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Collocations

A collocation is two words which we use together as a set phrase. For example we say a "tall building" rather than a "high building". We use collocations all the time in English, so learning and using them will make you sound more natural.

There are different types of collocations. For example:

adjective + noun ("blonde hair", not "yellow hair")
noun + noun ("pack of dogs", not "group of dogs")
verb + noun ("leave home", not "go away from home")
adverb + adjective ("beautifully behaved", not "precisely behaved")
verb + preposition, as in phrasal verbs ("work out a solution" not "think out a solution")
verb + adverb ("breathe deeply" not "breathe profoundly")

In this page you can find common collocations with prepositions.

Collocations with at

at first = the first thing that happens
"At first I couldn't understand my teacher, but then the lessons became easier."

at hand = nearby, available
"Help is at hand if you need it."

at home = when you are in your house
"Is your mother at home?"

at large = not yet captured
"Police say that the criminal is still at large."

at last = finally
"We're on holiday at last!"
(Also "at long last!")

at least = something you say to show that there's one positive thing
"They lost all their things in the fire. At least they were insured."

at once = immediately
Come here at once!

= at the same time
"I can't do everything at once!"

at risk = when there may be a negative result
"How many jobs are at risk if they close the factory?"

at school = when someone is studying / teaching at a school
"Is your daughter at school this morning?"

at the moment / at present = now
"At the moment I'm staying with friends."

at work = when you are at the place where you work
"My Dad's at work now."

Collocations with in

in case = as a precaution
"Take an umbrella in case it rains."

in danger = when someone / something is in a dangerous situation
"Even though we were miles from the town, we never felt in danger."

in difficulty = when someone / something has a problem
"The business was in difficulty after the bank stopped lending them money."

in English = speak in English (or in French, Arabic, etc)
"Please speak in English!"

in error = by mistake
"He sent the invoices out in error."

in fact = when you say something that's true
"I didn't say that. In fact, I said the opposite!"

in general = generally
"In general, people here are very friendly."

in hand = when you know about a problem and are dealing with it
"We know about the problem, and it's all in hand."

in haste = when you do something too quickly
"Have you heard the saying,'Marry in haste, repent at leisure'?"

in line = under control
"The new teacher isn't very good at keeping the students in line!"

= forming a queue
"The passengers stood in line."

in line for = likely to receive
"She's in line for a promotion."

in love = when you love someone / something
"Have you ever been in love?"

in luck = lucky
"You're in luck. The next train is in five minutes."

in practice = what usually happens
"I always write myself goals, but in practice, I never look at them again."

in real life = in a real situation (unlike fantasy or on the internet)
"She seems very confident on YouTube, but in real life she's quite shy."

in reality = what really happens (as opposed to what we want to happen)
"They say they're rich, but in reality they're just like you and me."

in tears = when someone cries
"She was in tears after the meeting."

in the dark = when someone doesn't tell you something you should know
"He kept his colleagues in the dark and nobody knew about the problem."

in theory = what is supposed to happen
"In theory we've only got another half an hour to go before we get there."

in time = when you do something before the deadline
"We got to the airport in time to get our plane."

in work = employed
"What percentage of the population are in work?"

Collocations with off

off colour = when someone looks unwell
"You look a bit off colour. Are you OK?"

off duty = when you stop work
"What time does he go off duty?"

off guard = unprepared
"He was caught off guard by her question."

off plan = when you buy a house from the plans (and before it's built)
"The developers have already sold all the flats off plan."

off-road = when a means of transport is suitable for all terrains
"He has an off-road motorbike."

off season = when a time is less busy
"You can get some great hotel discounts if you stay off season."

off work = when you don't go to work, because you're ill
"She's off work with a bad back."

Collocations with on

on board = when you support an idea
"We've got two investors on board. Now we need to find a third."
(Don't confuse this with "onboard" = on an aircraft or ship)

on brand = when something is consistent with your brand
"Their videos are completely on brand with the rest of their communications."

on duty = when you are officially working
"She's on duty from 3pm."

on edge = when you feel nervous or tense
"She's a bit on edge at the moment as the company is downsizing."

on file = when you keep records of something
"We'll keep your details on file."

on fire = when something is burning
"Police think the house was set on fire deliberately."

on foot = walk somewhere
"They did the whole journey on foot."

on form = when you are well or at your usual level of energy, etc
"Julie was on form last night. She was the life and soul of the party!"

on guard = when someone / something is watching or guarding something
"That dog is on guard all day long."

on hand (also "to hand") = available, often for a specific purpose
"A team of supporters will be on hand for people running the marathon."

on hold = delayed or paused
"We've put our plans for an extension on hold until we save up the money."

= ask someone to wait (on the phone)
"Can I put you on hold for a couple of minutes?"

on ice = keep something cool
"There's a bottle of champagne on ice for you."

= delay your plans
"They put their expansion plans on ice."

on purpose = when you do something deliberately
"I didn't break the window on purpose! I'm sorry."

on sale = when you can buy something more cheaply
"This sofa is on sale. We should buy it!"

on tap = available (beer is kept "on tap" in pubs)
"We've got all the resources we need on tap."

on target = likely to reach your goal
"Her company is on target to make over a million this year."

on TV = when a programme is shown
"What's on TV tonight?"

on time = when something is punctual (not early or late)
"She's always on time at work."

on track = likely to reach your goal
"We need to keep this project on track."

Collocations with under

under age = when someone is too young for a particular activity
"There's a problem with under age drinking in this town."

under arrest = when a policeman / policewoman makes an arrest
"You're under arrest!"

under attack = when someone / something is attacking someone / something else
"Our ideas for a new product came under attack from the Sales Department."

under consideration = when a group of people are thinking about a decision
"The plans are under consideration."

under construction = when something isn't yet built
"Her website is still under construction."

under control = when a situation is calm or unlikely to get worse
"Police say that the situation is under control."

under discussion = when people haven't decided
"The council's plans for a new swimming pool are still under discussion."

under fire = receive criticism
"She came under fire for her plans."

= be under attack
"The soldiers came under fire from the rebels."

under pressure = when you're feeling a lot of pressure
"He's under pressure from his boss."

under review = when people are thinking about changing an existing plan / policy
"Our hiring policies are under review."

under siege = when a town or city is surrounded by an army
"Food is getting scarce in the city, which has been under siege for the last month."

under suspicion = when people believe someone is guilty of something
"He's come under suspicion because his political views are different."

under water = when there is a flood
"Houses are still under water after the latest flood."

Collocations with by

by accident = when something isn't deliberate
"I threw the soup away by accident."

by car / by train / by air, etc = means of transport
"She goes to work by bus."
Remember the exception: "on foot", not "by foot"

by chance = when something unplanned happens
"I saw my old teacher by chance today."

by day / by night = during the day / night
"You can go skiing by day and enjoy the sunset on the beach by night."

by hand = when you do something yourself, and not by a machine
"In the past, clothes were made by hand."

by now = when you think something should have happened before now
"They'll have got home by now."

by the way = something you say to change the conversation
"By the way, have you seen Paul recently?"

Collocations and Prepositions Quiz

Level: Elementary and above

1. I'm sorry, but I can't help you __ the moment.
2. You should buy a new laptop now. They're __ sale.
3. You should leave now if you want to be __ time.
4. Sue called to tell me that they are __ their way.
5. I don't like him __ all.
6. You can't go to the party. It's __ of the question.
7. You can see my brother in this photo. He's standing __ the middle.
8. I wanted to buy a new phone, but the shop was __ of stock.
9. I knocked on the door, and someone opened it __ once.
10. I left the restaurant booking to the last minute, but I was __ luck. They had a table free.

For more help with prepositions, see our page here.




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4 comments

Aisyah
Hi Clare,I would like to ask you these question.1)? The height should be max. 3mm? or ?The height should be 3mm max?is true? Or their meanings are different?2) What is difference between ?must?and ?shall?? Can I use shall in operation manual sheet to write instruction?That's all.Thanks in advanced.Aisyah
Clare
Hi Aisyah! In your first question, both answers are fine. In your second question, it would be correct to use "must" for writing instructions. "Shall" is used more in spoken (British) English for suggestions or offers. ("Shall we eat out tonight?" or "Shall I answer that?")
evgeny
I made two mistakes
Clare
Good work Evgeny!

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