Free word groups. Phraseological units
Free word groups. Phraseological units
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
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.
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.
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 öâåòîê
be combined with a number of similar words, e.g. garden flowers, hot house
flowers (cf. the Russian – ñàäîâûå öâåòû, îðàíæåðåéíûå öâåòû), but in English flower
cannot be combined with the word room, while in Russian we say êîìíàòíûå öâåòû (in English we
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
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.
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
nominal groups – red flower;
adjective groups – kind to people;
verbal groups – to speak well.
The head is not necessarily the component that
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
Non-predicative word-groups are divided into
subordinative and coordinative 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.
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.
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 motivation is used when 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 structure 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
Morphological motivation has some irregularities:
«smoker» – si not «the one who smokes», it is «a railway car in which passenger
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.
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
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
Word-groups like words may be also analyzed 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
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
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.
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.
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 (bürokratik
metodlar) 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
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.
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
– phraseological fusions,
– phraseological unities,
– phraseological collocations, or habitual
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.
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.
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.
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
There must be not less than two notional wordsin
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.
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 (äîïîëíåíèå) is the
largest group of phraseological collocations.
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,
So, phraseological units are included into the
system of parts of speech.
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 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.
Phraseological units can be classified according
to the ways they are formed, according to the degree of the motivation of their
meaning, according to their structure and according to their part-of-speech
A.V. Koonin classified phraseological units
according to the way they are formed. He pointed out primary and secondary ways
of forming phraseological units.
Among two-top units A.I. Smirnitsky points
out the following structural types:
a) attributive-nominal such
as: a month of Sundays, grey matter, a millstone round one’s neck and many
others. Units of this type are noun equivalents and can be partly or perfectly
idiomatic. In partly idiomatic units (phrasisms) sometimes the first component
is idiomatic, e.g. high road, in other cases the second component is idiomatic,
e.g. first night. In many cases both components are idiomatic, e.g. red tape,
blind alley, bed of nail, shot in the arm and many others.
phraseological units, e.g. to read between the lines, to speak BBC, to sweep
under the carpet etc. The grammar centre of such units is the verb, the
semantic centre in many cases is the nominal component, e.g. to fall in love.
In some units the verb is both the grammar and the semantic centre, e.g. not to
know the ropes. These units can be perfectly idiomatic as well, e.g. to burn
one’s boats, to vote with one’s feet, to take to the cleaners’ etc.
Very close to such units are word-groups of the
type to have a glance, to have a smoke. These units are not idiomatic and are
treated in grammar as a special syntactical combination, a kind of aspect.
repetitions, such as: now or never, part and parcel, country and western etc.
Such units can be built on antonyms, e.g. ups and downs, back and forth; often
they are formed by means of alliteration, e.g cakes and ale, as busy as a bee.
Components in repetitions are joined by means of conjunctions. These units are
equivalents of adverbs or adjectives and have no grammar centre. They can also
be partly or perfectly idiomatic, e.g. cool as a cucumber (partly), bread and
Phraseological units the same as compound words
can have more than two tops (stems in compound words), e.g. to take a back
seat, a peg to hang a thing on, lock, stock and barrel, to be a shadow of one’s
own self, at one’s own sweet will.
Phraseological units can be classified as parts
of speech. This classification was suggested by I.V. Arnold. Here we have
the following groups:
a) noun phraseologisms
denoting an object, a person, a living being, e.g. bullet train, latchkey
child, redbrick university, Green Berets,
b) verb phraseologisms
denoting an action, a state, a feeling, e.g. to break the log-jam, to get on
somebody’s coattails, to be on the beam, to nose out, to make headlines,
c) adjective phraseologisms
denoting a quality, e.g. loose as a goose, dull as lead
d) adverb phraseological
units, such as: with a bump, in the soup, like a dream, like a dog with two
phraseological units, e.g. in the course of, on the stroke of,
phraseological units, e.g. «Catch me!», «Well, I never!» etc.
In I.V. Arnold’s classification there are
also sentence equivalents, proverbs, sayings and quotations, e.g. «The sky is
the limit», «What makes him tick», «I am easy». Proverbs are usually
metaphorical, e.g. «Too many cooks spoil the broth», while sayings are as a
rule non-metaphorical, e.g. «Where there is a will there is a way».