Using collocations in IELTS

IELTS collocationsAccurate use of collocations will help you get a high score.

Updated: April 19th 2022

Some of the most important vocabulary needed for IELTS writing are collocations. These are needed for a higher score. Collocations are 2 or 3 words that commonly go together and sound just right to a native speaker. For some tips on building your vocabulary take a look at this blog post here. If you do not know how to use collocations, they will sound or look ‘wrong’ to a native speaker.

For example, ‘use money‘ sounds strange if you go shopping. The correct word is to ‘spend money‘, or if someone speaks in a loud way I can’t say he has a ‘big voice‘ I need to say he has a ‘loud voice’. Or maybe he has a ‘big mouth‘ to describe him as arrogant, not a ‘large mouth‘. When I want to relax in the evening I wouldn’t ‘look at a movie‘ I would ‘watch a movie‘…. and so on…


IELTS collocations


Why are collocations so important?

In the marking criteria in IELTS you are marked on Lexical Resource (vocabulary). You will be marked on the way you use collocations in the writing section. Here is what it says in the Public Band Descriptors in lexical resource Band 7.

uses a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision

uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation

may produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling and/or word formation

Collocations in IELTS are important for writing, but they are also useful in the speaking test. They give your speech a smooth natural flow, which can help you get a Band 7 or more in the speaking test if used well. You have to know how to use them correctly though.


How do I learn collocations?

When you learn new words you must learn the surrounding words and the context. Don’t just memorise words on their own. Collocations are like chunks of language and there are various patterns to these.

The best way to learn collocations is through reading, listening and making your sentences. I advise making a vocabulary book where you write out example sentences. I do not advise using word lists because you must know how collocations work in the surrounding sentence. These also have to be reviewed regularly and put into practice, so word lists are of no real use.


Recommended book

If you want a much deeper understanding of collocations with many practice exercises, you can get the book ‘English Collocations In Use’ from Cambridge See this link here. This book is available on amazon.


Collocation patterns

There are quite a few patterns such as:

  • Verb + Noun
  • Verb + Adverb
  • Adjective + Noun
  • Adverb + Adjective
  • Noun + Noun
  • Collocations with ‘have’ or ‘take’

Let’s take a look at some example sentences.

These are for example purposes only. I always advise against just memorising vocabulary because the IELTS examiners are trained to spot that. Try using them in your sentences and get feedback from a teacher if possible.


Verb noun collocations

a) It was his 21st birthday so he decided to throw a party.
b) The student raised a question about the topic in class.
c) The teacher paid him a compliment about his well written IELTS essays.
d) She was late for work so she made an excuse about the train being delayed.
e) The government is giving priority to the issue of air quality in cities.
f) I made an appointment to see the dentist.
g) The student made an effort to improve his essay writing.


Verb adverb collocations

a) The customer complained bitterly about the terrible service.
b) The guests were welcomed warmly when they arrived at the party.
c) She spoke loudly over the phone because the signal wasn’t very good.
d) He smiled proudly when he got his IELTS exam results.
e) He apologised profusely after bumping into the man and spilling his drink.
f) She is a very gentle person who speaks softly.


Adjective noun collocations

a) The boy shows a keen interest in going to University and becoming a Doctor.
b) We had a brief chat about our travel plans for next week.
c) There was heavy snow overnight, and the roads were all blocked.
d) I was given invaluable advice from the teacher about doing the reading test.
e) He suggested going to the beach. It was a fantastic idea so we all decided to go.
f) There is a strong possibility that the climate will get warmer over the next two decades.


Adverb adjective collocations

a) I was utterly shocked by his bad behaviour.
b) She is totally satisfied with her Band 8 score in IELTS
c) It is incredibly stupid to drink and drive.
d) The weather is rather cold for this time of year.
e) The new laws about internet privacy are pretty worrying.
f) I’m extremely interested in getting a Band 9 in IELTS.


Noun collocations

a) There was a ceasefire agreement by the rebel groups.
b) I bought a loaf of bread and a can of coke.
c) He bought a round of drinks for his friends
d) He got a round of applause after his performance
e) They work in the service industry.
f) You need a building permit to build a house.


Collocations with ‘have’ and ‘take’

In British English, the word ‘have’ is quite popular, for example, have a bath, have a look,  have a break. In American English, the word ‘take’ is often used such as, take a bath, take a vacation, take a look.

  • Have a bath – Take a bath
  • Have a drink
  • Have a look – Take a look
  • Have lunch
  • Have fun
  • Have a rest – Take a rest
  • Have a holiday – Take a vacation
  • Have a seat – Take a seat
  • Have a haircut
  • Have a wash
  • Have a shave
  • Have a nice day
  • Have something to eat
  • Have a laugh
  • Have a tough time

So you need to now take action (take action – verb-noun collocation !)  and start your IELTS collocations notebook, remember to make sentences and use them in speaking.


Collocations exercise

What collocations fit into the sentences below?. Try it first then check your answers.

1. Mr Smith was __________ welcomed when he arrived at the conference.
2. There was _______ rain all night, so the streets were flooded.
3.  Many people ________ questions about the government’s new immigration policy.
4. Most developed countries are ________ priority to the implementation of renewable energy.
5. We _______ a reservation for a hotel room.
6. She _________ profusely for arriving late for the meeting.
7. I needed to _______ a haircut so I went to the barbers.
8. Hello Mr Smith, please ______ a seat.
9. I was given ___________ advice about preparing for IELTS writing task 2.
10. Driving while using a smartphone is an __________   silly thing to do.

Answers:

1. Mr Smith was warmly welcomed when he arrived at the conference.
2. There was heavy rain all night, so the streets were flooded.
3.  Many people raised questions about the government’s new immigration policy.
4. Most developed countries are giving priority to the implementation of renewable energy.
5. We made a reservation for a hotel room.
6. She apologised profusely for arriving late for the meeting.
7. I needed to have a haircut so I went to the barbers.
8. Hello Mr Smith, please have a seat.
9. I was given invaluable advice about preparing for IELTS writing task 2.
10. Driving while using a smartphone is an incredibly silly thing to do.


Any questions? Leave a comment below.

 

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