logo ELT Concourse for teacher trainers

Lexical relationships: in-service training sessions


At initial level, training courses often consider lexis in terms of meaning and form and pay some attention to relationships between words.  At this level, we have to build on (and revise) what is already known and then consider a range of technical terms and what they mean for relationships between words.
It is unlikely that too much time will need to be spent on basic factors and terms such as word class and synonymy but some of the pre-service worksheets are available on this site should you feel the need to do some swift revision before tackling more advanced ideas.


The key ideas

The first part of the first worksheet is devoted to getting to grips with paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships.  Without understanding and being able to identify the differences, little else can be attempted.
As you can see from the list which follows, there is a lot to cover in this area, far too much for a single session or two.
Feel free to edit.

Worksheets linked from this page concern:

  • Fundamentals
    • paradigmatic relationships
    • syntagmatic relationships
  • homonymy
    • homophones
    • homographs
  • antonymy
    • gradable
    • converse
    • complementary
  • polysemy
  • hyponymy
  • meronymy
  • collocation
    • strengths
    • reciprocity
  • idiomaticity
    • opacity
    • fixedness
  • delexicalisation
  • metonymy
  • synecdoche
  • simile
  • metaphor


Two types of relationships

This is not a concept distinction which is covered on most initial training courses, except by inference.  You will need to present the area through exemplification.
The fundamental distinction is:

Syntagmatic relationship
This describes the horizontal relationship between lexemes.  If one takes, for example:
    He immediately bought a new car
the words he, immediately, bought, a, new, car are connected by syntax (hence the name).
Subjects use Verbs, Verbs sometimes take Objects, Determiners relate to Noun phrases, Adjectives modify Nouns, Adverbs modify Verbs and so on.
The relationship is to do with syntax (from the Greek meaning to arrange together).
Paradigmatic relationships
These are exemplified by the changes we can make to lexemes within syntax.  We can, for example, replace:
He with The man next door
immediately with recently
bought with stole
a with that
new with beautiful
car with bicycle
and produce a parallel sentence with a completely different meaning:
    The man next door recently stole that beautiful bicycle
The key point is that the changes we make involve replacing like with like, word class with word class.
We cannot replace a verb with a noun or an adjective with an adverb and produce a well formed sentence.
These relationships work vertically in the sense that Noun phrases can be replaced by other Noun phrases, Verb phrases by other Verb phrases, Adjectives by other Adjectives, Adverbs by other Adverbs and so on.  The relationship is to do with word and phrase class.
The word paradigmatic derives from paradigm (from the Greek meaning to show side by side).


The worksheets

The first worksheets tackles these opening two ideas.

The tasks in the worksheets ask people to:

  1. Form acceptably grammatical sentences from the switchboard.  Very few will make much sense and it is entertaining to find the most unlikely.
  2. The items that cannot be used are:
    1. suspiciously: an adverb which cannot form the subject of the sentence
    2. friendly: an adjective which cannot modify a verb
    3. behaved: an intransitive verb which cannot have an object
    4. problem: a noun which cannot be used as a verb
    5. half: a pre-determiner which cannot be separated from the determiner + noun phrase by an adjective
    6. stick: a verb or noun which cannot be an adjective (but can be a classifier)
    7. ouch!: an interjection which cannot form the object noun phrase
  3. The reason they cannot be used is that they do not share the syntagmatic characteristics of the other items in each column.
  4. Describe the characteristics of each column:
    1. noun hyponyms of something like building
    2. adverb synonyms and antonyms
    3. verb synonyms
    4. prepositions of time
    5. determiners
    6. a lexical set of seasons
  5. Describe the syntagmatic relationships of each row:
        subject + adverb + verb + preposition + prepositional complement or object (a determiner plus a noun).

Now, you need to do some mini-lecturing to get the concepts in Worksheet #2 clear.  The worksheet itself is purely a test but will form a record for people to take away.
The concepts to introduce are:

The exercise (3) which focuses on polysemous vs. homonymous words is open to some debate.  Access to the etymology may help but etymology is not a reliable guide to modern meaning.

The three types of antonyms are:
    happy vs. sad and long vs. short: gradable
    up vs. down and uncle vs. aunt: converse
    shut vs. open and artificial vs. natural: complementary

Exercise 5 focuses on hyponymy and meronymy.  The first concerns types of the superordinate or hypernym, the second concerns parts of a whole.  Outcomes are not fully predictable but:

  1. Is likely to be an example of meronymy if people chose bicycle to fill the first gap.  All the others are parts of, not types of, bicycles.
  2. Can only be an example of hyponymy with a superordinate words like herb or medicinal / culinary plant.
  3. Could be hyponymy if the first gap is filled with something like computer peripheral but of meronymy if the first gap is filled with something like computer.

Worksheet #3 is concerned with the last seven concepts.

Exercise 1 focuses on strong and weak collocations, delexicalised verbs and idioms.  It is purely an introduction and awareness-raising activity.  You have to teach the area, too!  In particular, collocation probably demands a session to itself.  There is a guide, linked below, to help you on your way.
it is up to you whether you take the idea of delexicalisation at face value or consider the opposing views.

Here are some notes:

  1. This is an example of a delexicalised verb.  Few verbs apart from make can be used with the noun.  There is also a phrasal verb with its integrated adverb particle, up, which is an example of lexical collocation in some analyses or a colligation in others.
  2. This is, again, make as a delexicalised verb controlled by the noun.
  3. There are a number of possible answers because this is an example of a weak collocation.  The possibilities are not, however, endless and it is possible to come up with an almost complete list of the likely completions.
  4. This is a fixed, semi-transparent trinomial idiom.
  5. This is a binomial noun which is almost always singular, denoting its singular concept.
  6. This is an example of a predictable collocation because of the noun drizzle.
  7. This is a very weak collocation with an enormous number of adjectives and other items which could fill the gap.
  8. This shows the nature of non-reciprocity with collocations.  Far fewer nouns or nouns phrases can work here.
  9. Again, a large number of possible completions are to hand.  Almost any adverbial will fit.
  10. There is more constraint here and compared with the previous one, shows that collocation is not symmetrical or reciprocal.
  11. Completing this sentence requires a bit of imagination but people may well arrive at
        The rain was absolutely torrential and we were soaked to the skin in seconds.
  12. These are examples of partitives.  The first specific, the second more general which is why the first gap has only one solution.
  13. This is a semi-fixed idiom.  Two possibilities are the drawing board and square one.

The discussion of question 2 will require all the concepts above.

Question 3 focuses on two concepts to do with idiomaticity: opacity and fixedness.  The level of fixedness is not usually arguable.  How opaque an expression is can be a matter of opinion and reflect the level of the learner.  This is the time to introduce the concept of non-compositionality.

Questions 4 and 5 focus on some lesser known terms so if you like, providing the concept is clear, the terms synecdoche and metonymy can be skipped or glossed over.  You can ignore page two of the worksheet if that is appropriate.


Related areas

The worksheets here cover a wide range of ideas and terms which many find it difficult to take on board.  It should be taken slowly with people like that.

Related guides
lexical relationships the main in-service guide which has links to other areas
collocation for the in-service guide to the area
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms