English for Purchasing: Collocations

The English language is a chunky language. A chunk could be best translated into German as “ein Brocken”. Collocations are words that naturally go together to form a chunk, and there are a lot of them in English.

One you may have heard of is “fast food”. We would never say “quick food”. Another example of a collocation from the business world would be “sales figures” (Umsätze). We wouldn’t say “sales numbers”. Why learn collocations? They make your English sound more natural, and you can get to the point faster than if you don’t know the words that go together naturally.

Native speakers will also understand you faster and better if you use the right word combinations to say what you mean. The best way to learn them is to look for them when you hear or read English, and make a note of the words that go together. Learn them as one chunk, and not as separate words.

In the following examples, I have tried to include words and phrases that you could use as a purchaser in your daily business. Remember, learn the word combinations as one unit (eine Einheit), and not as two separate words!

Collocations can be in different combinations:

adjective + noun
noun + noun
noun + verb
verb + noun
verb + adverb

Now that looks really complicated and like the grammar you always hated in school. In order to make it easier to understand and easier to implement in your next English letter, email or conversation, I’ll present here some examples of the above combinations using business language.

Adjective + noun collocations

binding agreement verbindliche Vereinbarung
We would like to remind you that this is a binding agreement.
tough negotiator schwieriger Verhandlungspartner
The head of the department at that company is a tough negotiator.
overall budget das Finanzierungsvolumen
I’m afraid that will exceed our overall budget for this year.

Noun + noun collocations

production schedule die Arbeitsplanung
The production schedule must be checked by the project manager.
frame contract der Rahmenvertrag
We must negotiate a new frame contract with that supplier.
bulk discount der Mengenrabatt
Do you offer a bulk discount on your goods?

Noun + verb collocations

the market der Absatzmarkt
fluctuates schwankt
The market fluctuated a great deal last year, but this year it seems to be stable.
the client demands der Kunde verlangt
Our clients demand a high level of efficiency.
a buyer agrees ein Einkäufer ist einverstanden
The buyer agreed to the terms and conditions of the contract.

Verb + noun collocations

negotiate eine Vereinbarung
an agreement aushandeln
We were able to negotiate the agreement successfully.
delay shipment Auslieferung verzögern / hinausschieben / verschieben
The supplier delayed the shipment and we won’t receive it until next month.
schedule a meeting Besprechungstermin festlegen
I would like to schedule a meeting with your boss for next week.

Verb + adverb collocations

build up slowly langsam aufbauen
They built up their business slowly, and therefore had fewer problems with their delivery schedule.
check thoroughly gründlich prüfen
We checked our records thoroughly and couldn’t find any mistakes.
lower gradually schrittweise senken
The price started out high, but was lowered gradually until the buyer agreed to pay.
build up? check? lower?
A business The time Standards
A client base Notes Expectations
A reputation Information Temperature, volume, levels…

Some of the collocations that are the most difficult to remember are the ones that involve “make” and “do”. The word in German is sometimes the same, either “machen” or “tun”, but when do you use which? There is, unfortunately, no rule about this in English, so you have to just remember the chunks, and write them down as one unit and not as separate words when you are learning your vocabulary. (I am sure all of you are going to take your English vocabulary books and cards on vacation with you and study in your free time…)

It isn’t possible to interchange the “make” and “do” and be correct. Of course, if you use the wrong word, for example you say: “Did you make the copying?” a native speaker would know what you meant, but it wouldn’t sound good to their ears!

If you want to take your English to the next level, start learning collocations. If you become aware of these special combinations of words, it will be easy to start sounding like a native speaker, and also easier to get to the point in your next email or letter that you have to write in English.

Here are some examples of “make” and “do” collocations:

Make a difference Do business
Make a mistake Do research
Make money Do your best
Make an effort Do a good job
Make progress Do a presentation
Make an appointment Do your homework
Make an offer Do the shopping
Make a decision Do the copying
Make plans Do the paperwork
Make a profit Do the preparations
Make a complaint Do sports

Don’t forget about the Internet- it’s a great resource to read, listen and watch English in action!



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Autor: Markus Lemme (Markus Lemme ist Berater und Trainer für die Bereiche Einkauf, Logistik und Verkauf.)