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A set phrase or fixed phrase is a phrase whose parts are fixed in a certain order, even if the phrase could be changed without harming the literal meaning. This is because a set phrase is a culturally accepted phrase. A set phrase does not necessarily have any literal meaning in and of itself. Set phrases may function as idioms (e.g. red herring) or as words with a unique referent (e.g. Red Sea). There is no clear dividing line between a commonly used phrase and a set phrase. It is also not easy to draw a clear distinction between set phrases and compound words.
Examples of set phrases
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Some set phrases are used both alone and as part of longer expressions:
- do it yourself; do-it-yourself store (often: DIY store)
- I see – can be used both metaphorically and literally.
- I don't know
- thank you
- you're welcome – while it could have the same literal meaning as you are welcome, it is very rarely used this way.
- all of a sudden
- come into mind
- fall in line
- I can assure you
- so to speak
- surf the web
- Irreversible binomials like mix and match, wear and tear, and rock and roll
- trinomials (3-word fixed expressions); e.g. lights, camera, action; signed, sealed, and delivered; and lock, stock, and barrel.
- pop the question
Others are almost always used with more detail added:
- Don't look now... – used either literally or figuratively to warn someone about an imminent misfortune.
- You know... – usually used rhetorically to make the audience think about the following topic.
In other languages
Fixed expressions occur in other languages, as well, such as:
- Alex gab den Löffel ab (German, "Alex passed the spoon on," meaning: "Alex died")
- 血浓于水 (Mandarin, literally: "Blood is thicker than water")
|Look up set phrase in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Fossilization (linguistics)
- Irreversible binomial
- Lexical item
- Phatic expression
- Phrasal verb
- McArthur, TomsamDam. (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Tabossi, P.; Wolf, K.; Koterle, S. (1 July 2009). "Idiom syntax: Idiosyncratic or principled?". Journal of Memory and Language. 61 (1): 77–96. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2009.03.003.
- Sailer, Manfred (2017). Multiword expressions: Insights from a multi-lingual perspective. Phraseology and Multiword Expressions. Language Science Press.[page needed]
- Liu, Dayan (22 November 2012). "Translation and Culture: Translating Idioms between English and Chinese from a Cultural Perspective". Theory and Practice in Language Studies. 2 (11). CiteSeerX 10.1.1.735.6747. doi:10.4304/tpls.2.11.2357-2362.