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On the Problem of Formation of the English Phraseological Units

Автор: Гладкоскок В., Чернівецький національний університет імені Юрія Федьковича


Phraseological units (PhUs) play a significant role in the vocabulary of the language. The vocabulary is complemented by the PhUs that are characterized by aptness, laconic brevity and emotive colouring. These factors presuppose the existence of PhUs in the language. The problem of the phraseological changeability was discussed by a number of linguists (J. Sinclair, N. Nesselhauf, M. Bakhtin, I. Arnold etc.).

The actuality of the research of PhUs is stipulated by the essential role they play in language and speech and their complex character. The objective of this article is to outline the ways of formation of PhUs in the language.

Phraseological unit is defined as a phrase developing a meaning which cannot be readily analysed into the several semantic elements which would ordinarily be expressed by the words making up a phrase.. It transcends the ordinary semantic patterns and must be studied as an indivisible entity, in itself. N. N. Amosova defines phraseological units as units of fixed context, i.e. phrases with a specific and stable sequence of certain lexical components and peculiar semantic relations between them [1; 25].

Phraseological units are word–groups that cannot be made in the process of speech, they exist in the language as ready–made units. American and British lexicographers call such units «idioms» [2; 115].

We adhere to the theory of A. V. Koonin, who classified phraseological units according to the way they are formed. He pointed out primary and secondary ways of forming phraseological units [3; 30].

Primary ways of forming phraseological units are those when a unit is formed on the basis of a free word–group:

a) the most productive in Modern English is the formation of phraseological units by means of transferring the meaning of terminological word–groups, e.g. launching pad in its terminological meaning is «стартова площадка», in its transferred meaning – «відправний пункт», to link up – “стикуватися, in its tranformed meaning it means – «знайомитися»;

b) a large group of phraseological units was formed by transforming the meaning of free word groups, e.g. granny farm«пансионат для старих людей», Trojan horse – «a person or thing used secretly to cause the ruin of an enemy»;

c) phraseological units can be formed by means of alliteration, e.g. a sad sack«нещасний випадок», culture vulture«людина, яка цікавиться мистецтвом», fudge and nudge – «ухильність;.

d) phraseological units can be formed by means of expressiveness, especially it is characteristic of forming interjections, e.g. My aunt!, Hear, hear! etc;

e) phraseological units can be formed by means of distorting a word group, e.g. odds and ends was formed from «odd ends»;

f) phraseological units can be formed by using archaisms, e.g. in brown study means «in gloomy meditation» where both components preserve their archaic meanings;

g) phraseological units can be formed by using a phrase in a different sphere of life, e.g. that cock won’t fight can be used as a free word–group when it is used in sports (cock fighting); it becomes a phraseological unit when it is used in everyday life, as it is used metaphorically;

h) phraseological units can be formed by the use of some unreal image, e.g. to have butterflies in the stomach«відчувати хвилюваня» etc;

i) phraseological units can be formed by using expressions of writers or polititians in everyday life, e.g. «corridors of power» (Snow), «American dream» (Alby), «locust years» (Churchil) , «the winds of change» (Mc Millan) etc.

Secondary ways of forming phraseological units are those when a phraseological unit is formed on the basis of another phraseological unit; they are:

a) conversion, e.g. to vote with one’s feet was converted into vote with one’s feet;

b) changing the grammar form, e.g. Make hay while the sun shines is transferred into a verbal phrase – to make hay while the sun shines;

c) analogy, e.g. Curiosity killed the cat was transferred into Care killed the cat;

d) contrast, e.g. cold surgery«a planned before operation» was formed by contrasting it with acute surgerн, thin cat«a poor person» was formed by contrasting it with fat cat;

e) shortening of proverbs or sayings, e.g. the phraseological unit to make a sow’s ear with the meaning «помилятись» was formed from the proverb You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by means of clipping the middle of it;

f) borrowing phraseological units from other languages, either as translation loans, e.g. living space (German), to take the bull by the horns (Latin), or by means of phonetic borrowings, e.g. meche blanche (French), corpse d’elite (French), sotto voce (Italian) etc.

Thus, we may conclude that, irrespective of the way of formation, the peculiarities of PhUs consist in the high degree of their semantic non–compositionality, indivisibility; the meaning of the whole unit is in almost all cases never influenced by the meaning of its components; further investigation may concern semantic and stylistic potential of PhUs.



  1. Амосова Н.Н. Основы английской фразеологии / Н.Н. Амосова. – Л. : Изд–во Ленингр. ун–та, 1963. – 208 с.
  2. Арнольд И.В. Лексикология современного английского языка / И.В. Арнольд. – 3–е изд., перераб. и доп. – М. : Высш. шк., 1986. – 295 c.
  3. Кунин А.В. Курс фразеологии современного английского языка / А.В. Кунин. – М. : Высшая школа, 1986. – 336 с.
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