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Free Word-Groups Versus Phraseological Units Versus Words

Motivation in Word-Groups

Types of Meaning of Word-Groups

The meaning of word-groups can be divided into: 1) lexical and 2) structural (grammatical) components.

1. The lexical meaning of the word-group may be defined as the combined lexical meaning of the component words. Thus, the lexical meaning of the word-group red flower may be described denotationally as the combined meaning of the words red and flower. However, the term “combined lexical meaning” is not to imply that the meaning of the word-group is a mere additive result of all the lexical meanings of the component members. The lexical meaning of the word-group predominates over the lexical meanings of its constituents.

2. The structural meaningof the word-group is the meaning conveyed mainly by the pattern of arrangement of its constituents. For example, such word-groups as school grammar (школьная грамматика) and grammar school (грамматическая школа) are semantically different because of the difference in the pattern of arrangement of the component words.

Thus, the meaning of the word-group is derived from the combined lexical meanings of its constituents and is inseparable from the meaning of the pattern of their arrangement.


Semantically all word-groups can be classified into motivated and non-motivated.

A word-group is lexically motivated if the combined lexical meaning of the group is deducible from the meanings of its components, e.g. red flower, heavy weight, teach a lesson.

If the combined lexical meaning of a word-group is not deducible from the lexical meaning of its constituent components, such a word-group is lexically non-motivated, e.g. red tape (“official bureaucratic methods”), take place (“occur”).

The degree of motivation can be different. Between the extremes of complete motivation and lack of motivation there are innumerable intermediate cases. For example, the degree of lexical motivation in the nominal group black market is higher than in black death, but lower than in black dress, though none of the groups can be considered completely non-motivated.

Completely non-motivated or partially motivated word-groups are described as phraseological units or idioms.


A phraseological unit can be defined as a reproduced and idiomatic (non-motivated) or partially motivated unit built up according to the model of free word-groups (or sentences) and semantically and syntactically brought into correlation with words. Hence, there is a need for criteria exposing the degree of similarity/difference between phraseological units and free word-groups, phraseological units and words.

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