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Linguistic Tips

Binomial Collocations

IPA Chart
Aspects of Language
The -logy Suffix
Binomial Collocations
As Idiomatic As English

Rami Al-Sa'di
English Instructor
Dept. of English, Derna University

Binomial Collocations

     A collocation is a combination of words formed when two or more words are frequently used together in a way that sounds correct, especially to people who use the language as their mother tongue. In the phrase hard frost, hard is a collocation of frost, but strong, for instance, would not sound natural: strong frost is of course syntactically correct and the intended message is certainly clear, but it is semantically incorrect, as it sounds quite unnatural.

     Some lexical items occur so frequently in phrases where they are yoked with another lexical items by means of the additive conjunction "and". These may be envisioned as collocations inasmuch as each two items in any phrase of this kind go together hand in hand in a variety of contexts, and their union appears to be quite uninfringeable. A phrase like "the quick and the dead" is apparently a collocation. If a word like living is used vice quick – which is synonymous with it in this sense – the phrase can still impart the same meaning of course, but there is something about the new phrase that does not feel quite right: "the living and the dead" sounds a lot less natural. In the common phrase "ladies and gentlemen", the order of the two nouns conjoined by and is deep entrenched in our linguistic intuition that we would promptly dismiss a phrase in which the order of the two components is reversed ("gentlemen and ladies") as nonsense.

     This brief argument elucidates the linguistic fact that, although users of language nearly always have a glut of options to choose from for saying something, some of those options demonstrably sound more natural, and hence are more recommendable, than other options. The aim of this article is to provide a nearly exhaustive list – in alphabetical order – of collocations most of which are of the type "N and N (or NP and NP)" and "Adj and Adj". Since the expressions below have been listed without explanations as to their meanings or usage, one may need to consult a dictionary for some of those that are not quite familiar.

alive and kicking

an arm and a leg

aye's and nay's

bag and baggage

bits and pieces

black and blue

black and white

body and soul

bread and butter

bright and early

by and by

by and large

cats and dogs

cock and bull

cut and dried

do's and don'ts

down and about

drag and drop

far and near

far and wide

fair and square

fingers and thumbs

first and foremost

fish and chips

flesh and blood

foot and mouth

for and against

free and easy

fun and games

give and take

hard and fast

head and shoulders

high and low

home and dry

hustle and bustle

hit and miss

hit and run

in peace and in harmony

ins and outs

kith and kin

ladies and gentlemen

law and order

life and soul

loss and gain

man and wife

man and woman

nook and cranny

now and then

null and void

on and off

on and on

out and about

out and out

over and over (again)


pros and cons

the quick and the dead

ragtag and bobtail

safe and sound

short and sweet

sick and tired

sixes and sevens

skin and bone

spick and span

thick and thin

time and again

time and a half

time and tide

tired and emotional

tooth and nail

trial and error

up and about




up and running

(on the) up and up

ups and downs

wear and tear

wheeling and dealing

wit and wisdom



Exercise: Fill in the two gaps with nouns, adjectives, or prepositions in each sentence in order to come up with a collocation that best completes the sentence. If need be, the meaning of the collocation is provided between brackets next to each sentence.


1. It's holiday time now at last. We'll be ___ and ___for Scotland. (travelling from place to place)

2. The whole project is an ___-and-___ disaster. (in every way)


A: How's your granddad?

B: He's still ___ and ___. (to continue to be alive and full of energy)

4. In a computer, you can move the file from one folder to another by cut and paste or, as this process is alternatively called in computer science, ___ and ___.

5. She was beaten ___ and ___ in the match. (completely)

6. When the teacher went out of class, the students stood up to all sorts of ___ and ___. (glee; boisterous fun)

7. He spends his time ___ and ___ on the stock exchange. (making profit in dishonest ways)

8. A list of ___ and ___ is given to every recruit. (things to do and things not to do)

9. It was raining ___ and ___, and I got soaked to the skin. (heavily)

10. ___ and ___, the higher one's education, the more money they make. (Generally)

11. The judge declared the contract ___ and ___, as one of the two parties hadn't signed it. (invalid)

12. I've been learning French ___ and ___ recently. (intermittently)

13. I'm not surprised Olaf and his wife have at last got divorced. They've always been fighting ___ and ___. (fiercely)

14. I now pronounce you ___ and ___. (a married couple)

15. I can't just believe it. It's just another of his ___ and ___ stories. (lies)

16. It's a ___ and ___ rule at this club that you never borrow money from your fellow members. (inviolable)

17. I enjoy the peacefulness and quietude of the countryside, but there are times when I miss the ___ and ___ of London.

18. ___ and ___ wait for no man. (This is an axiom that means time is important)

19. We're leaving to Bristol tomorrow. We'll be up ___ and ___ before the traffic builds up. (We'll be up very early)

20. You must look after yourself. Just look at you! Only ___ and ___. (very thin)

21. You can't throw your sister out surely – not your ___ and ___! (close relation)

22. ___ and ___, welcome to the show. (Women and men)

23. Beatrice was such a nice guy with a great sense of humour. He was the ___ and ___ of the party. (He enlivened the party)

24. You don't need to install the software that accompanies this removable disk. It's a ___ and ___. (It works as soon as it's connected to the computer)

25. The manager had to weigh the ___ and ___ to the proposal. (advantages and disadvantages)

26. She's brilliant. She's ___ and ___ above her classmates.

27. Her home is so ___ and ___. It's more like a museum.

28. You can argue with her until you're ___ and ___ in the face and just waste your time. She wouldn't change her mind.

29. The French police are dispersing the rioting crowds and are trying to restore ___ and ___.

30. He's sure to break those plates if you ask him to carry them. He's all ___ and ___. (clumsy)


Answer key: you are strongly advised to work through the whole exercise before you check your answers with the key.


1. out and about

2. out-and-out

3. alive and kicking

4. drag and drop

5. fare and square

6. fun and games

7. wheeling and dealing

8. do's and don'ts

9. cats and dogs

10. By and large

11. null and void

12. on and off

13. tooth and nail

14. man and wife

15. cock and bull

16. hard and fast

17. hustle and bustle

18. Time and tide

19. bright and early

20. skin and bone

21. flesh and blood

22. Ladies and gentlemen

23. life and soul

24. plug and play

25. pro's and con's

26. head and shoulders

27. spick and span

28. black and blue

29. law and order

30. fingers and thumbs



"In my sport the quick are too often listed among the dead."

Attributed to Jackie Stewart (1939 -  )

British racing car driver.

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