“Make a Difference” or “Create a Difference?” 5 Essential English Collocations, Explained
Hamburgers and french fries.
Socks and shoes.
Lizzy and Darcy.
Some things are just made to be together.
Did you know there are even certain English words that go hand-in-hand?
These words are called collocations. You’ll always find them hanging out together like best friends.
Perhaps you’ve already come across some unique expressions or collocations that you’d love to add to your repertoire, but aren’t sure how to incorporate them into your daily conversations.
We’ve narrowed down the list to five of the most commonly used collocations in English. We’ll show you what they mean and how to incorporate them into your own communication.
What Are Collocations?
Although the term “collocation” may sound very intimidating, it simply refers to a phrase of two or more words that are commonly used together. Usually, if you replace one of the words in a collocation with a similar word, the phrase will sound strange and unnatural—even if the meaning is technically the same.
Collocations can express actions, emotions or ideas. They’re used in both formal and informal speech, and different types of English, such as business English, often have their own collocations.
By mastering commonly used collocations like the ones in this article, you won’t just sound like a more fluent and natural English speaker, but will also be able to express yourself better with the expanded vocabulary.
Besides these five examples, there are many more collocations in the English language. To learn more, I recommend using a program that uses media made by and for actual English speakers, like the videos on FluentU. The program has many built-in tools to help you find, save and study more collocations, as well as many other vocabulary words and phrases.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
5 Must-know English Collocations for Everyday Use
1. Have a Good Time/Day
This phrase is one that you definitely want to note down! The verb you’ll always hear in this collocation is “has.” You won’t hear English speakers say “make a good time,” “enjoy a good time,” etc.
“Have a good time!” can be used at the end of a conversation in a variety of informal situations.
When you’re leaving the café with a friend who’s going to the movies that afternoon, you can say, “Have a good time at the movies!” as you wave goodbye. Or if someone’s going on vacation and you won’t see them again before they leave, you can say, “Have a good time on your trip!”
Another very similar phrase would be, “Have a good day!” which is more versatile. It can be used in both formal and informal situations.
Whether it’s the food vendor outside your apartment, your best friend or a business partner in a formal meeting, it’s always appropriate to tell them, “Have a good day!” instead of just saying “Goodbye.”
It makes them feel more cheerful and you’ll feel brighter and lighter as well! Be sure to try it the next time you’re out shopping or even when you’re just speaking on the phone. It doesn’t hurt to wish someone a good day!
2. Catch a Cold
If you’re an avid baseball fan, do note that catching a ball and catching a cold are two entirely different things.
When someone catches a cold, it usually means that they’re currently sneezing terribly or they have a bad sore throat. Basically, they feel sick.
You might occasionally hear an English speaker say that they’re “getting a cold,” but the collocation “catch a cold” is more common.
When the cold season approaches, you’ll often hear English speakers warn one another, “Dress warmly so you don’t catch a cold!” It’s a gentle reminder to wear appropriate winter clothing so that you don’t accidentally fall sick. No one likes being sick, of course.
Another common situation where you’ll hear this phrase is in a working environment. If an employee’s unable to come to work for the day, they’ll probably tell their supervisor, “I’m unable to come to work today as I caught a cold.”
The next time you feel unwell (we hope it’s not often!) do try to use this collocation.
3. Save Time
If you’re thinking about putting “time” into a box and storing it away in your cupboard, please don’t try! We all know that it isn’t possible! (But if you do find a way, be sure to let us know.)
The collocation “save time” refers to getting something done faster than expected (or not having to do it at all). In other words, the time that you didn’t have to spend on that activity is the time that you “saved” and can now use for other things. It’s similar to the idea of “saving money” with a discount coupon, for example.
This collocation is commonly seen in advertisements, often for technological products or appliances. Fancy washing machines that can wash clothes faster will help you save time. Pressure cookers that can prepare food very quickly will save time for you.
Additionally, this collocation can be used in lots of everyday contexts. If you have a lot of projects at the office, you might ask your coworker to help you with paperwork so that you can save time.
4. Make a Difference
You can make a difference!
This collocation carries a positive meaning. To make a difference means doing something beneficial—usually something that’s good for a whole community. And that’s undeniably something that we all want to do!
For example, when you make a donation to a charity organization, you’ve made a difference for all the people that charity serves. When you volunteer your time at an orphanage, you’ve made a difference for the kids there. You could even make a small difference for your neighbors simply by cleaning up trash along your street.
This is a very common and rigid collocation—you won’t hear English speakers change the verb. For example, “do a difference” or “create a difference” would sound strange.
5. Do Business
This collocation is most often used in professional settings. To “do business” with someone usually refers to the buying and selling of goods or providing services between companies and clients.
For example, if you work with English-speaking customers or business partners, you might tell them, “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you” after completing a contract. Or if someone you know had a bad experience working with a company, they might advise you, “Don’t do business with them!”
If you’re just having a coffee with a colleague from work, don’t refer to it as “doing business.” That would be using a collocation in the wrong context. You can simply refer to it as “catching up” with a friend, which would mean that you and your friend are taking the time to tell each other about what’s been happening in your lives.
There we have it! Five of the most common collocations that you’ll definitely find useful in daily English conversations. Be sure to practice them often and you’ll find yourself speaking more naturally in no time at all.
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.