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Binomial phrases

4 October 2019


Spoken grammar: lexico-grammatical features of conversation highlighted in corpus research.


Binomial phrases


If you look up ‘binomial phrases’ in the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (1999), you’ll find this definition: ‘two words from the same grammatical category, coordinated by and or or.’ Examples include ‘fish and chips’, ‘go and get’, and ‘black and white.'

What I’d like to mention here is the difference between two types of commonly-used adjective binomials: fixed pairs, and pairs with a little more flexibility.

‘Rich and famous’, ‘sick and tired’, and ‘bright and early’ are all fixed pairs: you could change the adjectives, but for a ready-made meaning that trips off the tongue, you probably wouldn’t.

‘Lovely and warm’ (to describe a room, perhaps) ‘nice and quick’ (for a journey), and ‘good and strong’ (a piece of rope), are common examples of the second type. The first adjective has a gently positive effect but is otherwise almost redundant. (This is similar to verb binomials, where the second verb carries more of the lexical weight: ‘come and sit down’, ‘go and see who it is’.) ‘Nice’ and ‘lovely’ are most frequent in this position, and interchangeable. ‘Good’ tends to be used for practical things:

I’ll put the potatoes in if the oven’s good and hot.

In other words, the adjectives in these pairs offer a limited range of choices: someone describing a comfortable room on a cold day, for example, could say ‘nice and warm’ or ‘lovely and cosy’.


To find out about teaching spoken grammar, you are welcome to visit my online course, Spoken Grammar: A Guide for English Language Teachers.