Unintuitive collocations

Collocations are groups of words that appear in a language more frequently than random chance would explain.

There are certain ways of saying things in any language that a learner simply wouldn’t be able to guess without knowing. Directly translating collocations from your own language is a common source of unnatural speech.

For instance, literally saying “take a bath” in Japanese (風呂をとる) will sound obviously unnatural to a Japanese person. You need to use 風呂に入る (literally, enter the bath).

So lets share and talk about them, because studying them is often more useful than studying vocabulary alone. This also includes any associated particles that may or may not jive with the English translation’s sense of motion or transitivity.

Here are some more examples
電話に出る - でんわにでる - to answer the phone (beginners might guess 電話に答える)
試合に勝つ・負ける - しあいにかつ・まける - to win/lose a match (beginners might not realize these verbs are intransitive, thus guessing 試合を勝つ)


Well you have the infamous:
何を教えてください - please “teach” me x

but I gotta mention that it’s pretty worth knowing times where it actually is surprisingly correct when it’s literal.

恋に落ちる - “fall” to love

I was pretty surprised by the 〜してありがとう construction.
Thank you for 〜ing.

It made me wonder if the て-form acts like a noun sometimes.

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I don’t know if I really hear ~してありがとう. I do hear (and use) ~してくれてありがとう

As for the grammar, in this case, the て form is just the end of a clause as far as I can tell. After the clause you continue on.


Ah yes, I forgot the くれて!Thanks

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Do you have a favorite resource specifically for studying collocations? Or just pick them up through normal study and conversation?

This one was new to me:

It seems the more I listen/read, the more I find 出る popping up all over the place where I don’t expect it!

I want to get this book.


I realize it looks like I plagiarized that description, but I honestly didn’t look at it recently! Haha


Oh, the “take a bath” example?
I feel like that’s such a common one, taught early, so it’s well ingrained and easy to remember…
The book looks good!

Well, that and the definition… but to be fair, that’s what you’ll see in dictionaries too.

Do you think that, when choosing which verb to use, the Japanese tend to place more emphasis on the beginning of an action?
as in お風呂に入る
or バスに乗る
(this is an off-the-cuff hypothesis that my husband is coming up with right now)

My theory to explain unintuitive collocations is that Japanese and English have different sets of “all-purpose” verbs that get used when a more precise verb sounds too formal or pretentious.
English frequently uses have, get, take, etc.
Whereas Japanese frequently uses verbs like する、出る、つける, etc.


Not to be confused with collation, which refers both to the noun form of collate and a light snack (particularly on fast days).

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I think you’d need to analyze a ton of collocations to make any assessment of that.

Thought of another one just now when someone used it in the staffroom.

念のため - ねんのため - just in case, just making sure

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Actually, I have to remember collocations for English too. It would be nice to have a great list of Japanese collocations, and put all of these on flashcards, like Anki or Memrise.

This is a pretty good resource for collocations:


You can enter a noun and it trawls a database for common collocations.


Expressions with まま often trip me up.

If you keep going like this…
If nothing changes / As it is now…

It feels so counterintuitive to have the idea of a state remaining unchanged be expressed in a single noun.


気のせい - having only imagined something.

The せいby itself means fault? I couldn’t find it in any dictionary yet. Also I’ve only heard and never read this collocation, so I don’t know if it’s even spelled like this.

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Yeah, that’s how it’s spelled.

To me it makes sense… It’s your mind’s fault.

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Unintuitive to English speakers (but maybe a direct translation for some Europeans), turn on / off the tap uses 開ける/閉める, right?

Actually, I guess it makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

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yes. ~て sometimes work as because (same as ので、から), so ~してくれてありがとう is something like “thank you because you did it for me”