Are we all on an equal footing when it comes to collocations? Here’s Tim Bowen with his feet firmly on the ground.

Footing is defined as ‘a firm position for your feet on a surface’ but it can also be used more figuratively to mean ‘the basic conditions in which something operates or the position of one person in a group in relation to another’. In the former sense, it is normally preferable to have a secure, sound, solid or stable footing. However, you may lose your footing, as in ‘She suddenly lost her footing on the icy surface and fell, injuring her arm’. Having lost your footing, you will probably try to regain it, as in ‘He slipped and fell but quickly regained his footing and reached the safety of the river-bank’.

With its second meaning, footing can be preceded by several adjectives, notably equal, as in ‘All staff should be treated on an equal footing when it comes to pay and conditions’, proper, as in ‘I just feel that it’s the right time to put our relationship on a proper footing’ and permanent, as in ‘The emergency measures created to bail out troubled Eurozone member states may be put on a more permanent footing’.

Footing is often used with adjectives such as equal, even and level to follow the verb compete, as in ‘Women are encouraged to achieve and compete on an equal footing with men’ and ‘Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to compete on a level footing with those based in countries where labour costs are lower’.

If something is put or placed on a legal footing, it is given a legal status, as in ‘He believes that sanctions against drugs in sport should be put on a legal footing’.