The General Notion of a Word

The Word as the Central Unit of the Language, Lexical and Grammatical Meaning of the Word. Their Usage in English Language and Phraseological Units and Idiomatic Expressions. Grammatical meaning is defined as the expression in Speech of relationships.

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Chapter1.The General Notion of a Word

1.1 The Word as the Central Unit of the Language

1.2 Lexical and Grammatical Meaning of the Word

Chapter2.Phrasal Words and Their Usage in English Language

2.1 Free Word-Groups and Phraseological Units

2.2 Classifications of Phraseological Units

2.3 Proverbs and Idioms

2.4 The place of Phraseological Units and Idiomatic Expressions in English Language




On the one hand, it is well known and commonly assumed in linguistics and the philosophy of language that speakers don't use words in isolation, but that they use words inside the frame (or in the web in Anita Naciscione's own words) of discourse, and that words vary their meanings according to the different collocations they have in discourse at that very moment1 when they are used. On the other hand, when lexicalized, these collocations of words in discourse become phraseological units, which have a particular meaning in a given natural language. So phraseological units have a figurative meaning, which differs from the literal meaning that words usually (and considered in isolation) have. For that reason the study, knowledge, and command of the actual use of phraseological units is an exciting field of study for linguists, particularly for those whose main job is to teach a foreign language

The vocabulary of a language is enriched not only by words but also by phraseological units. Phraseological units are word-groups that cannot be made in the process of speech, they exist in the language as ready-made units. They are compiled in special dictionaries. The same as words phraseological units express a single notion and are used in a sentence as one part of it. American and British lexicographers call such units idioms. We can mention such dictionaries as: L.Smith Words and Idioms, V.Collins A Book of English Idioms etc. In these dictionaries we can find words, peculiar in their semantics (idiomatic), side by side with word-groups and sentences. In these dictionaries they are arranged, as a rule, into different semantic groups.

Chapter1.The General Notion of a Word

1.1 The Word as the Basic Unit of the Language

Word - the basic unit of language, directly corresponds to the object of thought (referent) - which is a generalized reverberation of a certain 'slice', 'piece' of objective reality - and by immediately referring to it names the thing meant.

Typology of words:

Morphologically we distinguish between:

- monomorphemic word (root word );

- polymorphemic word (derivatives, compounds, derivational compounds - q.v.).


- monosemantic word - word , having only one lexical meaning and denoting, accordingly, one concept;

- polysemantic word - words having several meanings, i.e. word having several meanings, thus denoting a whole set of related concepts grouped according to the national peculiarities of a given language.


- neutral word ;

- elevated (bookish) word ;

- colloquial word (q.v.);

- substandard word


- native word - q.v.;

- borrowed word (borrowings) - q.v.;

- hybrids - q.v.;

- international word (interonyms) - q.v.;

- dictionary word

The word is a basic unit of the language, which combines meaning and form, and consists of 1 or more morphemes. It is the smallest language unit which can stand alone as a complete utterance, capable naming objects f.e. Listen! Mom!

Every word has two aspects: the outer aspect (its sound form) and the inner aspect (its meaning) . Sound and meaning do not always constitute a constant unit even in the same language. E.g. the word temple may denote a part of a human head and a large church In such cases we have homonyms. One and the same word in different syntactical relations can develop different meanings, e.g. the verb treat in sentences:

a) He treated my words as a joke.

b) The book treats of poetry.

c) They treated me to sweets.

d) He treats his son cruelly.

In all these sentences the verb treat has different meanings and we can speak about polysemy.

On the other hand, one and the same meaning can be expressed by different sound forms, e.g. pilot , and airman, horror and terror. In such cases we have synonyms.

Both the meaning and the sound can develop in the course of time independently. E.g. the Old English /luvian/ is pronounced /l^v / in Modern English. On the other hand, board primariliy means a piece of wood sawn thin It has developed the meanings: a table, a board of a ship, a stage, a council etc.

Syntagmatics - linear (simultaneous) relationship of words in speech as distinct from associative (non-simultaneous) relationship of words in language.

Paradigmatics - 1) associative (non-simultaneous) relationship of words in language as distinct from linear (simultaneous) relationship of words in speech (syntagmatics); relation of units in absentia (e.g. synonymic, antonymic relationships); 2) an approach to language when the elements of its system are regarded as associated units joined by oppositional relationship.

 Simple words consist of one root morpheme and an inflexion (in many cases the inflexion is zero), e.g. seldom, chairs, longer, asked.

Derived words consist of one root morpheme, one or several affixes and an inlexion, e.g. deristricted, unemployed.

Compound words consist of two or more root morphemes and an inflexion, e.g. baby-moons, wait-and-see (policy).

Compound-derived words consist of two or more root morphemes, one or more affixes and an inflexion, e.g. middle-of-the-roaders, job-hopper.

 When speaking about the structure of words stems also should be mentioned. The stem is the part of the word which remains unchanged throughout the paradigm of the word, e.g. the stem hop can be found in the words: hop, hops, hopped, hopping. The stem hippie can be found in the words: hippie, hippies, hippie's, hippies'. The stem job-hop can be found in the words : job-hop, job-hops, job-hopped, job-hopping.

1.2 Lexical and Grammatical Meaning of the Word

Meaning is a certain reflection in our mind of objects, phenomena or relations that makes part of the linguistic sign - its so-called inner facet, whereas the sound-form functions as its outer facet.

Grammatical meaning is defined as the expression in Speech of relationships between words. The grammatical meaning is more abstract and more generalised than the lexical meaning. It is recurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words as the meaning of plurality in the following words students, boob, windows, compositions.

Lexical meaning. The definitions of lexical meaning given by various authors, though different in detail, agree in the basic principle: they all point out that lexical meaning is the realisation of concept or emotion by means of a definite language system.

Denotation. The conceptual content of a word is expressed in its denotative meaning. To denote is to serve as a linguistic expression for a concept or as a name for an individual object. It is the denotational meaning that makes communication possible.

Connotation is the pragmatic communicative value the word receives depending on where, when, how, by whom, for what purpose and in what contexts it may be used. There are four main types of connotations stylistic, emotional, evaluative and expressive or intensifying.

Stylistic connotations is what the word conveys about the speaker's attitude to the social circumstances and the appropriate functional style (slay vs kill), evaluative connotation may show his approval or disapproval of the object spoken of (clique vs group), emotional connotation conveys the speaker's emotions (mummy vs mother), the degree of intensity (adore vs love) is conveyed by expressive or intensifying connotation.

The interdependence of connotations with denotative meaning is also different for different types of connotations. Thus, for instance, emotional connotation comes into being on the basis of denotative meaning but in the course of time may substitute it by other types of connotation with general emphasis, evaluation and colloquial stylistic overtone. E.g. terrific which originally meant 'frightening' is now a colloquialism meaning 'very, very good' or 'very great': terrific beauty, terrific pleasure.

The orientation toward the subject-matter, characteristic of the denotative meaning, is substituted here by pragmatic orientation toward speaker and listener; it is not so much what is spoken about as the attitude to it that matters.

Fulfilling the significative and the communicative functions of the word the denotative meaning is present in every word and may be regarded as the central factor in the functioning of language.

The expressive function of the language (the speaker's feelings) and the pragmatic function (the effect of words upon listeners) are rendered in connotations. Unlike the denotative meaning, connotations are optional.

Connotation differs from the implicational meaning of the word. Implicational meaning is the implied information associated with the word, with what the speakers know about the referent. A wolf is known to be greedy and cruel (implicational meaning) but the denotative meaning of this word does not include these features. The denotative or the intentional meaning of the word wolf is "a wild animal resembling a dog that kills sheep and sometimes even attacks men". Its figurative meaning is derived from implied information, from what we know about wolves - "a cruel greedy person", also the adjective wolfish means "greedy".

There are 2 main types of word-meaning:

the grammatical meaning

the lexical meaning.

They are found in all words.

The interrelation of these 2 types of meaning may be different in different groups of words.

Grammatical meaning:

We notice, that word-forms, such as: girls, winters, joys, tables, etc. though denoting widely different objects of reality have something in common. This common element is the grammatical meaning of plurality, which can be found in all of them.

Grammatical meaning may be defined as the component of meaning recurrent in identical sets of individual form of different words, as, e.g., the tense meaning in the word-forms of verb (asked, thought, walked, etc) or the case meaning in the word-forms of various nouns (girl's, boy's, night's, etc).

In a broad sense it may be argued that linguists, who make a distinction between lexical and grammatical meaning are, in fact, making a distinction between the functional [linguistic] meaning, which operates at various levels as the interrelation of various linguistic units and referential [conceptual] meaning as the interrelation of linguistic units and referents [or concepts].

In modern linguistic science it is commonly held that some elements of grammatical meaning can be identified by the position of the linguistic unit in relation to other linguistic units, i.e. by its distribution. Word-forms speaks, reads, writes have one and the same grammatical meaning as they can all be found in identical distribution, e.g. only after the pronouns he, she, it and before adverbs like well, badly, to-day, etc.

It follows that a certain component of the meaning of a word is described when you identify it as a part of speech, since different parts of speech are distributionally different.

Lexical meaning:

Comparing word-forms of one and the same word we observe that besides gram. meaning, there is another component of meaning to be found in them. Unlike the grammatical meaning this component is identical in all the forms of the word. Thus, e.g. the word-forms go, goes, went, going, gone possess different grammatical meaning of tense, person and so on, but in each of these forms we find one and the same semantic component denoting the process of movement. This is the lexical meaning of the word, which may be described as the component of meaning proper to the word as a linguistic unit, i.e. recurrent in all the forms of this word.

The difference between the lexical and the grammatical components of meaning is not to be sought in the difference of the concepts underlying the 2 types of meaning, but rather in the way they are conveyed. The concept of plurality, e.g., may be expressed by the lexical meaning of the word plurality; it may also be expressed in the forms of various words irrespective of their lexical meaning, e.g. boys, girls, joys, etc. The concept of relation may be expressed by the lexical meaning of the word relation and also by any of prepositions, e.g. in, on, behind, etc. ( the book is in/on, behind the table ).

It follows that by lexical meaning we designate the meaning proper to the given linguistic unit in all its forms and distributions, while by grammatical meaning we designate the meaning proper to sets of word-forms common to all words of a certain class. Both the lexical and the grammatical meaning make up the word-meaning as neither can exist without the other.

Lexical meaning is not homogenous either and may be analysed as including the number of aspects. We define 3 aspects:



pragmatic aspects.

a) It is that part of lexical meaning, the function of which is to name the thing, concepts or phenomenon which it denotes. It's the component of Lexical meaning, which establishes correspondence between the name and the object. (den. meaning- that component which makes communication possible).

e.g. Physics knows more about the atom than a singer does, or that an arctic explorer possesses a much deeper knowledge of what artic ice is like than a man who has never been in the North. Nevertheless they use the words atom, Artic, etc. and understand each other.

It insures reference to things common to all the speakers of given language.

b) The second component of the l meaning comprises the stylistic reference and emotive charge proper to the word as a linguistic unit in the given language system. The connotational component - emotive charge and the stylistic value of the word. It reflects the attitude of the speaker towards what he is speaking about. This aspect belongs to the language system.

c) Pragmatical aspect - that part of the Lexical meaning, which conveys information on the situation of communication.

word lexical grammatical english language

Chapter2.Phrasal Words and Their Usage in English Language

2.1 Free Word-Groups and Phraseological Units

A word-group is the largest two-facet lexical unit comprising more than one word but expressing one global concept.

The lexical meaning of the word groups is the combined lexical meaning of the component words. The meaning of the word groups is motivated by the meanings of the component members and is supported by the structural pattern. But it's not a mere sum total of all these meanings! Polysemantic words are used in word groups only in 1 of their meanings. These meanings of the component words in such word groups are mutually interdependent and inseparable (blind man - a human being unable to see, blind type - the copy isn't readable).

Word groups possess not only the lexical meaning, but also the meaning conveyed mainly by the pattern of arrangement of their constituents. The structural pattern of word groups. is the carrier of a certain semantic component not necessarily dependent on the actual lexical meaning of its members (school grammar - grammar which is taught in school, grammar school - a type of school). We have to distinguish between the structural meaning of a given type of word groups as such and the lexical meaning of its constituents.

It is often argued that the meaning of word groups is also dependent on some extra-linguistic factors - on the situation in which word groups are habitually used by native speakers.

Words put together to form lexical units make phrases or word-groups. One must recall that lexicology deals with words, word-forming morphemes and word-groups.

The degree of structural and semantic cohesion of word-groups may vary. Some word-groups, e.g. at least, point of view, by means, to take place, etc. seem to be functionally and semantically inseparable. They are usually described as set phrases, word-equivalents or phraseological units and are studied by the branch of lexicology which is known as phraseology. In other word-groups such as to take lessons, kind to people, a week ago, the component-members seem to possess greater semantic and structural independence. Word-groups of this type are defined as free word-groups or phrases and are studied in syntax.

Before discussing phraseology it is necessary to outline the features common to various word-groups irrespective of the degree of structural and semantic cohesion of the component-words.

There are two factors which are important in uniting words into word-groups:

- the lexical valency of words;

- the grammatical valency of words.

Lexical valency.

Words are used in certain lexical contexts, i.e. in combinations with other words. E.g. the noun question is often combined with such adjectives as vital, pressing, urgent, delicate, etc. This noun is a component in a number of other word-groups: to raise a question (not to lift), a question of the hour - , .

The aptness of a word to appear in various combinations is described as its lexical valency. The range of the lexical valency of words is delimited by the inner structure of the English words. Thus, to raise and to lift are synonyms, but only the former is collocated with the noun question. The verbs to take, to catch, to seize, to grasp are synonyms, but they are found in different collocations:

to take - exams, measures, precautions, etc.;

to grasp - the truth, the meaning.

Words habitually collocated in speech tend to form a cliche.

The lexical valency of correlated words in different languages is not identical, because as it was said before, it depends on the inner structure of the vocabulary of the language. Both the English flower and the Russian may be combined with a number of similar words, e.g. garden flowers, hot house flowers (cf. the Russian - , ), but in English flower cannot be combined with the word room, while in Russian we say (in English we say pot-flowers).

Grammatical valency.

Words are also used in grammatical contexts. The minimal grammatical context in which the words are used to form word-groups is usually described as the pattern of the word-group. E.g., the adjective heavy can be followed by a noun (A+N) - heavy food, heavy storm, heavy box, heavy eater. But we cannot say "heavy cheese " or "heavy to lift, to carry", etc.

The aptness of a word to appear in specific grammatical (or rather syntactical) structures is termed grammatical valency.

The grammatical valency of words may be different. The grammatical valency is delimited by the part of speech the word belongs to. E.g., no English adjective can be followed by the finite form of a verb.

Then, the grammatical valency is also delimited by the inner structure of the language. E.g., to suggest, to propose are synonyms. Both can be followed by a noun, but only to propose can be followed by the infinitive of a verb -- to propose to do something.

Clever and intelligent have the same grammatical valency, but only clever can be used in word-groups having the pattern A+prep+N - clever at maths.

Structure of Word-Groups

Structurally word-groups can be considered in different ways. Word-groups may be described as for the order and arrangement of the component-members. E.g., the word-group to read a book can be classified as a verbal-nominal group, to look at smb.- as a verbal-prepositional-nominal group, etc.

By the criterion of distribution all word-groups may be divided into two big classes: according to their head-words and according to their syntactical patterns.

Word-groups may be classified according to their head-words into:

nominal groups - red flower;

adjective groups - kind to people;

verbal groups - to speak well.

The head is not necessarily the component that occurs first.

Word-groups are classified according to their syntactical pattern into predicative and non-predicative groups. Such word-groups as he went, Bob walks that have a syntactic structure similar to that of a sentence are termed as predicative, all others are non-predicative ones.

Non-predicative word-groups are divided into subordinative and coordi-native depending on the type of syntactic relations between the components. E.g., a red flower, a man of freedom are subordinative non-predicative word-groups, red and freedom being dependent words, while day and night, do and die are coordinative non-predicative word-groups.

Meaning of Word-Groups

The lexical meaning of a word-group may be defined as the combined lexical meaning of the component members. But it should be pointed out, however, that the term combined lexical meaning does not imply that the meaning of the word-group is always a simple additive result of all the lexical meanings of the component words. As a rule, the meanings of the component words are mutually dependent and the meaning of the word-group naturally predominates over the lexical meaning of the components. The interdependence is well seen in word-groups made up of polysemantic words. E.g., in the phrases the blind man, the blind type the word blind has different meanings - unable to see and vague.

So we see that polysemantic words are used in word-groups only in one of their meanings.

Motivation in Word-Groups

The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word on the one hand and its meaning on the other.

There are three main types of motivation:

1) phonetical

2) morphological

3) semantic

1. Phonetical motivation is used when there there is a certain similarity between the sounds that make up the word. For example: buzz, cuckoo, gigle. The sounds of a word are imitative of sounds in nature, or smth. that produces a characteristic sound. This type of motivation is determined by the phonological system of each language.

2. Morphological motivation - the relationship between morphemic stucture and meaning. The main criterion in morphological motivation is the relationship between morphemes. One-morphemed words are non-motivated. Ex- means former when we talk about humans ex-wife, ex-president. Re- means again: rebuild, rewrite. In borowed words motivation is faded: expect, export, recover (get better). Morphological motivation is especially obvious in newly coined words, or in the words created in this century. In older words motivation is established etymologically.

The structure-pattern of the word is very important too: finger-ring and ring-finger. Though combined lexical meaning is the same. The difference of meaning can be explained by the arrangement of the components.

Morphological motivation has some irregularities: smok er - si not the one who smokes, it is a railway car in which passenger may smoke.

The degree of motivation can be different:

endless is completely motivated

cranberry is partially motivated: morpheme cran- has no lexical meaning.

3. Semantic motivation is based on the co-existence of direct and figurative meanings of the same word within the same synchronous system. Mouth denotes a part of the human face and at the same time it can be applied to any opening: the mouth of a river. Ermine is not only the anme of a small animal, but also a fur. In their direct meaning mouth and ermine are not motivated.

In compound words it is morphological motivation when the meaning of the whole word is based on direct meanings of its components and semantic motivation is when combination of components is used figuratively. For example headache is pain in the head (morphological) and smth. annoying (sematic).

When the connection between the meaning of the word and its form is conventional (there is no perceptible reason for the word having this phonemic and morphemic composition) the word is non-motivated (for the present state of language development). Words that seem non-motivated now may have lost their motivation: earn is derived from earnian - to harvest, but now this word is non-motivated

As to compounds, their motivation is morphological if the meaning of the whole is based on the direct meaning of the components, and semantic if the combination is used figuratively: watchdog - a dog kept for watching property (morphologically motivated); - a watchful human guardian (semantically motivated)

Every vocabulary is in a state of constant development. Words that seem non-motivated at present may have lost their motivation. When some people recognize the motivation, whereas others do not, motivation is said to be faded.

Semantically all word-groups may be classified into motivated and non-motivated. Non-motivated word-groups are usually described as phraseological units or idioms.

Word-groups may be described as lexically motivated if the combined lexical meaning of the groups is based on the meaning of their components. Thus take lessons is motivated; take place -- `occur' is lexically non-motivated.

Word-groups are said to be structurally motivated if the meaning of the pattern is deduced from the order and arrangement of the member-words of the group. Red flower is motivated as the meaning of the pattern quality -- substance can be deduced from the order and arrangement of the words red and flower, whereas the seemingly identical pattern red tape (`official bureaucratic methods') cannot be interpreted as quality -- substance.

Seemingly identical word-groups are sometimes found to be motivated or non-motivated depending on their semantic interpretation. Thus apple sauce, e.g., is lexically and structurally motivated when it means `a sauce made of apples' but when used to denote `nonsense' it is clearly non-motivated

Word-groups like words may be also analysed from the point of view of their motivation. Word-groups may be called as lexically motivated if the combined lexical meaning of the group is deducible from the meaning of the components. All free phrases are completely motivated.

It follows from the above discussion that word-groups may be also classified into motivated and non-motivated units. Non-motivated word-groups are habitually described as phraseological units or idioms.

Investigations of English phraseology began not long ago. English and American linguists as a rule are busy collecting different words, word-groups and sentences which are interesting from the point of view of their origin, style, usage or some other features. All these units are habitually described as idioms, but no attempt has been made to describe these idioms as a separate class of linguistic units or a specific class of word-groups.

Difference in terminology (set-phrases, idioms and word-equivalents ) reflects certain differences in the main criteria used to distinguish types of phraseological units and free word-groups. The term set phrase implies that the basic criterion of differentiation is stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure of word-groups.

There is a certain divergence of opinion as to the essential features of phraseological units as distinguished from other word-groups and the nature of phrases that can be properly termed phraseological units. The habitual terms set-phrases, idioms, word-equivalents are sometimes treated differently by different linguists. However these terms reflect to certain extend the main debatable points of phraseology which centre in the divergent views concerning the nature and essential features of phraseological units as distinguished from the so-called free word-groups .

The term set expression implies that the basic criterion of differentiation is stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure of word-groups.

The term word-equivalent stresses not only semantic but also functional inseparability of certain word-groups, their aptness to function in speech as single words.

The term idioms generally implies that the essential feature of the linguistic units under consideration is idiomaticity or lack of motivation. Uriel Weinreich expresses his view that an idiom is a complex phrase, the meaning of which cannot be derived from the meanings of its elements. He developed a more truthful supposition, claiming that an idiom is a subset of a phraseological unit. Ray Jackendoff and Charles Fillmore offered a fairly broad definition of the idiom, which, in Fillmore's words, reads as follows: an idiomatic expression or construction is something a language user could fail to know while knowing everything else in the language. Chafe also lists four features of idioms that make them anomalies in the traditional language unit paradigm: non-compositionality, transformational defectiveness, ungrammaticality and frequency asymmetry [6, p. 1-3].

Great work in this field has been done by the outstanding Russian linguist A. Shakhmatov in his work Syntax. This work was continued by Acad. V.V. Vinogradov. Great investigations of English phraseology were done by Prof. A. Cunin, I. Arnold and others.

2.2 Classifications Of Phraseological Units

Phraseological units are habitually defined as non-motivated word-groups that cannot be freely made up in speech but are reproduced as ready-made units; the other essential feature of phraseological units is stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure.

Unlike components of free word-groups which may vary according to the needs of communication, member-words of phraseological units are always reproduced as single unchangeable collocations. E.g., in a red flower (a free phrase) the adjective red may be substituted by another adjective denoting colour, and the word-group will retain the meaning: "the flower of a certain colour".

In the phraseological unit red tape ( ) no such substitution is possible, as a change of the adjective would cause a complete change in the meaning of the group: it would then mean " tape of a certain colour". It follows that the phraseological unit red tape is semantically non-motivated, i.e. its meaning cannot be deduced from the meaning of its components, and that it exists as a ready-made linguistic unit which does not allow any change of its lexical components and its grammatical structure.

Grammatical structure of phraseological units is to a certain degree also stable:

red tape - a phraseological unit;

red tapes - a free word-group;

to go to bed - a phraseological unit;

to go to the bed - a free word-group.

Still the basic criterion is comparative lack of motivation, or idiomaticity of the phraseological units. Semantic motivation is based on the coexistence of direct and figurative meaning.

General Classification of Phraseological Units

Taking into consideration mainly the degree of idiomaticity phraseological units may be classified into three big groups. This classification was first suggested by Acad. V. V. Vinogradov. These groups are:

phraseological fusions (),

phraseological unities (),

phraseological collocations (), or habitual collocations.

Phraseological fusions are completely non-motivated word-groups. Themeaning of the components has no connection at least synchronically with the meaning of the whole group. Idiomaticity is combined with complete stability of the lexical components and the grammatical structure of the fusion,

E.g.:to kick the bucket - ,

at sixes and sevens - ,

to see the elephant -- ,

to go for a song - ,

ball and chain - ,

a mare's nest - ,

to talk through one's hat*-- ,

white elephant - , .

Phraseological unities are partially non-motivated word-groups as their meaning can usually be understood through (deduced from)the metaphoric meaning of the whole phraseological unit,

e.g.rto skate on thin ice -- ,

to wash one's dirty linen in public - ,

to turn over a new leaf-- ,

to be in smb's shoes - - ,

as busy as a bee - ,

as cool as a cucumber - ,

green light - .

Phraseological unities are usually marked by a comparatively high degree of stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure. Phraseological unities can have homonymous free phrases, used in direct meanings.

E.g.:to skate on thin ice-- to skate on thin ice (to risk);

to wash one's hands off dirt - to wash one's hands off (to withdraw from participance);

to play the first role in the theatre - to play the first role (to dominate).

There must be not less than two notional wordsin metaphorical meanings.

Phraseological collocations are partially motivated but they are made up of words having special lexical valency which is marked by a certain degree of stability in such word-groups. In phraseological collocations variability of components is strictly limited. They differ from phraseological unities by the fact that one of the components in them is used in its direct meaning, the other - in indirect meaning, and the meaning of the whole group dominates over the meaning of its components. As figurativeness is expressed only in one component of the phrase it is hardly felt.

E.g.:to pay a visit, tribute, attention, respect;

to break a promise, a rule, news, silence;

to meet demands, requirement, necessity;

to set free; to set at liberty;

to make money, journey;

to fall ill.

The structure V + N () is the largest group of phraseological collocations.

Structural Classification

Phraseological units may be defined as specific word-groups functioning as word-equivalents; they are equivalent to definite classes of words. The part-of-speech meaning of phraseological units is felt as belonging to the word-group as a whole irrespective of the part-of-speech meaning of component words. Comparing a free word-group, e.g. a long day and a phraseological unit, e.g. in the long run, we observe that in the free word-group the noun day and the adjective long preserve the part-of-speech meaning proper to these words taken in isolation. The whole group is viewed as composed of two independent units (A + N). In the phraseological unit in the long run the part-of-speech meaning belongs to the group as a single whole. In the long run is grammatically equivalent to single adverbs, e.g. finally, firstly, etc.

So we distinguish set-expressions that are nominal phrases, functioning like nouns,

e.g.:Jack-of-all-trades - ,

ways and means - , ,

Baker's dosen - ,

a thorn in the flesh - ,

skeleton in the cupboard - ; \

verbal phrases, functioning like verbs:

to take the bull by the horn - ,

to know the ropes - ,

to flog a dead horse - ,

to put a finger into every pie - ,

to talk through one's hat - ;

adjectival phrases, functioning like adjectives:

spick and span - ,

(as)cool as a cucumber - ,

(as)poor as a church mouse - ,

(as) good as gold - ( );

adverbial phrases, functioning like adverbs;

in a trice -- ,

at sixes and sevens -- ,

before you can say Jack Robinson - ,

by hook or by crook - , ; ;

prepositional and conjunctional phrases:

as long as;

as well as;

in spite of;

as soon as;

interjectional phrases:

well, I never! - ( !),

by George! - (, ),

like hell! - ,

my foot - ,

my aunt! - ! , !

my eye and Betty Martin! - !

So, phraseological units are included into the system of parts of speech.

Genetic (Etymological) Classification

Phraseological units are created from free word-groups. But in the course of time some words - constituents of phraseological units may drop out of the language; the situation in which the phraseological unit was formed can be forgotten, motivation can be lost and these phrases become phraseological fusions. The sources of phraseological units are different spheres of life:

sea life:

tell that to the marines -- ! !

in deep waters - ,

in low waters ( ) - ,

to be at sea - ,

to see land ( ) - ,

to run into difficult waters - ;

fish and fishing:

to fish in troubled water - ,

to drink like a fish - ,

to feed the fishes -- ; ;


to have the ball at one's feet - , - ,

to hit below the belt - , ,

to back the wrong horse - , ,

the ball is with you! - !


to stick to one's guns - ; ,

to mask one's batteries - , ,

to mark time ( - .) - , ;


to turn tail - , , ;

(as) hungry as a wolf;

zoosemv (animal life):

crocodile tears; lion's share; white elephant;

it rains cats and dogs;


to play to the gallery - , ;

to pull the ropes - ;


to sweeten the draught - ;


to get up steam - , ;

with full steam on - , ;

to grease the wheels - , ;


to sow one's wild oats - ;

to put the plough before the oxen - ;

to get somebody's goat - -;

historical events, customs:

by hook or by crook - , . - , - ;

to win one's spurs - ; ( - ); trade:

to talk shop - , to make the best of the bargain - , into the bargain - , best seller - ; .

2.3 Proverbs and Idioms

Besides phraseological units - word-equivalents, the language has set-phrases which are equivalents of sentences. They are proverbs, sayings, aphorisms,

e.g.:custom is the second nature - ;

every man has a fool in his sleeve - ;

too many cooks spoil the broth - .

Proverb is a short saying, usually well-known and handed down from ancient times, containing words of advice, warning or wisdom.

Proverbs are reffered to phraseological units as they are usually metaphors and are coloured stylistically. Proverbs are set-phrases because they also are not created in the process of speech; they are part of the vocabulary which is created by folk.

If we compare Russian and English proverbs and phraseological fusions we'll discover some interesting phenomena. First of all, both languages have analogous proverbs,

e.g.:there is no smoke without fire - ;

as the call, so the echo - , ;

strike iron while it is hot - , ;

don't look a gift horse into the mouth - .

Sometimes the meanings are analogous, but the semantic centre of the phrases is different in Russian and in English. It may be explained by different historical conditions at the same time when the parallel phrases appeared,

e.g.:Rome was not built in a day. - .

Life is not a bed of roses. - - .

Do in Rome as the Romans do. - , - .


As you make your bed so you must lie on it. - , .

As they sow, so let them reap. - , .


What is and what is not an idiom is, then, often a matter of degree. It is very difficult, moreover, to decide whether a word or a sequence of words is opaque. We could, perhaps, define idioms in terms of non-equivalence in other languages, so that kick the bucket, red herring, etc., are idioms because they cannot be directly translated into French or German

Idioms involve collocation of a special kind. Consider, for instance, kick the bucket, fly off the handle, spill the beans, red herring. For here we not only have the collocation of kick and the bucket, but also the fact that the meaning of the resultant combination is opaque - it is not related to the meaning of the individual words, but is sometimes (though not always) nearer to the meaning of a single word (thus kick the bucket equals die).

If you look up the word idiom in Webster, you will be given the following definition: Idiom is an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent element as kick the bucket, hang one's head etc., or from the general grammatical rules of language, as the table round for the round table, and which is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics. This definition seems a bit dry and doesn't really tell anything about the function of idioms in English language.

If you look up the word idiom in Webster, you will be given the following definition: Idiom is an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent element as kick the bucket, hang one's head etc., or from the general grammatical rules of language, as the table round for the round table, and which is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics. This definition seems a bit dry and doesn't really tell anything about the function of idioms in English language.

English is a language particularly rich in idioms - those modes of expression peculiar to a language (or dialect) which frequently defy logical and grammatical rules. Without idioms English would lose much of its variety and humor both in speech an writing.

Even where an idiom is semantically like a single word it does not function like one. Thus we will not have a past tense kick-the-bucketed. Instead, it functions to some degree as a normal sequence of grammatical words, so that the past tense form is kicked the bucket But there are a great number of grammatical restrictions. A large number of idioms contain a verb and a noun, but although the verb may be placed in the past tense, the number of the noun can never be changed. We have spilled the beans, but not *spill the bean and equally there is no *fly off the handles, *kick the buckets, *put on good faces, *blow one's tops, etc. Similarly, with red herring the noun may be plural, but the adjective cannot be comparative (the -er form). Thus we find red herrings but not *redder herring.

There are also plenty of syntactic restrictions. Some idioms have passives, but others do not. The law was laid down and The beans have been spilled are all right (though some may question the latter), but *The bucket was kicked is not. But in no case could we say It was the - (beans that were spilled, law that was laid down, bucket that was kicked, etc.) The restrictions vary from idiom to idiom. Some are more restricted or `frozen' that others.

A very common type of idiom in English is what is usually called the `phrasal verb', the combination of verb plus adverb of the kind make up, give in, put down. The meaning of these combinations cannot be predicted from the individual verb and adverb and in many cases there is a single verb with the same or a very close meaning - invent, yield, quell. Not all combinations of this kind are idiomatic, of course. Put down has a literal sense too and there are many others that are both idiomatic and not, e.g. take in as in The conjuror took the audience in, The woman took the homeless children in. There are even degrees of idiomaticity since one can make up a story, make up a fire or make up one's face. Moreover, it is not only sequences of verb plus adverb that may be idiomatic. There are also sequences of verb plus preposition, such as look after and go for, and sequences of verb, adverb and preposition, such as put up with (`tolerate') or do away with ('kill').

There are also what we may call partial idioms, where one of the words has its usual meaning, the other has a meaning that is peculiar to the particular sequence. Thus red hair refers to hair, but not hair that is red in strict colour terms. Comedians have fun with partial idioms of this kind, e.g. when instructed to make a bed they bring out a set of carpenter's tools. An interesting set involves the word white, for white coffee is brown in colour, white wine is usually yellow, and white people are pink. Yet white is, perhaps, idiomatic only to some degree - it could be interpreted `the lightest in colour of that usually to be found'. Not surprisingly black is used as its antonym for coffee and people (though again neither are black in colour terms), yet it is not used for wine. Thus it can be seen that even partial idiomaticity can be a matter of degree and may in some cases be little more than a matter of collocational restriction. On a more comic level there is partial idiomaticity in raining cats and dogs (in Welsh it rains old women and sticks!).

The French for nurse is garde-malade, but while this cannot be directly translated into English it is quite transparent, obviously meaning someone who looks after the sick. On the other hand, look after seems quite idiomatic, yet it can be quite directly translated into Welsh (edrych ar ol).

Sources of idioms:

1. from our everyday life

Ex.: to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth

to sail under false colour ( )

to loose track of smb ( - , )

a leopard can('t) change its spots

2. from the Bible

Ex.: black sheep, lost sheep ( )

To cast pearls before swine ( )

3. World literature

Ex.: to fight against Windmills

an ugly duckling (Danish) -

4. different languages

Ex.: to lose face (Chinese)

The course of true love has never run smooth Shakespeare The 12th night

The course of true reforms has never run smooth in Russia - the Times

5. from history

Ex.: to cross the Rubicon

Labours of Hercules

To bell the cat

The background and etymological origins of most idioms is at best obscure... Some idioms of the "worldwide English" have first been seen in the works of writers like Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll or even in the paperbacks of contemporary novelists. An example of Shakespearian quotation can be found in the following sentence:"As a social worker, you certainly see the seamy side of life." Biblical references are also the source of many idioms. Sports terms, technical terms, legal terms, military slang and even nautical expressions have found their way to the everyday use of English language.

2.4 The place of Phraseological Units and Idiomatic Expressions in English Language

There is a view according to which everything in natural language is idiomatic; both encoding and decoding, from phonology through word-formation upto syntax and semantics, including saying, proverbs, literature and each individual culture. This viewwould make the study of idioms the ultimate science of all sciences, epistemology in short.

 However, in ELT literature idiomatic expressions and multi-word verbs are considered as components of vocabulary and since vocabulary is one of the three sub-language skills (namely grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary) these two components are important part of Language and Language learning and teaching.

  The following quotations confirm this importance:

` idioms are not something `special' or `sub-standard' : they are a vital part of the standard language and as such hardly be avoided.

(Wallace 1982:119)

`Phrasal verbs are essential part of every day communication and the mastery of them promotes effective language use.'

(Collins COBUILD Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs)

`Why is English and especially American English, so heavily idiomatic? The most probable reason is that as we develop new concepts, we need new expressions for them, but instead of creating a brand new word from the sounds of the language, we use some `already existent words', and put them together in a new sense. This, however, appears to be true of all known languages. There are in fact no known languages that do not have some idioms.'

(The Dictionary of American English: Preface: vi-vii)

`But it is by injections of colloquial idiom that the body of English Language is constantly being rejuvenated'.

(Ball 1958:8)

`Idioms are common in all kinds of English, formal and informal, spoken and written. However, informal spoken language is often very idiomatic.'

(Swan 1997:224)

In the following sections we shall demonstrate the importance of idiomatic expressions and multi-word verbs across language skills.


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