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Collocation: initial training sessions


Collocation is a complex and technical area and most initial training courses can only hope to scratch the surface.
That's all these worksheets can do, too.


The key ideas

This section makes no attempt to condense the study of collocation into a short set of worksheets and tasks.  What it does try to do is cover the essentials from which people can build a greater understanding.

  • Collocation defined
  • Strengths
  • Types of collocation
    • adjective + noun
    • verb + noun
    • adverb + adjective
    • noun + noun
    • adverb + verb
    • verb + prepositional phrase

The aim of all of this is to give trainees the essential data they need to be able to teach collocation effectively (or at least recognise its value).

With the exception, arguably, of verb + prepositional phrase, the following deals only with lexical collocation.


What is collocation?

The purpose here is to alert trainees to the existence of collocation and its basic characteristics.  The usual definition is something to do with co-occurrence with more than random frequency but that's slightly loose.  The question is not one of more than random frequency, it is one of statistical likelihood.

The first task is simple: to identify some obvious collocations and false collocations to get people thinking about the essentially unpredictable (but not random) nature of the phenomenon.
Task 1 focuses on noticing that some collocations are stronger than others.  Usually the issue is one of semantic probability.  It is difficult to imagine anything but a types of vessel collocating with oceangoing, for example, because of the word's meaning.  Idiomaticity is another consideration as the example of foot the ... demonstrates.
Task 2 focuses on acceptability and this may be a good time to talk about the need for clarity in the classroom and avoiding saying, e.g.,
    Well, you could say that but ....
because that is rarely a helpful response and most learners need a bit more guidance.
Task 3 focuses on predictability and also on reciprocity.  I.e., that there are, for example, many fewer verbs which can collocate with beds than there are nouns co-occurring with the verb make.
Textual collocation is exemplified with the doctor or nurse example.


Types of collocation

The second worksheet is more of a test than a teaching mechanism so the input before you use it will have to come from you.
Don't try this task unless you are happy that your trainees can recognise all the word classes involved.


Task 1 is designed simply to alert trainees to the fact that reciprocity between nouns and adjectives is unbalanced insofar as there are many more nouns which will collocate with common adjectives and that some adjectives collocate with a very limited set of nouns.  Whether the noun is animate or inanimate also plays a role.
The other thing to notice, if you feel it is appropriate, is the difference between nouns which collocate with true adjectives and those which are normally preceded by classifiers.  Classifiers, such as welcome or glass, by their nature, collocate with fewer nouns than epithets, especially common ones like difficult or unhappy.
Task 2 is designed to alert people to unbalanced reciprocity in the combination, too, and, more importantly to notice that some verbs (mostly the so-called delexicalised ones) collocate strongly with certain nouns.  The usual list of delexicalised verbs, so called, is:
    do | have | get | go | make | put | set | take
(A list of semi- and fully delexicalised verbs is available here.)
Task 3 is designed to alert people to issues of gradability and classifiers vs. epithets.
Task 4 considers the overlap between a noun classifier plus noun and a compound noun and also alerts people to the fact that these combinations are ungradable.  The overlap between a noun + noun collocation with compound nouns becomes apparent here.
Task 5 mixes adverbs of manner, extent, time and place and alerts people to the fact that only place adverbs can be used with stative verb uses.
Task 6 is also about adverbials but in this case they are prepositional.  There is a strong argument that we are not dealing with lexical collocation here but with grammatical colligation.  No phrasal verbs appear here because they are adverbial and it would easily confuse people.  If some people insert what is actually an adverb making a phrasal verb, now is probably not the time to dwell on the difference but you could.
The issue of transitivity is dealt with in the question and the fact that tell, conceal and enjoy are always transitive so cannot be followed directly by a prepositional phrase.
Some may be tempted to insert a to-infinitive and now is the time to point out that this does not constitute a prepositional phrase.
The second and third prepositional phrases with by will encourage the use of a passive form of a verb.


Related areas

Lexical relationships are treated at length in the in-service guides to the area but the majority of those are not suitable for initial training course use.

Related guides
For trainees:
collocation the initial plus guide to the essentials of the area
For you (as a reminder of what you need to know)
collocation for the in-service guide which is much more detailed
colligation for an in-service guide to a related area
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms