The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines collocation as “a noticeable arrangement or conjoining of linguistic elements (such as words).” For our purposes, we will focus only on the collocation of words - and how a dictionary containing those collocations can be useful to you!
When writing in any language there are word patterns that flow naturally, and word choices that don’t.
For instance, the phrase “riding a horse” is an example of words that form a collocation. One could describe the action as “sitting on a horse’s back while it moves” but that group of words is clunky, awkward and lacks natural flow.
How to Use a Collocation Dictionary
A collocation dictionary can be used in several ways.
One can look up phrases by profession, topic and subject, but that can be somewhat frustrating and time consuming.
A better way to utilize this special word source is to think about what you want to convey. Does the noun carry the most weight in the sentence? Does the verb? Does the adjective? Usually, writers build sentences around nouns, especially when they first start writing. One way to utilize the collocation dictionary is to look up the noun in your sentence as you would in a regular dictionary, and see what words are often used to describe that noun. Those words are its collocative adjectives. You can do the same with verbs and adjectives, and other sentence components, but start with nouns. Many collocation dictionaries include worksheets to use for practice. We highly recommend that you practice using your collocation dictionary before you begin to rely on it. Once you understand its practicality, it will be more useful to you at a moments notice than if you dive into using it without fully appreciating its purpose first.
When writing formal essays, stories, articles - any form of writing, really - the goal is to communicate an idea with clarity. Sometimes, the colloquial nature of languages is not obvious, especially to non-native speakers, or individuals lacking formal training in the written arts. Yet the goal of clarity is essential in writing, and is generally achieved by writing as naturally as possible. From this point of view, you can see how a collocation dictionary can come in handy. Chances are, whether you are a native English speaker or not, you will learn a few things that may surprise you about the natural flow of the language, and how it came to be that way.