What is a Collocation?

atkins bookshelf wordsIn linguistics, a collocation is a pair (or group) of words that always appear in the same order, for example we say “back and forth” not “forth and back,” or we say “lost and found” rather than “found and lost.” These are also referred to as nonreversible word pairs. Try reversing the order of these word pairs and see the reaction you will get — it is tantamount to mispronouncing or misspelling a word. Many other languages have word pairs or groups of words that when reversed do not make sense (or you end up sounding like Dr. Seuss or Yoda).

Native English speakers learn collocations through the gradual acquisition of language from a young age; after learning them, we speak them without even thinking about it. However, for individuals who are learning to speak English, collocations, along with idioms, can be challenging to learn because there is, ahem, no rhyme or reason why the words have to be in that particular order — the order was simply established by habitual usage. Below is a list of the most common English collocations.

Adam and Eve
back and forth
bacon and eggs
bed and breakfast
birds and bees
black and white
body and soul
bread and butter
bread and water
bricks and mortar
bride and groom
business and pleasure
by and large
cause and effect
cloak and dagger
coat and tie
coffee and doughnuts
cream and sugar
crime and punishment
cup and saucer
dead or alive
down and out
first and last
fish and chips
flesh and blood
forgive and forget
front and center
fun and games
give and take
ham and eggs
hammer and nail
hemmed and hawed
high and dry
high and low
hot and bothered
huffing and puffing
husband and wife
in and out
Jack and Jill
knife and fork
ladies and gentlemen
law and order
life or death
lock and key
lost and found
man and wife
name and address
nice and easy
null and void
peaches and cream
pen and pencil
pork and beans
pots and pans
prim and proper
profit and/or loss
pros and cons
pure and simple
rain or shine
ranting and raving
read and write
rhyme or reason
right and/or wrong
rise and fall
rock and roll
salt and pepper
shirt and tie
shoes and socks
short and fat
signed and sealed
slip and slide
soap and water
sooner or later
stars and stripes
suit and tie
supply and demand
sweet and sour
tall and thin
thick and thin
terms and conditions
to and fro
tossed and turned
touch and go
trial and error
trials and tribulations
up and/or down
wait and see
war and peace
wine and cheese




Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities

Read related posts: What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?

For further reading: https://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/collocations.htm

2 responses to “What is a Collocation?

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