In English, a collocation is a group of words which go together to create a particular meaning. This sounds a little complicated, but it isn’t. An example or two should help. When a student finishes a course, he or she will often say they want to make a photo. Then they take out their phone. Then they 'make a picture'.

Well, actually, they don’t. They 'take a picture'. ‘To take a picture’ is an example of collocation. It is a collocation which uses a verb, ‘to take’, and a noun, ‘a picture’. When these are combined in one group, ‘to take a picture’, it just sounds right to an English ear. If someone says, ‘I made a picture’, I understand what they mean. It is not, however, an example of ‘good collocation’.

If it still isn’t clear, another example might help. In England, it rains – a lot. Of course, there are different kinds of rain. Sometimes, for example in spring, it is a gentle rain. At other times it can be a much more powerful rain, that wets you completely. In English, we would call that kind of rain, ‘heavy rain’. If someone says to me, ‘it’s very big rain today’, I would answer, ‘Yes, it’s very heavy rain.’ ‘Heavy’ and ‘big’ might have similar meanings sometimes, but when we are talking about the strength of the rain, we would bring together the adjective ‘heavy’ with the noun ‘rain’, to form a collocation that sounds natural to English speakers.

Good collocation is very important in legal English. There are very many collocations. In general English, it usually does not matter too much if you get them wrong. Most English people are just glad that you are speaking their language and will not judge you for collocation mistakes or errors. The professional world of the law, however, is a different matter. It is therefore important to try and get your collocations right, wherever you can.

One piece of advice I always give is that when you meet a new legal English collocation, learn it as a combined piece of language – I call it a ‘chunk’ of language, a chunk just being a large piece. This also applies to phrasal verbs, of course, where you must do this. Learning language in chunks and understanding its special meaning – rather than learning individual pieces of vocabulary – is an excellent sign that your English is moving to a higher level.

If you want a little bit of practice, I have added two exercises to try. And remember: if you meet new collocations that you don’t understand, make a note of them and learn them in their combined meaning. So, let’s go.


The noun ‘a contract’ collocates with many verbs. Give yourself two minutes and try to form as many ‘verb + a contract’ collocations as you can in that time. For example, ‘to sign a contract’. I will give some possible collocations at the end of the post.

[Tip: Divide your collocations into three categories – (1) pre-contract/negotiation, (2) during the contract, and (3) the end of the contract.]


In the following short text, you will see a number of collocations, numbered (1) to (10). There are two alternatives for each collocation. Decide which word makes the best collocation.

In classical English contract theory, in order to (1) fabricate/form a legally (2) binding/adherent contract, four elements must be established. First, an offer must be (3) produced/made by one party, called the ‘offeror’, to another party, called the ‘offeree’. Secondly, the offer must be (4) agreed/accepted by the offeree. Thirdly, there must be ‘consideration’. Basically, consideration means there must be some kind of (5) interchangeable/mutual exchange. Sometimes, it is said that there is a requirement that the parties both (6) obtain/win a benefit and (7) sustain/suffer a detriment. Finally, there must be (8) a desire/ an intention to create legal relations. If all the elements are established, the parties will have entered (9) in/into a contract and, if necessary, will be able to (10) compel/enforce the contract through legal proceedings.



These are just a few of the possibilities. There are others. Make sure you understand the meaning of each collocation. Note that some of the vocabulary will appear in separate posts under the ENGLISH COMMERCIAL VOCABULARY heading.

1. Pre-contract/Negotiation:

To negotiate a contract

To draw up a contract

To draft a contract

To sign a contract

To execute a contract

To enter into a contract

2. During the contract

To perform a contract

To carry out a contract

To rescind a contract

To repudiate a contract

To breach [be in breach of] a contract

To enforce a contract

3. End of the contract

To terminate a contract

To discharge a contract (the discharge of a contract may occur by performing all the obligations under the contract)


(1) form

(2) binding

(3) made

(4) accepted

(5) mutual

(6) obtain

(7) suffer

(8) intention

(9) into

(10) enforce

(c) Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020

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