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
- The correct phrase is ''at the moment'', which means ''now''.
- If something is ''on sale'' it's at a reduced price.
- If you are ''on time'', you arrive at the right time for something (= you aren't late). If you are ''in time'' for something, you arrive before its deadline.
- If you are ''on your way'' (''on my way'', ''on our way'', ''on his way'', etc) you have started your journey to meet someone.
- If you don't like someone at all, you completely dislike them. ''At all'' = completely.
- If something is ''out of the question'' it means you can't discuss it at all. It's something you can't compromise.
- ''In the middle'' = in the centre. We also say ''in the middle'' to mean not finished. For example, ''I can't help you now - I'm in the middle of something.''
- If a shop is out of stock, it has sold all of a particular item.
- If you do something ''at once'' you do it straightaway. ''At once'' also means ''at the same time''. For example, ''I can't do everything at once!''
- If you are ''in luck'' you are lucky! The opposite is ''out of luck''.
For more help with prepositions, see our page here.