She told the police
        They told us
  • we only allow the to-infinitive as a nominalised object in the sense of order:
        They told me to go home
  • we allow direct speech to be the object:
        He told me, "That's the train you want."
  • we do not allow a nominalised verb-phrase object without an indirect object:
        *She told that she was leaving
        *They told to go away
  • we do not allow an intransitive use (even if the object is clearly omitted because it is understood):
        *She told
        *I have told
        *Who is telling?

In summary, to be strict in our use of the term colligation with these verbs, we can say that at times they fall into the same colligation sets because they are sometimes found with similar syntactical properties.  Usually, however, they do not themselves form a colligational set.

  1. The verb say is a colligate of the verbs shout, call, scream etc. because it often enters syntactical relationships in the same way:
        He said / shouted / called / screamed, "Hello"
    for example.
  2. The verb speak is a colligate of the verbs converse, natter and chat because it enters syntactical relationships in the same way:
        We spoke / conversed / nattered / chatted about the game
    for example.
  3. The verbs talk and speak are members of the same colligational set in some meanings because they enter syntactical relationships in the same way.
        We talked / spoke about the problem
    for example.
    But, in other meanings they fall into different colligational sets as we see above.
  4. The verb tell is a colligate of the verb relate in some cases, of inform and notify in others and of command and order in others because it enters syntactical relationships in the same way:
        She told / related / the story of her accident
        She told / informed / notified me that the train was cancelled
        She told / commanded / ordered the children to be silent

In terms of certain prepositional and clause structures, the verbs also take on aspects of colligation sets insofar as, for example:

  1. Both say and tell can be followed by finite clauses so, transitivity apart, are colligates and we allow:
        He said that he was angry
        He told her he was angry

    but not:
        *He spoke that he was angry
        *He talked that he was angry
    When used with a finite clause, tell must take an indirect object, e.g.:
        He told her that it was a good idea
    but not:
        *He told that it was a good idea
  2. Both talk and speak can be used with a prepositional phrase referring to language type and are colligates in this respect.  We allow:
        He talked in French to her
        He spoke in French to her

    but not:
        *He said in French to her
        *He told in French to her
  3. The verb tell is an outlier, not a colligate of any of the other verbs, because it is the only one which can take an animate direct object so, while we allow:
        She told me
    we do not allow:
        *She said me
        *She talked me

        *She spoke me
  4. The verb tell is also an outlier, not a colligate of any of the other verbs, because it is the only one which cannot be used with to plus an object so, while we allow:
        He said it to me
        She spoke to me
        She talked to me

    we do not allow:
        *She told to me
    In this case, the verbs say, speak and talk form a colligation set.
  5. The verbs speak and talk are colligates in terms of transitivity because they can both be intransitive so, while we allow:
        They spoke
        They talked
    we do not allow:
        *They said
        *They told
  6. The verbs speak, talk and tell are colligates in being used with a prepositional phrase with about so we allow:
        They talked about the job
        They spoke about the job

        They told me about the job
    but not
        *They said about the job

In answer to a student's question, this summary is suggested.  Where verbs share the green cells, they are, in that sense, members of the same colligations.  You can see, however, that the picture is by no means simple.

say etc

Note: with a nominalised clause, tell must also have an indirect object.  We allow:
    He told us where to put the luggage
but not
    *He told where to put the luggage
The reverse is true of the verb say which cannot take an indirect object so we allow:
    He said where to put the luggage
but not:
    *He said me where to put the luggage

The analysis above, with the summary diagram, forms part of an answer to a language question on this site so, if you would like that and more as a PDF document, it is available here.


issues of di- and mono-transitivity
give, pass, hand, offer, lend and bequeath vs. deliver, donate, hand over, present, contribute, tell, explain and want

If something is a verb, is it transitive, intransitive, ditransitive and so on?
For example:

  1. She gave / passed / handed / offered / lent / bequeathed me the book
    are all possible because the verbs can be ditransitive, working like give
  2. *She presented / delivered / donated / handed over / contributed me the book
    are all prohibited because the verbs are resolutely monotransitive and any indirect object needs to be prepositional as in, e.g.
        She presented me with the book
        She contributed the book to the sale
        She handed over the book to the librarian

  3. Compare:
        Mary wanted him to come to her party
        Mary told him to come to her party

    Superficially, these look like parallel forms but tell is a ditransitive verb and want is monotransitive.  This means that we can have:
        What Mary told him was to come to her party
    but not:
        *What Mary wanted him was to come to her party
        Mary told him something
    but not:
        *Mary wanted him something
        Mary told him that he should come to her party
    but not
        *Mary wanted him that he should come to her party
    To explain this issue we need to look at how the sentences can be broken down.
    Because want is rigidly monotransitive it can only have one object so we can analyse the sentence as:
    Subject Verb Direct object
    Mary wanted him to come to her party
    Mary wanted a birthday present

    The verb tell, on the other hand, can be both mono and di-transitive so we can analyse the sentences like this:
    Subject Verb Indirect object Direct object
    Mary told   a lie
    Mary told him a lie
    Mary told him to come to her party
    Mary told him that he should come to her party
    There is no particular mystery here because clauses such as to come to her party, him to come to her party or that he should come to her party can be nominalised in the usual way and function as the object of a verb.  (But, as we saw above, no dative shift is possible with nominalised clauses as the object.)
    The issue is the type of transitivity.
  4. Most ditransitive verbs allow what is called the dative shift or alternation so we can accept both formulations:
        She handed me the money
        They cooked me lunch
        Mary sold me the car

    and, with the dative shift:
        She handed the money to me
        They cooked lunch for me
        Mary sold the car to me

    but some verbs form a small group of colligates which can only use the dative shift with an indirect object.  So, for example, we allow:
        I explained the problem to the mechanic
        She clarified the issue to us
        They defended their position to the meeting
        He justified his actions to me

    but not:
        *I explained the mechanic the problem
        *She clarified us the issue
        *They defended the meeting their position
        *He justified me his actions

A list of ditransitive verbs is available on this site, linked via the list of related guides at the end.


suggest, recommend, advise

Because of their colligational characteristics, these three verbs cause a good deal of difficulty for learners of English.  There are, naturally, semantic differences to get out of the way to start with:

As we shall see, the meanings sometimes determine the grammar the words take.  Colligation is complex.
For example:

We allow:
    The doctor suggested that I give up smoking
    The doctor suggested giving up smoking
    The doctor recommended that I give up smoking
    The doctor recommended giving up smoking
    The doctor advised me to give up smoking
    The doctor advised me that I give up smoking
    The doctor advised giving up smoking

    The doctor advised against smoking
    The doctor advised me against smoking

But we do not allow:
    *The doctor suggested me that I give up smoking
    *The doctor suggested me giving up smoking
    *The doctor suggested to give up smoking
    *The doctor suggested against smoking
    *The doctor recommended me that I give up smoking
    *The doctor recommended me giving up smoking
    *The doctor recommended to give up smoking
    *The doctor recommended against smoking
    *The doctor recommended to give up smoking
    *The doctor advised me giving up smoking

The reasons stem from colligational characteristics of the verbs rather than any overarching grammatical or structural rules of the language.  It works like this:

suggest and recommend


This verb has two connected meanings (it is polysemous) and its colligational features vary with the meanings.

The above also forms the answer to a commonly asked language question so if you want it as a PDF document, it is available here


verbs of sense, perception and mental processes

Certain verbs types describing perception form colligates, in this case, sharing the use of -ing forms and bare infinitives.  For example:

  1. I noticed him arriving
    They saw him fall
    Peter heard him singing
    I smelt it burn
    I smelt it burning
  2. BUT verbs concerned with mental processes form a different set of colligates.
    I expected he would arrive late
    *I expected him arriving late
    I predicted he would arrive late
    *I predicted him arriving late.
    I hoped he would arrive early
    *I hoped him arriving early.
    I guessed he would arrive early
    *I guessed him arriving early

With the set of colligates under 1., the structure is:

Subject (invariably animate) + verb + object + non-finite verb form (bare infinitive or -ing form)

With the set of colligates under 2., the structure is:

Subject (invariably animate) + verb + finite clause with would

An oddity in this section is the verb expect which can take the same structure as set 1. but uses the to-infinitive as in, e.g.
    I expected him to arrive late


nouns: sentence position

Certain words naturally occur more frequently in certain grammatical slots.
Hoey, op cit., for example, notes that the word consequence very rarely occurs as the object of a clause or a possessive verb so

  1. It produced the consequence that ... and
    It has the consequence that ...
    are rare.
  2. but, as the subject or complement, the word is very much more frequent so expressions such as
    The consequence was that ...
    It is a consequence of ...
    are very much more common.

Similar considerations apply to the words preference and use which will occur frequently as objects of clauses and possessive verbs:

  1. He expressed a preference for leaving early
    He explained its use to me
  2. She has a preference to leave early
    They criticised its use as a classroom aid

but are rare as the subject of the verb phrase:

  1. A preference eventually emerged during the meeting
  2. The use was not allowed

both of which seem unusual to many speakers of English.


probable and likely

  1. It's likely John will help me up
    It's probable John will help me up
  2. John will likely help me up
    *John will probable help me up

In 1., the two words are synonyms with the same grammatical characteristics but in 2., although the meaning is the same, the grammar isn't.  The words colligate differently.
We can't make the subject of the clause be the person identified in both cases but the construction with the dummy it works for both words.


try and attempt

  1. It's hard to move it but please try to
    It's hard to move it but please attempt to

  2. It's hard to move it but please try
    *It's hard to move it but please attempt

The to complement is optional with try but obligatory with attempt.


ought to, should, let and allow

  1. I oughtn't to leave him alone
    *I oughtn't leave him alone
  2. I shouldn't leave him alone
    *I shouldn't to leave him alone
  3. I allowed him to stay in the park
    *I allowed him stay in the park
  4. I let him stay
    *I let him to stay

The to complement is obligatory with ought and allow but prohibited with let and should.


let, make and have

In some senses, these three verbs are colligates and also slightly rare ones because they all take a bare infinitive form.  Of the three, have is the most formal but they all carry the same sense of authority granting or obliging as in, e.g.:
    She let me stay
    They made her pay
    He had her write it again
However, make is the odd one out because it can also take an adjectival object complement and we encounter, e.g.:
    It made her furious
    John made me happy
The verbs let and have cannot function in this way so we do not allow:
    *They let her happy
    *She had me delighted


stop, cease, finish, complete

  1. It stopped raining
    It ceased raining

  2. It ceased to rain
    *It stopped to rain

cease may be followed by an infinitive or an -ing form but if stop is treated the same way the to is interpretable as in order to.
The verb stop can also be transitive as in, e.g.:
    I stopped the car
but cease cannot be used that way so:
    *I ceased the car
is not available.
Both are, however, available with a verbal noun or gerund so:
    I ceased talking
    I stopped talking
are both allowed.

The use of the verbs stop, cease and finish is also determined by something called telicity which refers to whether an action is seen as having an end point, and is telic, or not, so is atelic.  For example:

  1. I finished cooking at 5
  2. I ceased cooking at 5
  3. I stopped cooking at 5

In sentence 1. the sense is that the cooking was complete so the verb is telic.
In sentences 2. and 3., however, both verbs imply a temporary end point and suggest that the cooking would be resumed.  In other words, the verb finish is telic and the verbs stop and cease can be atelic.

To complicate matters, the verb complete generally takes a noun object rather than a non-finite verb so we allow, e.g.:
    I completed the cooking at 5
    I completed the meal at 5
    I completed preparing the meal at 5

    ?I completed cooking at 5
is questionable at best.
In all cases, the verb is, like finish, telic.


want and wish

  1. I want to know the truth
    I wish to know the truth

  2. I want the truth revealed
    *I wish the truth revealed

wish does not permit a passive participle.


sick, poorly and unwell

  1. The child was sick
    The child was poorly
    The child was unwell
    The sick child
    The poorly child

  2. *The unwell child

Otherwise synonymous adjectives may have different characteristics in terms of attributive vs. predicative use.


nearly and almost

  1. I nearly lost my temper
    I almost lost my temper
    I very nearly lost my temper

  2. *I very almost lost my temper

The issue here is choice of modifier: almost cannot be modified with very.


as well, too and also

  1. She does yoga as well
    She does yoga, too
    She does yoga also
    She also does yoga
  2. *She too does yoga
    *She as well does yoga

Some words can have flexible word ordering; others are stricter.


conjunction vs. conjunct

This is not the place to dwell on the differences between a conjunct and a conjunction (for that, see the guide to adverbials linked in the list of related guides at the end).  Briefly, however, there are words which join ideas (coordinate and subordinate) in sentences and these are conjunctions.  Other words, which refer from sentence or clause two back to sentence or clause one and contribute to a strong sense of cohesion are conjuncts.
The grammar of the two word classes is significantly different even though the meanings may be parallel.  Two examples are enough here but you can probably think of a range of other pairs which function similarly:

however and but
The first of these is a conjunct expressing a contrast or an adversative meaning and the second of these is a conjunction expressing a very similar idea so we can have, e.g.:
    I called for you at six.  However, you had already left
    I called for you at six but you had already left
and most people would consider these to express the same meaning.
If we try to swap the words around, we get non-English or a run-on sentence because they colligate differently:
    *I called for you at six however you had already left
    *I called for you at six.  But you had already left.
though and although
The words though and although are often presented to learners as synonyms.  Conceptually, they are but syntactically they are not.  The word though can be a conjunct or a conjunction but although is only a conjunction.  We can accept, therefore:
    The work was done on time.  It was more expensive than I expected, though. (conjunct)
    The work was done on time though it was more expensive than I expected (conjunction)
    The work was done on time although it was more expensive than I expected (conjunction)
but not:
    *The work was done on time.  It was more expensive than I expected, although.


Because colligation is often a grammatical rather than semantic issue, there are classes of function words which are worth considering.
Apart from the obvious grammatical issues to do with plurality and countability concerned with, especially, quantifying determiners in English (and for a discussion of that you should refer to the guide to determiners) there are also issues to do with a word's meaning which affects whether and with which determiners it is likely to co-occur.
Some examples:



This is another class of function words which show distinct patterns.
For example:

Prepositions are not wholly predictable, of course, and there are exceptions to the patterns above (seek out and experienced in are two) but, when faced with a new adjective or verb which requires some kind of prepositional complement, basing the decision concerning which one to use on observable patterns is a good way forward.  It is certainly better than guessing.


Colligation in the classroom

Here are five implications

  1. Co-text
    The existence of colligation simply adds even more weight to the need to present lexis with its co-text so that the syntagmatic relationships between the target language, its collocational aspects and its colligational nature can be observed and practised.
  2. Noticing
    Just as it is possible, indeed helpful, to draw learners' attention to collocational patterns in texts, so we can draw their attention to colligational patterns.  Something like this:
        I let him go to the club although his mother had forbidden him to do so because his father always tolerated his visits.
        I gave John the money to pass on to Mary but he lent Peter all of it.  Peter donated it to the household expenses and it was duly delivered to the grocer.
  3. Translation
    In many circumstances, translation between English and the learners' first language(s) is a useful, awareness-raising technique and a classroom shortcut.  However, if it is carried out without due understanding of colligational differences between the languages, it can be error inducing.
    For example
        I allowed him to go
        I let him go
    can both be translated in German the same way (Ich ließ ihn gehen) but the grammar in English is more complex and misunderstanding may result in
        *I let him to go
        *I allowed him go.
    On the other hand, French handles the two verbs differently (Je lui ai permis d'aller and Je l'ai laissé aller, respectively) and without an understanding of word grammar, this could give rise to
        *I allowed him for going
        *I let him to go.
    These are just two examples and, as may be imagined, colligational phenomena across languages are even less predictable and parallel than are collocational phenomena.
  4. Transitivity and the passive voice
    When a new verb arises in the classroom from a reading text, a listening text or by demand from the learners, it is important to be alert to its nature in terms of transitivity.  We saw above that we allow:
        I hid it
        I hid
        I concealed it
        She owned the house
        She possessed the house
        She had a house

    but not:
        *I concealed
        *The house was possessed
    (except in a rather spooky and different sense)
        *The house was had by her
    and these are all examples of how transitivity and / or passive formations work in English that are not likely to be parallel in other languages.
    Other verbs, such as resemble, match, suffer, take after, look like etc. are also restricted to active-voice use.
  5. Dealing with error
    As Hoey points out, colligational error can result in grammatically well-formed sentences which are, nevertheless, 'not English'.
    When you are faced with such errors in your learners' production, looking out for the correct colligation in English is often fruitful.

Related guides
collocation for a guide to a related area
determiners for the guide to the grammatical relationships between determiners and noun phrases
adverbials for a guide explaining conjuncts among much else
the passive voice for more on colligational restrictions with passive constructions
ditransitive verbs for a list with some notes of ditransitive verbs in English
tenses index for a little more on telicity compared to perfective and imperfective verb uses
verb types and clause structures for more on transitivity and other features of clause structure

Crystal, D, 2008, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
Hoey, M, 2003, What's in a word?, Macmillan, MED Magazine, Issue 10, August 2003