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Table 2.1: Types of sentence structures

Table 2.1: Types of sentence structures

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Among the above definitions, the author has the same opinion with Randolph Quirk

(1985) that there are 7 different types of sentence structures: SV, SVA, SVC, SVO,


2.3 Overview of idioms

2.3.1 Definition of idioms

In the definition of English idioms, some scholars emphasize the quantity of

structures in idioms. Others emphasize the single meaning of English idioms which

refers that the English idioms’ meaning is arbitrary. The English idioms’ meaning

can not be synthesized or cut apart. Different people hold the different opinions and

focal points on the definition of English idioms. In English, idioms maybe treated as

a type of collocation involving two or more words in context. However, since the

meaning of an idiom can not be predicted from the meaning of its constituents,

idioms may be considered as a type of multi word lexeme. So far, there have been

several definitions of idioms.

Jon Wright (2000) and Fromkin, Collin and Blair (1990) have the same ideas

that: “an idiom is an expression with the following features: It is fixed and is

recognized by native speakers. You cannot make up your own; it uses language in a

non literal-metaphorical- way”. For example the idiom meet your maker is fixed

and cannot be replaced by other verbs or phrases because this idiom is recognized

by native speakers.

Idioms also have been defined by Jenifer Seild and Mordie (1988), Hornby

(1995) and Arthur (1986) as “a number of words which, when taken together, have

different meanings from individual meaning of each word”. Therefore, an idiom is a

multi-word construction. Its semantic meaning can not be deducted from the

meaning of constituents and it has a non productive syntactic structure. Idioms are

phrases that do not mean exactly what they say. They have "hidden" meanings, like

the idiom dogs are barking really means the feet are hurting.

In Vietnam, Nguyễn Văn Hằng (1999) defined that: “Idiom is a special

phrase which allows very little or no variation in form; it is formed with rhythm and

special phonetic elements; its meaning cannot be deduced from its individual

components; it expresses figurative and general meaning and normally comes along

with emotive values; it is used to denote real phenomena and it often functions as a

sentence element” (Thành ngữ là một cụm từ đặc biệt có cấu trúc cố định , có vần

điệu và thành phần ngữ âm đặc biệt; có thể suy ra từ tổng số nghĩa của các yếu tố


cấu thành nó; thành ngữ có nghĩa bóng, nghĩa hình ảnh khái quát, thường kèm theo

giá trị biểu cảm; thành ngữ thường dùng để định danh những hiện tượng của hiện

thực và thường hoạt động trong câu với tư cách là một bộ phận cấu thành của nó).

Hồng Văn Hành (2002) defined “Idioms are set expressions which are

stable in metaphor structure, complete and figurative in meaning widely used in

daily communication” (Thành ngữ là một loại tổ hợp từ cố định, bền vững về hình

thái cấu trúc, hồn chỉnh, bóng bảy về ý nghĩa, được sử dụng rộng rãi trong giao

tiếp hàng ngày).

According to Nguyễn Thiện Giáp (1985), idiom is defined as “Idioms are set

expressions that have both the complete in meaning and valuable description.

Idioms that express conceptions are usually based on specific images and symbols

(Những đơn vị định danh biểu thị khái niệm nào đó dựa trên những hình ảnh, những

biểu tượng cụ thể).

Phan Văn Quế (1996) defined idioms as “A group of words combined

together to express something whose meaning is different from its constituent” (Một

nhóm các từ kết hợp với nhau để diễn đạt một cái gì đó mà có ý nghĩa khác với

thành phần của nó).

These different definitions above show that despite the different countries,

cultures and societies, there is no argument about definition of idioms. In short, the

idioms consist of set phrases and short sentences, which are peculiar to the language

in question and steeped in the nation and religion, culture and ideas, thus being

colorful, forcible and thought – provoking. Idioms are expressions that are not

readily understandable from their literal meanings of individual constituents. An

idiom is a fixed expression with the meaning of which could be carried out by

gathering the bare meaning of its singular words.

2.3.2 Features of idioms Syntactic features

An idiom is a fixed group of words. Each word is considered as a component

of an idiom and an idiom consists of at least two components. In the book titled “In

other words”, Baker (1992) describes “Idioms are frozen patterns of language which

allow little or no variation in form and often carry meanings which can not be

deducted from their individual components”. Idioms are structurally and lexically

restricted. Hence, the components and grammatical structures of idioms cannot be

changed, added, omitted or replaced. They cannot be varied in the way literal


expressions are normally varied both in speech and writing. In both English and

Vietnamese, the stability in idioms is very high.

However, according to Fraser (1970), there are specified idioms between

those which are able to undergo all the grammatical changes and those which are

unable to undergo the smallest grammar changes at all. Thus, there are some idioms

which have two or more alternative forms without losing their idiomatic meaning.

These different forms sometimes refect differences between British and American

the same meanings to join in an activity without playing an important part in it. In

many caseses, several verbs can be used in an idiom such as Go/Sell like hot cakes

(to be brought or taken quickly because of being popular or cheap). In fact, idioms

are only fixed in some of their parts but not all. Idioms are expressions, not

subjected to analysis, only some syntactic changes may be carried out in them. The

idioms which can easily be subjected to syntactic changes are more flexible. Tense

changes within idioms can be possible made in most of idioms, so they indicate the

animation of the actions in different tenses on the person’s mind, for example catch

a cold changes to caught a cold. In addition, some idioms can be broken or changed

more or less in their structures, for example easy come, easy go/ light come, light

go. In the same way, prepositions can vary, for example come up/out smelling like a

horse (to succeed; to do better than anyone else in some situations).

Moreover, each idiom has a stable structure and meaning. An idiom can have

a regular structure, an irregular or even a grammatical incorrect structure. First,

idioms which have a regular structure have common forms but there is no

combination between the meaning of each component and that of the whole unit, for

example come along way (to make a lot of progress and improvement). Secondly,

the idioms can be groups of words which have unconventional forms but their

meaning can be worked out through the meaning of individual words such as make

you enemy your friend. In accordance with the rule of grammar, the structures of the

verb make are make somebody do something and make somebody/something +

Adjective. However, in this case, the idiom does not need to obey grammatical rule

to make sense, it can still be understood that make you enemy become your friend.

Finally, the idioms can be group of words which both grammartically inaccurate

and the meaning is not precisely expressed by gathering the meaning of each

member word such as: go over big (with someone) (to be very much appreciated by

someone). The structure of the above idioms is written as V + Preposition +


Adjective. Although in English grammar prepositions are never followed by

adjectives. In this case, the idiom is acceptable. It can be considered as an

expression in language.

According to Bell (1974), some of structural features which are crucial in the

recognition of idioms are as follows.

Alteration of grammatical rules: The idiom is not always grammatical

but it is instituted, accepted and used by native speakers of the language with a

fixed structure and meaning. Here is the example: She had several goes at the high

jump before he succeeded in clearing it (singular with plural noun).

Conventional phrases: The idiomatic expressions are special

expressions which are almost known and agreed by all the members of a particular

community such as At one go (at once).

Alteration of word order: Idiomatic expressions in English usually do

not respect the English word order such as Go as red as beet (normal word order) or

Go beet red (probably).

Figurativeness: The fundamental characteristic of idiomatic

expressions is that the words are used metaphorically. Therefore, the surface

structure has a little role to play inunderstanding the meaning of the whole

expression. For example, in the idiom go to the dogs (to become less successful or

efficient than before). The meaning of the words to go and the dog are different

from the meaning of the whole expression.

Phrasal verb is the most common type of idioms in English. Many of

them carry idiomatic meanings that cannot be inferred from the form, unless the

phrase is already known. For example, I will go along with you on that matter (to

agree) or The patient who’d been knocked out finally came around (to regain


According to the author of Oxford dictionary of English idioms such as

Cowie; Martin and McCaig (1994), there are enormous structural varieties of

English idioms, which can be classified under two general headings: phrase idioms

and clause idioms. Besides these two main types, there are also other types of

idioms, that is sentence idioms.

Phrase idioms: Noun phrase (land of living); Verb phrase (meet your

marker); Adjective phrase (blue around the gills), Prepositional phrase (in the pink

of health) and Adverbial phrase (At one go).


Clause idioms: Verb + Complement (go berseck); Verb + Direct

object (control one’s anger); Verb + Direct object + Complement (go beet red);

Verb + Indirect object (go home to mama); Verb + Indirect object + Adjunct (go

home in a box).

Sentence idioms: Sentence idioms may be simple or complex

sentences (Dreams go by contraries; Tomorrow never comes; He that goes a

borrowing, goes a sorrowing, etc).

To sum up, in terms of structural features, idioms may take a variety of

forms or structures such as clause, phrase and sentence. In relation with structures,

idioms can have a regular, irregular or even incorrect grammatical structure.

Briefly, the author decided to use the theory of Cowie; Martin and McCaig because

their theory is suitable to investigate the syntactic and semantic features of English

and Vietnamese idioms denoting health. Semantic features

Idioms are composed of words which often contain images. These hidden

images can be either or difficult to imagine. Thus, the surface structure has a little

role to play in understanding the meaning of the whole expression. It is the

figurativeness of idioms that makes the expressions lively, impressive and deep in

the meaning. The meaning is the most important aspect when discussing semantic

features of idioms. The basic characteristic of idioms is figurative meaning which

helps to distinguish whether a fixed expression is an idiom or not. For example,

Read somebody like a book (to understand someone very well, you can know

exactly what they are feeling or thinking without having to ask) and its Vietnamese

translation equivalents in Đi guốc trong bụng.

In some cases, the meaning of an idiom can be guessed because the image

created is already quite obvious, for example go like the wind (nhanh như gió).

However, in other cases, it is nearly impossible to do so because the meaning of

idioms must be explained by referring to historical and cultural knowledge.

Kunin (2006) stated that the meaning of an idiom is either partly (motivated

idioms) or completely different from the meaning of all components (non-mativated

idioms). The meaning of idioms cannot be guessed from the meaning of their

components. In some cases of partial difference, the figurative meaning is not quite

different from the literal one. For example, What comes, will come (Việc gì đến sẽ

đến); Go in one ear and out the other (Nói vào tai này ra tai kia); Easy come, easy


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Table 2.1: Types of sentence structures

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