English Language
Fixed Expressions

Fixed Expressions

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An Introduction to Fixed Expressions

You have probably heard the phrase "on the flip side" before, most likely while writing an essay and needing to present a different viewpoint. But did you know that this is an example of a fixed expression?

Fixed expressions are combinations of words that convey a precise idea or concept and have a consistent structure and word order. These expressions often have literal meanings, making them easy to understand.

It is important to note that fixed expressions are commonly used in English and are familiar to native speakers. However, non-native speakers may find them initially challenging to grasp due to their specific meanings.

Types of Fixed Expressions

In English, expressions can be either fixed or semi-fixed.

Fixed expressions have a set word order and structure that cannot be changed. For example, the phrase "all of a sudden" simply means "suddenly". Altering any of the words, such as "all of an instant" or "all of a very sudden" or "all of sudden", would result in a nonsensical phrase.

Semi-fixed expressions also have a consistent word order, but certain parts can be modified to convey slightly different meanings. For example, the phrase "I haven't seen you for ages" maintains the same structure, but the noun "ages" can be replaced with days, weeks, months, or years to specify different lengths of time.

Examples of Fixed Expressions

Here are some common fixed expressions. How many are you familiar with?

Although fixed expressions usually have a consistent word pattern, there are exceptions. For instance, the expression "last but not least" is used to emphasize the importance of someone or something mentioned last. However, variations such as "last but certainly not least" or "last but by no means least" may have additional or altered words while conveying the same meaning.

It is worth noting that fixed expressions can be confusing for non-native speakers as they may not always follow logical patterns. Additionally, using incorrect words or not understanding the meaning can make fixed expressions sound unnatural.

Examples of Semi-Fixed Expressions

Here are some examples of semi-fixed expressions:

  • I haven't seen you for [length of time].
  • Could you pass me the [object]?
  • Take [something] into consideration.
  • Hold [someone] accountable.
  • For [someone's] own benefit.

Fixed Expressions vs. Idioms

Fixed expressions and idioms are often confused as they both consist of combinations of words with specific meanings. However, there are differences between the two. Let's clarify the meaning of idioms:

Idioms are phrases that convey a complete idea that cannot be understood by looking at the words individually. They often have figurative meanings and should not be taken literally. For this reason, they are also referred to as figures of speech, making them slightly more challenging to understand compared to fixed expressions.

A common idiom is "it's raining cats and dogs". This does not mean that actual cats and dogs are falling from the sky, but it is a metaphor for heavy rain.


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