Collocations are conventional word combinations. Most of these are idiomatic in a sense. Collocations are easy to understand, but foreign speakers often find it difficult to produce them correctly.
For example, you can think of many adjectives that can be used with the noun smoker to say that a person smokes a lot – big, strong, hard, strong, mad, fierce, passionate, impulsive etc. It just happens that English speakers have chosen to use the adjective heavy. If a foreign speaker does not know this particular word combination he or she cannot use it correctly.
Of course, they can use other word combinations, like big smoker or hard smoker, and they might still be understood, but unfortunately they won’t sound natural.
English, like any other language, has a large number of collocations. It is impossible to list all of them here. However, some common examples are given below.
- A golden opportunity (BUT NOT a golden chance)
- A heavy smoker (NOT a mad smoker)
- Thanks a lot (NOT Thank you a lot)
- Change one’s mind (NOT Change one’s thoughts)
- A devoted friend (NOT a devoted smoker)
- An indulgent mother (NOT a heavy mother)
- A burning desire (NOT a burning a row)
- A blazing row (NOT a blazing desire)
- Check the oil (NOT Inspect the oil)
- Reserve a table (NOT keep a table)
- Direct flight (NOT straight flight)