Zayets O.S. The synonymous phenomenon in English phraseology

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Заєць Ольга Сергіївна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, напрям підготовки «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

Стаття надає причини необхідності вивчення явища синонімії в англійській фразеології у процесі оволодіння іноземною мовою майбутніми учителями початкової школи у вищих навчальних закладах України.

Ключові слова: навчання, явище синонімії, фразеологія, ідіоматичні вирази, зміна змісту, вплив іншомовних слів, мовна ситуація, мовний випадок, синтактична структура, відповідність, значення, конотація, взаємозаміна.

Статья подает причины необходимости изучения явления синонимии в английской фразеологии в процессе овладения иностранным языком будущими учителями начальной школы у высших учебных заведениях Украины.

Ключевые слова: обучение, явление синонимии, фразеология, идиоматические фразы, изменение смысла, влияние иностранных слов, языковая ситуация, языковой случай, синтаксическая структура, соответствие, значение, коннотация, взаимозаменяемость.

The article gives reasons for the necessity of studying the synonymous phenomenon in English phraseology in the process of learning a foreign language of the future primary school teachers in the higher education establishments of Ukraine.

Key words: studying, synonymous phenomenon, phraseology, idiomatic phrase, sense-shift, influx of foreign words, linguistic situation, linguistic occasion, syntactical structure, appropriate, meaning, connotation, interchangeable.


Problem setting

Realities of today, global interrelation of the nations and cultural varieties of our planet of the 21-st century, growing needs in communication and work among countries and people of different languages and cultural traditions demand training highly qualified primary school teachers that are expected to teach foreign languages, and who know two or three foreign languages and are capable to take part in an international cooperation and formation of a new attitude to Ukraine in Europe and the whole world as well.

In our case it is the studying of the synonymous phenomenon in English phraseology in the process of learning a foreign language of the future primary school teachers.

Last scientific researches and publications analysis

The problem of phraseology has been investigated by a great number of Ukrainian, Russian and Western linguists: V. Vinogradov, N. Amosova, V. Jukov, A. Koonin, R. Moon, L. Smith, etc., who possess similar as well as different opinions on the terminology, concept, essential features and classification of phraseological units.

A major stimulus to intensive studies of phraseology in linguistics was V. Vinogradov’s research carried out in the history of the Russian vocabulary. The classification suggested by the scholar has been widely adopted by linguists working on other languages.

Investigation of English phraseology was initiated by A. Koonin, whose dictionary of English idioms has much valuable information on the theory of phraseology (Moscow, 1968).

A special point of interest is presented by the approach to the problem of phraseology suggested by a famous philologist N. Amosova. In “Essentials of English Phraseology” the scientist defines phraseological units as units of fixed context, that is, phrases with a specific and stable sequence of certain lexical components and peculiar semantic relations between them. In these terms, phraseological units are classified into phrasemes and idioms.

Formulation of the article’s purpose

Nowadays it is a recognized fact that the language is closely connected with the culture of the nation and can be understood through the culture in the broad meaning of the term. The phraseological world of modern English is great and various, and there is no doubt that its each aspect deserves our due attention.

In this scientific research we try to provide an explanation of the synonymous phenomenon in English phraseology and to prove the importance of the studying this phenomenon in the process of learning a foreign language. The future primary school teachers who are expected to teach foreign languages should possess perfectly the foreign language communicative competence. Moreover, their knowledge of a foreign language should approximate as much as possible to native speakers. That is why using of different phraseology units in the speech of the future primary school teachers plays a significant role. Realization of this goal requires the application of the studying English phraseology in the process of learning a foreign language. The majority of phraseological units are tightly connected with the human and different fields of his activity that caused the emergence of a thematic group of phraseological units, which should be possessed by the future primary school teachers.

The statement of basic material of investigation

Languages differ greatly in the forms which they have adopted, in the peculiarities of their usages and the combinative power of words, in phraseological forms of expression.

Phraseology is a term of wide inclusion but seems preferable for describing various kinds of phrases characterized by different degrees of stability and idiomaticity in a given language.

A word should be said about synonyms in phraseology which lend so great a variety to language as to deserve particular attention.

The importance of studying such synonyms in practical use is quite obvious, and there is no need to stress its value.

Synonymy in phraseology has been greatly enriched by various processes of sense-shift, by the influx of foreign words and phrases, French in particular.

Absolute phraseological synonyms which have the same meaning and connotation are comparatively rare.

A few typical examples by way of illustration are given below:

  • over head and ears – up to the neck
  • in the twinkling of an eye – like winkling
  • a pretty kettle of fish – a nice pair of shoes
  • there has been many a peck of salt eaten since that time – much water has flown under the bridges since that time
  • velvet paws hide sharp claws – honey tongue, a heart of gall
  • (Ukrainian: на язиці мед, а на серці отрута) (Russian: мягко стелет, да жестко спать)
  • no great loss without small gain – every cloud has a silver lining
  • like lightning – with lightning speed – like a streak of lightning
  • pad in the straw – snake in the grass

Instances are not few when a phraseological synonymic group consists not of a pair but of several synonyms. See such idiomatic phrases as:

  • make somebody easy in his mind
  • make somebody's mind easy
  • make somebody's mind at rest

Relative phraseological synonyms denote different shades or different degrees of common meaning. Examine the following: to come to a conclusion – to arrive at a conclusion – to draw a conclusion – to jump at a conclusion – to leap at a conclusion.

All of these express one and the same general notion, the last two giving additional indication, that of a hasty conclusion (= швидко і поспішно приходити до висновку).

At last and at length are synonyms. They express the same notion but differ in a shade of meaning: at last will generally imply a sudden action; at length will show that the action developed gradually.

By way of illustration: It was not until we had rung three or four times that we could prevail upon Mrs. Grupp to communicate with us, but at last she appeared (Ch. Dickens).

He coughed to that extent ... that I fully expected to see his head go down behind the counter. At length, however, he got better though he still panted hard (Ch. Dickens).

Other examples of relative phraseological synonyms are:

  • be in two minds – be in twenty minds
  • to be in one's cups – to be dead drunk
  • to little purpose – to no purpose
  • have a bee in one's bonnet – to set one's mind on
  • in a great measure – in a measure

There is every reason to establish a stylistic differentiation of phraseological synonyms The synonyms of a particular phrase are not always interchangeable with that phrase for their use depends on the linguistic situation, the audience addressed and the writer’s or speaker’s attitude towards the subject. Some of them are stylistically neutral, others have an emotional connotation that makes them much richer and more expressive. The different connotation of stylistic phraseological synonyms indicates a different attitude towards the idea expressed by them.

In stylistic phraseological synonyms the difference is not so much in the meaning as in the emotional colouring. Examine the following:

  • what on earth is this? – what the hell is this?
  • when pigs fly – on the Greek calends
  • to breathe one’s last – to go to glory – to quit the scene – to pass away (poetic or euphemistic) – to kick the bucket – to hop over the perch – to turn up one’s toes (slangy vulgarism)
  • word of honour! – as I live by bread! (colloquial)
  • to do one’s best –to do ones damnedest (slang)
  • it takes the bun – it takes the biscuit (slang)
  • to go mad – to go off one’s head – to go crazy with something – to go off one’s chump.
  • to be in high spirits – to be in good spirits – to be on high ropes (colloquial)
  • to achieve one’s end — to do the trick (slang)

As we see, among phraseological synonyms we find phrases which are exactly the same in meaning but are appropriate only to definite contexts, on particular linguistic occasions.

Synonymic phrases are often similar in their syntactical structure and different in one of their lexical elements, e.g.:

  • grate upon the ear ≈ jar upon the ear – різати слух
  • like draws to like ≈ like will to like – рибак рибака бачить здалека
  • to get one's hand in ≈ to have one's hand in ≈ to keep one's hand in – натренуватися, набити руку
  • to cut a swath ≈ to cut a dash – замилювати очі, перебрати міру, перегнути палку
  • to draw to a close ≈ to draw to an end – наближатися до кінця
  • to have a big head ≈ to have a swelled head – зазнаватися
  • cut from the same cloth ≈ cut from the same piece – одного поля ягода, люди одного складу
  • to соте home ≈ to get home ≈ to go home ≈ to strike home – влучити, дійняти до живого, уразити
  • to have an eye on ≈ to keep an eye on – стежити, пильнувати, наглядати
  • to get one's ideas into shape ≈ to put oneєs ideas into shape – продумувати

Instances are not few when idiomatic phrases are similar in their lexical elements but different in their grammatical structure, e. g.

  • meet somebody’s ear ≈ meet the ear of somebody
  • throw dust in somebody’s eyes ≈ throw dust in the eyes of somebody
  • lend one’s ear ≈ lend one’s ears
  • it serves him right ≈ serve him right ≈ serves him right
  • my eye ≈ my eyes


Everything mentioned above confirms that the studying of the synonymous phenomenon in English phraseology in the process of learning a foreign language requires intense mental work of students who are trained to become the future primary school teachers who are expected to teach a foreign language and their active participation in both the process of learning and the process of teaching a foreign language in future. This process develops the students’ ability to learn, gaining information through a foreign language and processing this information to develop his personality and professionalism.

For further research on this issue we believe it appropriate to study the synonymous phenomenon in English phraseology in the context efforts of teachers-innovators, to follow recent developments in educational technologies and to implement modern instructional technologies.


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