Tim Bowen demonstrates his mental toughness with a set of tricky collocations.

With the meaning of difficult, the adjective tough collocates with a number of words that refer to a match, race or competition, such as challenge, encounter, fight, fixture and game, as in ‘It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever taken part in’. In a similar context, it can also be used with types of exercise, e.g. climb and workout, as in ‘The view from the top is worth the tough climb’.

Jobs, assignments and tasks can be tough, as can choices and decisions, as in ‘He has always avoided taking tough decisions’. Negotiations is a noun often used with tough, as in ‘Be prepared for some tough negotiations if you want to get a better deal. Questions in an exam or at an interview can also be described as tough, as in ‘Most of the exam was easy but I found the last question a bit tough’.

With the meaning of strict or severe, tough is followed by on, as in ‘The police are getting tough on illegal traders’. In this sense, tough on collocates with a number of words for illicit behaviour such as crime, drugs, illegal immigration, terror and terrorism, as in ‘The new government has indicated that it will be tough on crime’. It is also used with the perpetrators of these activities, and, in particular, with the words criminals and offenders, as in ‘Many people believe the courts should be tougher on criminals, imposing tougher sentences’.

Finally, when it means strong, confident and determined, various adverbs collocate with tough. In addition to adverbs of degree such as exceptionally and remarkably, the adverbs emotionally and mentally can also be used with tough, as in ‘You need to be mentally tough as well as physically fit to complete a marathon’.