Making an effort and telling a joke: avoiding common errors with collocations


by Liz Walter

Collocation, or the way we put words together, is a very important part of English. In this post, I am going to look at some of the most common mistakes learners make with verb + noun collocations. If you make these errors, people will still understand you, but your English will not sound natural and you will lose marks in exams.

Students often make mistakes with make and do. You should use make with the following words: effortchangeprogressmistakearrangementimprovement:

I made one mistake in my calculations.

She made a big effort to be friendly.

They did some changes to the rules.

You need do with these nouns: homeworkresearchworkexperiment:

I usually do my homework after school.

Scientists did an experiment to test the theory.

We had to make some research about tigers.

There are some other common errors where students use ‘make’ when they should use another verb. For instance, the most common verb to use with party is have.

We had a party on Saturday.

We made a party on Saturday.

Similarly, we do not use the verb ‘make’ with exam or test. The best verb to use is take, though we also say do, which is slightly more informal:

He took/did his driving test last week.

He made his driving test last week.

Finally, we use take, not ‘make’ or ‘do’, with photo(graph) or picture.

I took a photograph of the house.

I made a photograph of the house.

On the other hand, students sometimes use other verbs when they should use make. For example, we make friends and make (or slightly more formally, in UK English, take) decisions.

I hope you make some friends soon.

I hope you get some friends soon.

We made/took the decision to leave.

We had/did the decision to leave.

Make, not ‘say’, is also used with comment:

He made some unpleasant comments about my work.

He said some unpleasant comments about my work.

There are couple more common collocation errors where students use the verb ‘say’ when they should use a different verb. For instance, we use give with example and tell with joke and lie:

She gave several examples of successful local businesses.

She said several examples of successful local businesses.

Don’t tell me any more lies!

Don’t say me any more lies!

I hope you find this useful – learning collocations is one of the best ways to improve your English!


16 thoughts on “Making an effort and telling a joke: avoiding common errors with collocations

  1. I don’t think that you can say “cut a joke”; a correct synonym of “tell” in this context is “crack a joke”. You can also say “sit an exam” apart from “take an exam” and “pass comments” apart from “make comments”.

  2. Kenneth

    Morrisons the supermarket uses the following slogan, which doesn’t sound correct but it is correct: “Morrisons makes bread”. It would be better, if it were “Morrisons’ make bread.

    1. Liz Walter

      Hmmm … it appears that the brand name is actually ‘Morrisons’, unlike, say, Sainsbury’s, so I don’t see a justification for an apostrophe. If you were to use a plural verb, it could sound as though there were lots of people called Morrison making the bread!

  3. Adam Szekely

    Thanks a lot for this summary.
    I was wondering if there are any rules/guidances as to which verb to use with which noun or it is completely arbitrary.
    My students have a hard time getting these right and all I can tell them is that this is the way it is and they have to just learn them on a one-by-one basis.

    1. Liz Walter

      I’m afraid I don’t have any better advice, except that a good learner’s dictionary will give guidance on collocation.

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