I was getting married. We had already gone through the religious wedding and were just finishing the civil ceremony in front of a crowd of family and friends. Then came the most important moment. The officer who was conducting the ceremony waited a second or two, looked around with a smile on his face and broke the silence loud and clear: “I pronounce you wife and husband!” (He actually said “mujer y marido.”). The guests burst out laughing wildly, literally. I had to seek my witness´s shoulder not to fall on the floor. My new wife could not believe her ears and was staring at another witness in search for an explanation. The officer seemed to understand what he had done and just smiled while he hurriedly pushed the official registry for us to sign.
Why did everybody laugh like that? I am sure he wanted to be a gentleman, not make a joke, and mentioned the lady first, but his good intentions banged with the tyranny of language: the right collocation is “husband and wife” not “wife and husband” (feminists may not like it but that´s the way it is, tough luck).
What are collocations? A collocation is a combination of two or more words that go together in a certain order. For example, do business (not make business), make a phone call (not do a phone call), salt and pepper (not pepper and salt), and of course husband and wife, among many many others.
They are extremely important in any language simply because they are the language itself, the flesh and bones (or is it bones and flesh?) you might call them. You will sound natural and fluent if you use the right collocations. That´s why, recently, textbooks have been including sections in the lessons where these vital word combinations are taught actively. Also, now you can even find collocations dictionaries published by the most important editorials. For us teachers, having a sound knowledge of collocations is central. The following link will give you a better idea with examples and all.