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Collocations, Compounds, Phrasal Verbs

and Idioms
Some of us are often confused by the use of terms like collocation, compound, phrasal verb or idiom. Yet all
terms describe particular word groups with a distinctive meaning they differ from each other. Its useful to
know the differences between them. The following paragraphs should help you to understand their main
differences. At the end of the article youll find some links to exercises in the internet.

Collocations
The term collocation defines words which frequently appear together. If we analyzed a long text for words
which are often used together well find out that some words are ofen used in the same form. Using collocations
will improve your style of spoken and written English, youll sound more natural and youll help you avoid
common mistakes.
You must make an effort. [NOT do an effort]
Did you watch TV last Friday? [NOT look at TV]
There are some ancient monuments near by. [NOT antique monuments]
The car has a powerful engine. [NOT strong engine]
As you can see collocations are very useful to sound like a fluent speaker. For students its often a challenge to
learn them, because they are often difficult to guess. Learning collocations can also help to avoid mistakes in
written English. If you would like to take a Cambridge Exam (FCE, CAE, ..) you should learn at least the 100
most common collocations.
Compounds
In contrast to collocations compounds are units of meaning. They are formed with two or more words and they
are nouns.

car park (n)


teapot (n)
post office (n)
Their meaning of compounds can often be guessed by knowing the meaning of each separate word.

Phrasal Verbs
Although phrasal verbs are formed from two or three words. Their distinctive feature is that they have
a particular meaning. Phrasal verbs are words that consist of a verb and a participle. Participles can be
prepositions or adverbs like: at, for, in, of, in , (a)round, e.g.
look at
move up
miss out
keep away
Some of the phrasal verbs form one word when they are used as a noun:

crack down (v)


crackdown(n)
make up (v)
make-up (n)
Phrasal verbs dont have to stand directly next to each other. Therefore its good to know the grammar patterns
of phrasal verbs. Which means the subject [sb] or object [sth] related to the phrasal verb can stand between or
at the end of the phrasal verb.
Ill look you up in the part next Friday. [to visit sb]
Look the word up in the dictionary. [search for sth]
Things are looking up. [things improve]
Look after Joe/the plant. [care for sb/sth]
Idioms
In conjunction with collocations and compounds idioms are word groups with a fixed word order and a
specific meaning. The meaning of an idiom cannot be guessed by knowing the meaning of the individual
words. Learning Idioms might be one of the most difficult tasks to master a foreign language.