Set phrase

A set phrase (also known as a phraseme 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).[1] 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.[1]

It is different from a proverb in that it is used as a part of a sentence, and is the standard way of expressing a concept or idea.

In theoretical linguistics, two-word set phrases are said to arise during the generative formation of English nouns.[citation needed]

A certain stricter notion of set phrases, more in line with the concept of a lexical item, provides an important underpinning for the formulation of meaning–text theory.

In other languagesEdit

Fixed expressions occur in other languages, as well, such as:

  • Alex gab den Löffel ab (German, "Alex passed the spoon on," meaning: "Alex died")[2]
  • 血浓于水 (Mandarin, literally: "Blood is thicker than water")[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b McArthur, TomsamDam. (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Sailer, Manfred (2017). Multiword expressions: Insights from a multi-lingual perspective. Phraseology and Multiword Expressions. Language Science Press.[page needed]
  3. ^ 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 doi:10.4304/tpls.2.11.2357-2362.