20 confusing English collocations


1000 Collocations E-Book

Do you know the difference between “making trouble” and “taking the trouble”?

What about “having fun” and “making fun”?

Today I’m going to clarify some confusing collocations with the words have, make, and take. These are some of the most common verbs in English, and they’re used in tons of collocations.

The meaning often changes depending on which verb is used, so in this lesson we’ll go through several pairs of collocations and learn when to use each one.

have an advantage / take advantage

If you have an advantage, it means you are in a better position when compared to someone else. If one job candidate has 7 years of work experience and another candidate has only 2 years, the one with more experience has an advantage, he is more likely to be hired.

To take advantage means to take action so that you profit or benefit from a situation. This can be a good thing – if you get a scholarship to study abroad, you should take advantage of the opportunity, accept the opportunity for your benefit.

Or it can be a bad thing, like sometimes during political protests, people take advantage of the chaos and the distracted police in order to steal things from stores.

make an appointment / have an appointment

Make an appointment refers to the action of setting or scheduling the appointment. If I need a checkup, I’d call my doctor’s office and make an appointment for next week; I’m establishing the time and date of the future appointment.

After the appointment is made, now I can say I have an appointment – meaning there is an appointment already scheduled. So when I walk into the doctor’s office I might say “I have an appointment for 10:30.”

take a break / make a break

To take a break means to pause an activity or pause work so you can rest for a short time. In the middle of a 3-hour meeting, your boss might tell everyone to take a break for 10 minutes so people can use the bathroom, get some coffee, and so on.

To make a break means something totally different – it’s to run suddenly and try to escape. If I’m walking my dog and I let him off his leash, he might make a break – run away from me – maybe he’s going to go chase a cat. Make a break means to run away trying to escape.

have a chance / take a chance

To have a chance (or sometimes have the chance) simply means to have some time available to do something. If I call my sister and she’s busy, I might leave a message saying “Call me back when you have a chance” – when you have time available.

To take a chance means to try something risky or dangerous, or something that might not succeed. When a guy asks a girl out on a date, he’s taking a chance – she might agree to go out, or she might reject him. There’s a risk of failure.

make a call / take a call

To make a phone call means you initiate the call, you call somebody.

To take a call means you receive the call, somebody else calls you and you agree to answer. If you’re going to be in a meeting with a client, you might tell your coworkers “I can’t take any calls this afternoon” – meaning you’re not available to receive calls.

make an exception / take exception

When you make an exception, it means you permit someone to do something against the rules or customs. Let’s say a homework assignment is due on Thursday, but a student turns it in on Friday with apologies and says he was having problems with his computer, the teacher might make an exception and allow him to submit the assignment late.

Take exception to something means to strongly disagree or be offended by it. If a reporter from a magazine interviews me, but then the published article twists my words and presents them completely out of context in order to make me look bad, I could say “I take exception to the way my views were portrayed in that article” – I disagree with it and I’m offended by it.

have fun / make fun

When you’re having fun, you’re enjoying yourself. The kids are having fun at the birthday party. We had fun at the beach last weekend.

To make fun of someone means to tease or mock the person, you are joking about them in a way that could be light and funny, but that could also hurt their feelings, depending on what exactly is said and the tone of voice.

In college, my friends used to make fun of me for being short, and I used to laugh about it, too. But maybe in school some kids make fun of one child for being fat, or for having a strange name, and that would make the child feel bad.

have time / make time / take your time

If you have time, it means there is time available for you to use. For example, I have time to go to the bank after work.

On the other hand, if your schedule is very busy and you need to do one more activity, then you would need to make time for it – make time means to adjust your schedule, maybe by canceling or delaying something, in order to create the opportunity for the task.

Finally, to take your time means to do something slowly and carefully, without rushing. For example, when you join a course at Espresso English, you can take your time – you can study at a nice and relaxed pace – because your access won’t expire.

have trouble / make trouble / take the trouble

If you have trouble, it means you have a problem or you have difficulty. I might tell my husband, I’m having trouble getting this jar open, can you help me?

When you make trouble, it means you’re causing a problem or causing difficulty. If some kids in the classroom are talking loudly and behaving badly, they’re making trouble, because they’re causing it to be more difficult for everyone else to learn.

And then when you take the trouble to do something, it means you make a special effort to do it, maybe you’re doing something extra that a regular person might not normally do.

For example, my dad helps a lot of people with their computer problems, and not only does he fix the problems, but he also takes the trouble to explain it to them – so he does the additional step of providing a patient and detailed explanation.

Different verbs, same meaning

Now there are a few collocations where different verbs are used but the meaning is the same – let me show you a couple of these:

  • take a shower / have a shower – mean the same thing, to wash yourself in the shower. At least in American English, “take a shower” is more common. Same for bath – you can take a bath or have a bath
  • take a nap / have a nap – these are the same. Or you could say take a rest / have a rest
  • take a look / have a look – both of these are informal ways to talk about looking at something with your eyes, often for the purposes of evaluating the thing. Your dentist might say “Let me take a look at your teeth” or a co-worker might say “I had a look at the data.”

If you want to remember these collocations better, I’d encourage you to try writing your own example sentences using each one – this will help establish the differences in your memory.

You can learn even more with my e-book, 1000 Collocations in 10 Minutes a Day.

It’s full of quick lessons and quizzes that will teach you tons of common collocations, so that you can expand your vocabulary and be able to express yourself better in English – and also avoid mistakes with collocations, avoid putting words together in a way that sounds unnatural.

I believe this is my most popular e-book; everyone loves how easy it is to complete the lessons.

Thanks for watching and I’ll talk to you next time. Bye for now!

Learn the common combinations of words used by native English speakers!
1000-collocations-cover+MP3

Learn more about this e-book