Every language has certain words that go together. These words are called collocations. Collocation is another way of saying word partners. For example, in English we would say tell the truth NOT say the truth. There are many collocations is English. Here are a few more examples.
made a mistake: The student made a mistake on his test. (not did a mistake)
running late: The busses are running late, today. (not running lately)
commit a crime: Thieves are always ready to commit a crime. (not do a crime)
Collocations in English are made by joining
verbs with nouns, adjectives with nouns and
adverbs with adjectives, verbs and adjectives with prepositions, and prepositions with nouns.
Phrasal verbs can also be thought of as collocations.
Sometimes it is difficult to know what words join together to form a collocated expression, so it is best that you learn them as fixed expressions. One suggestion that will help you learn common collocations is to keep a vocabulary notebook and make a list of collocations that you come across while reading. I have given a few examples of various collocated expressions below to help you get started.
You can also take a look at the idioms listed here for more collocations. [TIP: Not all idioms are collocations.]
Verb + Noun
start a family (have your first child): Bob has decided to get married and start a family.
make a living (to earn money): I make a living by teaching English.
Adjective + Noun
soft drink (a nonalcoholic drink like Coke or Pepsi): It's so hot. Let's go out by the pool and have a soft drink.
hard work (anything that is hard physically or mentally): Learning English is hard work for most students.
heavy traffic (a lot of cars on the road): There is always heavy traffic at this time of the day.
Adverb + Adjective
The adverbs used in the following collocations always mean very and, in fact, you could use the adverb very instead of the adverbs in these examples. The adverbs in these examples are used by English speakers to show emphasis.
utterly disappointed: Sally was utterly disappointed at the behavior of her children.
awfully sorry: We were awfully sorry to hear about your father's death.
terribly upset: I was terribly upset at the bad news I received.
highly unlikely: It is highly unlikely that your son will graduate this year.
Verb + preposition
listen to (to hear something because you plan or want to hear it): I like to listen to music.
wait for (to stay in one place until something happens): I had to wait for my brother to come home before I could leave the house.
Adjective + Preposition
afraid of (frightened of): I have never been afraid of flying.
similar to (almost the same): The car you bought is similar to mine.
wrong with (not working): There is something wrong with the car. I can't get it started.
Preposition + Noun
by mistake (an error): I took your book by mistake. [I didn't mean to take your book.]
on purpose (intended to do something): You broke my watch on purpose. [You wanted to break my watch. You intended to break my watch.]