We can define 'collocation' as “the way in which words are used together regularly”, but in every language there are some restrictions on how words can be used together. In English, for example, we say to do a favour, but to make a mistake; to write somebody a letter, but to drop somebody a line; to perform an operation (in a hospital), but to carry out an operation (on the battlefield); we compose music, set a record, reach a verdict, inflict a wound, etc. Collocations fall into two major groups: grammatical collocations and lexical collocations.
It’s important for students to know how verbs, nouns and adjectives are grammatically constructed, that is what their grammatical collocations are: what preposition usually follows certain verbs, nouns or adjectives, if they pattern with a to-infinitive, an –ing form, a that-clause, etc., e.g. to suffer from, to taste of, to invest in, etc.; to finish + -ing form, to manage + to-infinitive, to believe + that-clause, to be believed + to-infinitive, etc.
Most words combine freely with practically any other word, depending solely on the meaning you want to convey; thus, you can condemn (censurar) practically anything. There are words, however, which tend to occur with some words and not with others, and it is these lexical collocations that students must know well if they want their English to be idiomatic: e.g. you make an impression, do research, set the alarm clock, lay the table (also set the table), you refer to a flock of sheep, but to a pack of wolves, a shoal of fish, but a school of whales, etc.
Today we're going to have a look at the lexical collocations of to put, to set and to lay. All three verbs can be translated into Spanish as 'poner', but they are not interchangeable, since they don't have the same collocations. Here are some of the commonest collocations of each one:
to put sth somewhere (poner algo en algún sitio)
to put an advertisement in the paper (poner un anuncio en el periódico)
to put oneself on somebody's place (ponerse en el lugar de alguien)
to put sb on a diet (poner a alguien a régimen)
to put sth to the vote (someter algo a votación)
to put the children to bed (acostar a los niños)
to put sb in the picture (about sth) [poner a alguien al corriente (sobre algo)]
to set sth somewhere (poner/colocar algo en algún sitio)
to set a ladder against the wall (poner una escalera contra la pared)
to set foot in (poner los pies en)
to set the table (poner la mesa) (also with lay)
to set an exam (poner un examen)
to set the alarm clock (poner el despertador)
to set a record (establecer un récord)
to set a trap for sb (poner una trampa a alguien)
to set a date for a wedding (poner fecha para la boda)
to set fire to/to set sth on fire (incendiar, prender fuego a)
to set eyes on sb/sth (ver algo/a alguien) (also with lay)
to set free (poner en libertad)
to set one’s heart on doing sth (desear hacer algo con todo el alma)
to set one’s mind at rest (tranquilizarse) (also with put)
to set sail (zarpar, hacerse a la mar)
to set sth to music (poner música a algo)
to set the pace (marcar la pauta)
to lay sth somewhere (poner algo en algún sitio)
to lay the table (poner la mesa) (also with set)
to lay the carpet before cleaning (extender la alfombra antes de limpiarla)
to lay the fire (preparar el fuego)
to lay an egg (poner un huevo)
to lay a finger on sb (ponerle a alguien la mano encima)
to lay eyes on sb/sth (ver algo/a alguien) (also with set)
to lay it on (thick) (exagerar, cargar las tintas)
to lay one’s hands on sb/sth (poner la mano encima a alguien, agarrar algo/a alguien)
to lay stress/emphasis on sth (hacer hincapié/poner énfasis en algo)
to lay the blame on sb (echar la culpa a alguien)
to lay the foundations (of sth) [poner los cimientos (de algo)]
to lay some money on sth (apostar dinero a)
Fill in the blanks with the right form of to put, to set or to lay:
a.- I’m going to ......the children to bed.
b.- The journalist has ......it on thick.
c.- That hen hasn’t ..... an egg for weeks.
d.- The priest’s words .....his mind at rest.
e.- .....yourself in my place.
f.- They’re no longer .....the pace in the computer market.
g.- The mob ....fire to the palace.
h.- I haven’t .........eyes on him for ages.
i.- Let’s ....it to the vote!
j.- The new coach has ......his heart on winning the European Cup final.
a.- put; b.- laid; c.- laid, d.- set/put; e.- Put; f.- setting; g.- set; h.- laid/set; i.- put; j.- set.