Студопедия — Different classifications of phraseological units.
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Different classifications of phraseological units.

Phraseology is a separate branch of Linguistics which deals with a phraseological subsystem of language, with all types of set-expressions. The basic unit of phraseology is a phraseological unit. According to A. V. Koonin «a phraseological unit is a stable word-group characterized by a completely or partially transferred meaning».

Phraseology studies the following types of set-expressions: phraseological units (proper); phraseomatic units; border-line cases belonging to the mixed class.

There exist other approaches to the problem of phraseology: the semantic approach developed by academician Vinogradov; the functional approach; the contextual approach worked out by N. N. Amosova and etc.

A phraseological unit is a word-group which presents a functionally, semantically and structurally inseparable unit. Phraseological units or idioms are contrasted to free phrases.


1.3.1. Semantic Approach.


There are three classification principles of phraseological units. The most popular is the synchronic (semantic) classification of phraseological units by V.V. Vinogradov. He developed some points first advanced by the Swiss linguist Charles Bally and gave a strong impetus to a purely lexicological treatment of the material. It means that phraseological units were defined as lexical complexes with specific semantic features and classified accordingly. His classification is based upon the motivation of the unit that is the relationship between the meaning of the whole and the meanings of its component parts. The degree of motivation is correlated with the rigidity, indivisibility and semantic unity of the expression that is with the possibility of changing the form or the order of components and of substituting the whole by a single word though not in all the cases.

According to Vinogradov’s classification all phraseological units are divided into phraseological fusions, phraseological unities and phraseological combinations.

Phraseological fusion is a semantically indivisible phraseological unit which meaning is never influenced by the meanings of its components.

It means that phraseological fusions represent the highest stage of blending together. The meaning of components is completely absorbed by the meaning of the whole, by its expressiveness and emotional properties.


Once in a blue moon – very seldom;


To cry for the moon – to demand unreal;


Under the rose – quietly.


Sometimes phraseological fusions are called idioms under which linguists understand a complete loss of the inner form. To explain the meaning of idioms is a complicated etymological problem (tit to tat means “to revenge”, but no one can explain the meaning of the words tit and tat).

Phraseological unity is a semantically indivisible phraseological unit the whole meaning of which is motivated by the meanings of its components.

In general, phraseological unities are the phrases where the meaning of the whole unity is not the sum of the meanings of its components but is based upon them and may be understood from the components. The meaning of the significant word is not too remote from its ordinary meanings. This meaning is formed as a result of generalized figurative meaning of a free word-combination. It is the result of figurative metaphoric reconsideration of a word-combination.

To come to one’s sense –to change one’s mind;


To come home – to hit the mark;


To fall into a rage – to get angry.

Phraseological unities are characterized by the semantic duality. One can’t define for sure the semantic meaning of separately taken phraseological unities isolated from the context, because these word-combinations may be used as free in the direct meaning and as phraseological in the figurative meaning.

Phraseological combination (collocation) is a construction or an expression in which every word has absolutely clear independent meaning while one of the components has a bound meaning.

It means that phraseological combinations contain one component used in its direct meaning while the other is used figuratively.


To make an attempt – to try;


To make haste – to hurry;


To offer an apology – to beg pardon.


Some linguists who stick to the general understanding of phraseology and refer to it communicational units (sentences) and winged words, define the fourth type of phraseological units.

Phraseological expression is a stable by form and usage semantically divisible construction, which components are words with free meanings.


East or West, home is best - В гостях добре, а вдома краще

Marriages are made in heaven – Шлюби творяться на небесах

Phraseological expressions are proverbs, sayings and aphorisms of famous politicians, writers, scientists and artists. They are concise sentences, expressing some truth as ascertained by experience of wisdom and familiar to all. They are often metaphoric in character and include elements of implicit information well understood without being formally present in the discourse.

Prof. A.I. Smirnitsky worked out structural classification of phraseological units, comparing them with words. He points out one-top units which he compares with derived words because derived words have only one root morpheme. He also points out two-top units which he compares with compound words because in compound words we usually have two root morphemes.


Among one-top units he points out three structural types:

a) units of the type “to give up” (verb + postposition type);

To back up – to support;

To drop out – to miss, to omit.

b) units of the type “to be tired”. Some of these units remind the Passive Voice in their structure but they have different prepositions with them, while in the Passive Voice we can have only prepositions «by» or «with»:

To be tired of;

To be surprised at.

There are also units in this type which remind free word-groups of the type “to be young”:

To be akin to;

To be aware of.

The difference between them is that the adjective “young” can be used as an attribute and as a predicative in a sentence, while the nominal component in such units can act only as a predicative. In these units the verb is the grammar centre and the second component is the semantic centre:

c) prepositional-nominal phraseological units:

On the doorstep - quite near;

On the nose – exactly.

These units are equivalents of unchangeable words: prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs, that is why they have no grammar centre, their semantic centre is the nominal part.

Among two-top units A.I. Smirnitsky points out the following structural types:

a) attributive-nominal such as:

А month of Sundays;

А millstone round one’s neck.

Units of this type are noun equivalents and can be partly or perfectly idiomatic (if the expression is idiomatic, then we must consider its components in the aggregate, not separately). In partly idiomatic units (phrasisms) sometimes the first component is idiomatic: high road; in other cases the second component is idiomatic: first night.

In many cases both components are idiomatic: red tape, blind alley, bed of nail, shot in the arm and many others.

b) verb-nominal phraseological units:

To read between the lines;

To sweep under the carpet.

The grammar centre of such units is the verb, the semantic centre in many cases is the nominal component: to fall in love. In some units the verb is both the grammar and the semantic centre: not to know the ropes. These units can be perfectly idiomatic as well: to burn one’s boats, to vote with one’s feet, to take to the cleaners’ etc.

c) phraseological repetitions, such as:

Now or never;

Part and parcel (integral part).

Such units can be built on antonyms: ups and downs, back and forth; often they are formed by means of alliteration: 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: cool as a cucumber (partly), bread and butter (perfectly).

Phraseological units the same as compound words can have more than two tops (stems in compound words):


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) nominal phrases or noun phraseologisms denoting an object, a person or a living being:

Bullet train;

The root of the trouble.

b) verbal phrases or verb phraseologisms denoting an action, a state or a feeling:

To sing like a lark;

To put one’s best foot forward.

c) adjectival phrases or adjective phraseologisms denoting a quality:

As good as gold;

Red as a cherry.

d) adverbial phrases or adverb phraseological units, such as:

From head to foot;

Like a dog with two tails.

e) prepositional phrases or preposition phraseological units:

In the course of;

On the stroke of.

f) conjunctional phrases or conjunction phraseological units:

As long as;

On the other hand.

g) interjectional phrases or interjection phraseological units:

Catch me!;

Well, I never!

In I.V.Arnold’s classification there are also sentence equivalents, proverbs, sayings and quotations: “The sky is the limit”, “What makes him tick”, “I am easy”. Proverbs are usually metaphorical: “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, while sayings are as a rule non-metaphorical: “Where there is a will there is a way”


1.3.2 Functional Aspect


A.V. Kunin's classification is based on the functions the units fulfil in speech. The classification is based on the combined structural-semantic principle and it also considers the quotient of stability of phraseological units.

Phraseological units are subdivided into the following four classes according to their function in communication determined by their structural-semantic characteristics.

1. Nominative phraseological units are represented by word-groups, including the

ones with one meaningful word, and coordinative phrases of the type wear and tear, well and good. The first class also includes word-groups with a predicative structure, such as as the crow flies, and, also, predicative phrases of the type see how the land lies, ships that pass in the night.

2. Nominative-communicative phraseological units include word-groups of the type to break the ice - the ice is broken, that is, verbal word-groups which are transformed into a sentence when the verb is used in the Passive Voice.

3. Phraseological units which are neither nominative nor communicative include interjectional word-groups, (apretty kettle of fish).

4. Communicative phraseological units are represented by proverbs and sayings.

These four classes are divided into sub-groups according to the type of structure of the phraseological unit. The sub-groups include further rubrics representing types of stnictural- semantic meanings according to the kind of relations between the constituents and to either full or partial transference of meaning.

The classification system includes a considerable number of subtypes and gradations and objectively reflects the wealth of types of phraseological units existing in the language


1.3.3 Contextual Aspect


N. N. Amosova's approach is contextological. She defines phraseological units as units of fixed context. Fixed context is defined as a context characterized by a specific and unchanging sequence of definite lexical components and a peculiar semantic relationship between them. Units of fixed context are subdivided into phrasemes and idioms.

Phrasemes are always binary: one component has a phraseologically bound meaning, the other serves as the determining context (small talk, small hours, small change).

In idioms the new meaning is created by the whole, though every element may have its original meaning weakened or even completely lost: in the nick of time (at the exact moment).

Idioms may be motivated or demotivated. A motivated idiom is homonymous to a free phrase, but this phrase is used figuratively: take the bull by the horns (to face dangers without fear). In the nick of time is demotivated, because the word nick is obsolete. Both phrasemes and idioms may be movable (changeable) or immovable.





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