Collocations and Verb Phrases

How can you understand collocations and verb phrases in English? Why do you make the bed, but do the dishes? This confuses many English language students. It is very important for learners to understand common collocations and verb phrases. Everyday English is made up of thousands of these, many of which native speakers may not even realize they are using.

For example: Why do English speakers eat fast food, but not quick food? This is common collocation in English. Fast and food are just always used together or collocate.

Are there rules to know when to use certain words together? Not really! That’s the interesting thing about English! Collocations and verb phrases can vary, as well. You may find them to be different in different areas. Think about how in the United States you grab some take out food, but in Britain, it’s take away food.

To properly understand collocations and verb phrases, a learner simply needs to learn them as a whole unit, like a vocabulary word. This can be done by memorization, but as I suggest, learning by listening and then using helps your brain get used to what “sounds right”. By exposure to the use of them in naturally occurring conversation, music, movies, T.V, and even in literature, you can learn them the way a native speaker learns even the trickiest collocations and verb phrases.

Idioms are closely related to collocations and verb phrases. Idioms differ because they are sayings, or made up of a longer phrase of words. Collocations and verb phrases, although occasionally longer, are usually just two words. The individual words may or may not contribute to the actual meaning. In general, collocations and verb phrases are easier to figure out than idioms based on their individual words.

So take a break, and watch the YouTube blog video I’ve made on this subject!

Click here!


Prescriptive and Descriptive Language Views– Understanding Language

I often tell my students and other language teachers that I hate grammar. “But how can you be an English teacher and hate grammar!” is often the reply. While it is true that I have to teach grammar concepts, and yes, even live by them, I simply don’t care much for them. Grammar (and by extension spelling) rules are confusing and difficult. Just ask any student of English. Most native speakers learn English intuitively, without memorizing the complicated rules, so they speak and write according to what ‘sounds correct’. Second language learners must struggle to understand countless rules and exceptions to rules.

The linguistic terms ‘prescriptive’ and ‘descriptive’ are used to describe two contrasting views of a language. In my latest video, I explain the difference. You can tell that I am more of a descriptivist, since I don’t like grammar. My approach to teaching English is to teach non-native speakers how to sound like native speakers, not necessarily follow all of the rules. Other language professionals, such as grammarians, are more prescriptionist in their views. They prefer to remind everyone how a language, like English, should be used. In reality, like most things, a balance is needed. A language must be looked from both sides. Check out my video and let me know what you think!

(click here for the YouTube video link)

Did you know? According to linguists that study this subject, most languages in the world are only spoken, not written. Out of the over 7,000 identified languages, it is estimated that 2/3 are spoken, but not written. While some of these languages may actually have a writing system or alphabet, it may not be used by the majority of the native speakers, due to tradition or illiteracy.

Q & A about Gerunds

Have you ever been confused by a gerund? Don’t be! Gerunds are a simple English grammar concept. Let’s answer some questions about gerunds.

What is a gerund?

A gerund is formed from a verb but acts as a noun. A gerund always ends in –ing. Running, walking, driving. Gerunds are actions.

What is the difference between a gerund and a noun?

Although gerunds act as nouns, they are not people, places or things. Gerunds are actions. They name activities, behaviors, or states of mind and being.

What is the difference between a gerund and a present participle?

The –ing form of a verb can be used either as a gerund or a present participle. A present participle is the form of a verb that is used in continuous tenses, I’m thinking; alone in nonfinite clauses, thinking about it, I’m not sure what to do; as a noun, that’s good thinking; or as an adjective, running water. This can be tricky, and in most cases, unless you are studying for a grammar exam, it isn’t really important to know the difference. Native English speakers don’t usually know (or care) whether they are using a gerund or a present participle, they just know the –ing form of the word sounds right.

What is the difference between a gerund and an infinitive?

Infinitives are “to” plus a verb. to run, to walk, to drive.

Both gerunds and infinitives can be subjects in a sentence or be the object of a verb. Running is enjoyable. To run is enjoyable. I like walking. I like to walk.  However a gerund can be the object of a preposition, while an infinitive cannot. He is enjoying running in the park.

When should I use a gerund, and when do I use an infinitive?

Use a gerund in sentences about concrete (or real) actions, and ones that happened and are over. I like running. Running is a real and concrete action. We went walking in the park. Walking is an action, it happened and is now over. While infinitives are sometimes used as objects of a preposition, most speakers generally prefer to use gerunds. She bought new shoes for running on the track.

Infinitives are better suited for describing actions that are abstract, unreal, or will occur in the future. I asked him to walk with me. “to walk” is an action planned in the future. I told him to refuse to come. “to refuse” is an abstract action. While an infinitive can appear at the beginning of a sentence as the subject, it is more common for speakers to use an infinitive as a subject complement instead. His favorite activity is to walk in the park.

The best way to learn to use gerunds is by listening to how they are used by native English speakers. Pay attention to when speakers and writers use the –ing form of verbs.

6 Keys to Fluency: 5. Don’t Get Hung Up on Grammar

When you get hung up on something, that means you are stuck on it in the sense that you are thinking too much about it or worrying about it.  Getting hung up on grammar means to worrying so much about how you are saying something, that you can’t concentrate, or think about, what you are saying (or what another person is telling you) to have a fluent conversation.  Paying too much attention to being grammatically correct becomes distracting to your brain, and then you cannot focus on the quick back and forth of a conversation in English.

This is not an unusual problem for learners.  I have met many English language learners that score really well on exams and probably know more about English grammar than I do, but have a difficult time keeping a normal conversation going in English.  Instead of approaching the complications of English grammar from an academic standpoint and memorizing the long lists of rules and exceptions to rules, it is better to learn it the way most native speakers learn it, by listening and practical usage.  If you ask a native speaker why he uses grammar in a certain way,  he will probably reply that “it sounds right”.   That’s the way most native speakers figure out the correct answers on grammar exams too! (and the reason why so many native speakers have bad grammar habits)

Of course, some basic grammar rules must be learned, and even memorized.  There is no way around that in any language.  However, beyond the basics, listening to English conversations and learning the way phrases are used by native speakers goes much farther in helping a student become fluent. I personally hate teaching advanced grammar rules to students, mainly because it is boring and complicated both for them and me.  Over the years, I have made an extensive study of the English language and all of its peculiarities, and I still am learning new things about grammar all the time.  So don’t worry too much about having perfect grammar when you are speaking to someone, chances are that no one will even notice if you make a mistake or two.

Thanks for reading my blog.  It is very important to me to meet the needs of learners of all types.  Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment about anything you would like me to talk about in the blog or check out my Facebook page for more cool stuff.  I also have video course available for purchase on  If there are any topics you would like me to host a course on, please let me know!  If I use your suggestion in my next course, I will make the course available to you at no charge.



Student Question: When do I use ‘each’ and when do I use ‘every’?

Many times it is ok to use either word and the meaning is the same. These words are adjectives used to describe regularity of something happening or occurrence. For example either word is correct in the following sentences:

  • She goes to the beach every time I visit.
  • She goes to the beach each time I visit.

However, ‘each’ and ‘every’ are not always interchangeable. Sometimes one word is better than the other to use. Here is what to keep in mind when choosing to use ‘each’ or ‘every’:

  • ‘Each’ is used for smaller numbers or when you want the listener or reader to think of the nouns you are talking about separately.  She gave each of the three children a different toy.
  • ‘Each’ can be used with or without a noun, but ‘every’ must be used with a noun.  Each was different from the other.  Every child is different.
  • ‘Each’ is also used with money expressions for how much a particular item costs, such as $1 each, each one for $3, etc.
  • ‘Every’ is used when nouns are thought of collectively as a group or are large in number. It can be used in place of ‘all’.  This is why we have words like everyone and everybody. The children have played with every toy in the house.
  • ‘Every’ is also used with time expressions for how often something happens, such as everyday, every half hour, etc.
  • ‘Every’ is used as well for describing how far apart things are in a series, such as every two feet or every other one, etc.
  • ‘Each and every’ is an expression used for emphasis. Pick up each and every toy!