Hans Sauer,

Birgit Schwan


Binomials in general and English binomials in particular are a frequent, complex and important linguistic as well as stylistic phenomenon.1 Compared to other linguistic phenomena, however, they are a relatively under-researched field. Therefore our aim is to provide a concise survey of English binomials, sketching their structure, function, history and the current state of scholarship, and pointing out possibilities for further research.2

The first part of this article was published in the previous issue of the journal. In Part II we move on to the etymological (9.) and the semantic structure of English binomials (10.). Very broadly speaking, we thus move from aspects that concern mainly the surface to features that lie a little deeper down. The etymological structure has to do with the use and distribution of native words and of loan-words; the semantic structure comprises synonyms, antonyms, and complementary pairs, as well as factual, stylistic, and cultural binomials. We also deal briefly with the semantic features of multinomials (11.), with the relation of translated binomials to their (especially Latin or French) source (12.), with differences between authors and texts (13.), with the sequence of elements and the factors that influence the sequence (14.), and with the question how far binomials are formulaic and how far they are flexible and can be coined on the spur of the moment (15.). A brief conclusion (16.) and references complete the article.

Słowa kluczowe: binomials, word-pairs, morphology, etymology, semantics, formulae


Caxton = Mager W. (ed.). 2016. The Middle English Text of Caxton’s Ovid. Books II–III. [= Middle English Texts 53]. Heidelberg.

Chaucer = Benson L.D. (general ed.). 2008. The Riverside Chaucer. [3rd edition, reprinted with a new foreword by Ch. Cannon]. Oxford.

Gower = Macaulay G.C. (ed.). 1900. The English Works of John Gower. [2 vols.]. [= Early English Text Society, Extra Series 81, 82; reprinted 1957]. Oxford.

Hecht 1907 = Old English Dialogues of Gregory = Hecht H. (ed.). 1900–1907. Bischof Wærferths von Worcester Übersetzung der Dialoge Gregors des Grossen. [vol. 1–2]. [= Bibliothek der angelsächsischen Prosa 5]. Leipzig, Hamburg. [Reprinted in one volume: Darmstadt, 1965. The edition was published in 1900, and the introduction in 1907; in the 1965 reprint the introduction follows the edition].

Lotus Sutra = Reeves (2008), Watson (1993).

Milton’s Samson Agonistes = Milton J. 2004. The English Poems. [On the cover: The English Po­ems of John Milton; with introduction and notes by Laurence Lerner]. Ware, Hertfordshire.

On Famous Women = Cowen J. (ed.). 2015. The Middle English Translation of Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris. [= Middle English Texts 51]. Heidelberg.

Pecock = Hitchcock E.V. (ed.). 1921. The Donet by Reginald Peacock. [= Early English Text Society, Original Series 156; several reprints]. Oxford.

Reeves G. 2008. The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic. Boston (MA).

The Historye of the Patriarks = Taguchi M. (ed.). 2010. The Historye of the Patriarks. [= Mid­dle English Texts 42]. Heidelberg.

The Wise Book = Griffin C. (ed.). 2013. The Middle English Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy. [= Middle English Texts 47]. Heidelberg.

Watson B. 1993. The Lotus Sutra. [Translations from the Asian Classics]. New York.


MED = Kurath H. et al. (eds.). 1952–2001. Middle English Dictionary. [Thanks to the Uni­versity of Michigan also available on the internet].

OED = Murray J.A.H. et al. 1884–1928. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford. [Reprinted 1933 in 10 vols; 2nd edition in 20 vols. ed. by J.A. Simpson & E.S.C. Weiner, Oxford 1989; 3rd edition in progress, also known as OEDonline].

Studies and handbooks

Berger Ch. 1993. Altenglische Paarformeln und ihre Varianten. [= Münsteraner Monographien zur englischen Literatur 13]. Frankfurt am Main.

Chrzanowska-Kluczewska E. 2013. Much more than metaphor: Master tropes of artistic language and imagination. [= Interfaces 3]. Frankfurt am Main.

Jespersen O. 1972. [1905]. Growth and structure of the English language. [9th edition]. Oxford. [Here quoted from the 9th edition 1972; 1st edition Leipzig 1905].

Kopaczyk J., Sauer H. (eds.). 2017. Binomials in the history of English. Cambridge.

Koskenniemi I. 1968. Repetitive word pairs in Old and Middle English prose. [= Annales Universitatis Turkuensis, Ser. B, 107]. Turku.

Leisi E. 1947. Die tautologischen Wortpaare in Caxtons Eneydos: Zur synchronischen Bedeu­tungs- und Ursachenforschung. Cambridge (MA).

Lenker U. 1999. Gerles, girls, grrrlz – girl power! Cultural phenomena and the semantic changes of girl. – Falkner W., Schmid H.-J. (eds.). Word, lexemes, concepts – approaches to the lexicon: Studies in honour of Leonhard Lipka. Tübingen: 7–21.

Lutz A. 2013. Language contact and prestige. – Anglia 131.4: 565–590.

Malkiel Y. 1959. Studies in irreversible binomials. – Lingua 8: 113–160.

Mollin S. 2014. The (ir)reversibility of English binomials: Corpus, constraints, developments. Amsterdam.

Sauer H. (forthcoming a). Binomials in the Middle English and Early Modern English ver­sions of Boccaccio’s De claris mulieribus.

Sauer H. (forthcoming b). Milton’s binomials in Samson Agonistes.

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