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Classification of set expressions

Many various lines of approach have been used to classify these units. However, the boundaries of the whole group, its classification and place in the national vocabularly are controversial issues in present-day linguistics. Among English scholars named can be W. Bowl, who gave a more or less detailed grouping of the English set expressions. However, as this groups of units are similar in different languages, it would be right for us to observe as the basic example those classifications given to the idioms of other languages. Such classifications may naturally be applied to the scope of english idioms.

What concerns the Russian material, those were Fortunatov, Shakhmatov and later Larin and Vinogradov, who all tried to classify the Russian phraseology. V.V. Vinogradov’s classification can be applied to the English examples and illustrated by them:

1) Phraseological fusions (фразеологические сращения), which show the highest degree of blending between two or more completely non-motivated elements. Example: tongue in cheek (to speak with hidden irony).

2) Phraseological unities (фразеологические единства), which consist of non-motivated elements again, however allowing a possibility of synonymic substitution. For example: to stick to one’s guns (стоять на своем), which can be to stand to one’s guns.

3) Phraseological combinations (сочетания), which consist of motivated components, one used in its direct meaning, others in figurative. E.g. to meet the demands/requirements, to enter the details.


There also exists a classification of idioms in the German language, where only unities and combinations are distinguished, and fusions are included into unities, because the criterion of motivation/demotivation may seem different to different speakers, thus being a subjective element of meaning.

A well-known classification of English idioms from different viewpoints was given by the Russian linguist Alexander Kunin, and the basis for the grouping being the grammatical or syntactical function of the unit. This means that every set expression can be equal or rather equalized to a separate word, and each separate word belongs to this or that part of speech. Hencewhere:

1) Nominal phrases:

a) noun + noun – maiden name (девичья фамилия);

b) noun’s + noun – cat’s paw (рябь на воде);

c) nouns’ + noun – ladies’ man;

d) noun + preposition + noun – a skeleton in the cupboard;

e) noun + adjective – knight errant (странствующий рыцарь);

f) noun + and + noun – lord and master (husband).

2) Verbal phrases:

a) verb + noun – to take advantage;

b) verb + and + verb – to pick and choose;

c) verb + one’s + noun + preposition – to snap one’s fingers at smb (to neglect smb);

d) verb + one + noun – to give one the sack/bird (to fire smb);

e) verb + subordinate clause – to see how the land lies

3) Adjectival phrases:

a) adjective + and + adjective – high and mighty;

b) as + adj + as + noun – as mad as a hatter.

4) Adverbial phrases:

a) noun + noun – tooth and nail (изо всех сил);

b) preposition + noun – of course, by heart;

c) preposition + noun + or + preposition + noun – by hook or by crook (всеми способами);

d) conjunction + clause – before one can say Jack Robinson.

5) Prepositional phrases: preposition + noun + preposition – on the ground of, in case of, in the event of.

6) Interjectional phrases: God bless me, bless my soul, holy cow.



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