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In linguistics, a phraseologism ( idiomaticphrase  or idiom is a sequence of lexemes ( components ; constituents ) that have grown together to form a fixed form, i.e. a certain type of syntagm (=  grammatical combination of words, usually made up of several words ). The meaning of such a prefabricated linguistic module usually goes beyond the purely literal meaning of its individual components.

The term comes from the neugr. φρασεολογισμός phraseologismós , a neologism from the old Gr . φράσεος phráseōs ( Gen. of φράσις phrásis , (here) 'speaking', 'expression (s way)' ⇒ phrase [here: in the sense of phrase (linguistics) ] and λογισμός logismós , 'computing', 'calculation'  Logism: " reason based conclusion ").


Usually synonymous to "Phraseologismus" the Termini phraseme , Phraseolexem , phraseological word combination , Wortgruppenlexem and (idiomatic) phrase and partly idiom - in this case in terms of a "peculiar coinage, combination of words or syntactic addition, their total meaning not from the individual meanings derives words “- and idiomatization is used (the latter two only partially or rarely (er), since these are ambiguous or ambiguous terms; see article ).

The opposite of "phraseologism" and synonyms is "free word combination". The sub- discipline of linguistics that deals with these fixed word combinations is phraseology .

Phraseologisms are and have always been subject to historical development. Phraseologisms in contemporary language are easier to understand, whereas historical ones are more difficult to understand . The sub-discipline of phraseology that deals with such historical phraseologisms is called historical phraseology .


The three main criteria used to describe phraseologisms are

Further noteworthy characteristics of a phraseologism are


A phraseologism must consist of at least two lexical units. There is no maximum size (if their structure exceeds sentence length, however, they no longer belong to the phraseological inventory). There is disagreement in research as to whether phraseologisms must contain autosemantics (meaningful words) or whether a minimal fixed phrase can also consist of two synsemantics (meaningless or weak words). This postulate that a phraseologism must consist of at least two components, however, can seem to be called into question by the presence of so-called one-word phraseologisms: A “hair-splitter” is phraseological because it “splits hair” and is unthinkable without this phraseologism.


Firmness (or stability) occurs as formal, lexical, and semantic firmness.

  • Formal stability is understood to mean the property of a phraseologism of being syntactically non-convertible (e.g. “belongings” versus “wells and belongings”).
  • Due to the lexical stability, the individual components are marked as non-interchangeable (e.g. “like cat and mouse” versus “like cat and rat”).
  • The semantic stability means that the phraseological expression as a whole carries the meaning, in contrast to the free meaning, where the individual components are meaning carriers.

In addition, other types of strength can be identified, which expand the above:

  • The psycholinguistic firmness, which means that phraseologisms like other lexemes in the mental lexicon are permanently available and can be reproduced.
  • By pragmatic firmness one understands the characteristic of phraseologisms to be bound to certain situations ( routines ).

Firmness is a relative criterion, which means that phraseologisms can be modified to varying degrees. This occurs mainly in everyday oral language , in media texts ( e.g. in advertising language ) and in literary texts (including song texts).


Under the idiomaticity refers to the semantic interpretation of individual components or the whole Phraseologismus. The individual components give up their free meaning in favor of a new meaning. Idiomaticity is also a relative characteristic, because it depends on the one hand on context and previous knowledge (especially when unique components occur, i.e. words that no longer have a free meaning in today's language, e.g. “ mole monkeys for sale”, “someone to chase into the fenugreek "), on the other hand it is gradual. So exist

  • Full idioms (expression as a whole has been reinterpreted, e.g. "pouring someone pure wine")
  • Partial idioms (only individual components have been reinterpreted, others remain in their literal meaning, e.g. "stowaway")
  • Non-idioms or collocations (the components are not reinterpreted, e.g. "brush your teeth")

Basic classifications of phraseologisms

According to Burger, phraseologisms can be divided into basic classifications based on the symbolic function they have in communication.

Referential phraseologisms

Referential phraseologisms refer to objects, processes and facts of reality. Such phraseologisms can be subclassified as "nominative phraseologisms" if they designate these objects, processes or facts ( semantic criterion) and have a clause equivalent ( syntactic criterion).

Examples of this would be black gold (denotes the object coal), cheating someone (denotes the act of cheating).

According to the gradual graded characteristic of idiomaticity (explainability of meaning without historical knowledge), three subgroups of nominative phraseologisms can be divided, namely

  • the non-idiomatic collocations ( expressions that can be explained without historical knowledge),
  • the partial idioms and
  • the (vollidiomatischen) idioms, so phrases that are not explainable without historical knowledge (eg. as someone a disservice prove ).

If referential phraseologisms make statements about objects, processes and facts (semantic criterion) and are sentence-valued (syntactic criterion), they can be subclassified as "propositional phraseologisms". If these are embedded in a context and can only be understood through this context, they are referred to as “fixed phrases” (e.g. the expression “Alles für die Katz!” ). If there is no connection to a context, they are called topical formulas . These are, for example, proverbs or platitudes .

The following table should enable a better distinction between idioms and idioms:

Phrase Phrase
definition common, fixed linguistic phrase
pictorial expression that must be embedded in a sentence
Changeable, non-fixed linguistic expression,
pictorial expression in which words are firmly connected
Specialty invariably
no sentences, but predicative word groups
in collections always in infinitive form
cannot stand alone,
usually no more than two to three clauses
phraseological unit
fixed sequence
both original and transferred meaning: "shake your head" = deny + wonder
Examples " Have a pig "
"have eaten something up"
"Don't worry!"
"Words fail me."

Structural phraseologisms

Structural phraseologisms are functional words that create grammatical relationships within a language. Examples are either ... or, in relation to or not only ... but also .

Communicative phraseologisms

Communicative phraseologisms are fixed combinations that are mostly used unconsciously in repetitive actions (routines).

Examples of situation-related routine formulas:

Examples of routine formulas that are not related to the situation:

Special classes


Phraseological expressions in texts primarily have stylistic functions. They generally have “'higher expressiveness' compared to non-phraseological connections, which is stylistically suitable for emphasizing.” Phraseological expressions therefore have a much stronger effect on the reader and therefore intensify the author's statement.

Peter Kühn characterizes phrases as

“Compact signs with which a speaker / writer can refer, predict and / or perform or modify illocutive actions and at the same time express a bundle of further evaluative actions, attitudes, image statements, etc. in relation to the non-phraseological equivalents. Phraseologisms are, as it were, pragmatic, particularly 'charged'. "

- Kühn, 1994, p. 420.

Accordingly, in addition to the usual pragmatic functions, phraseologisms conceal other functions. According to Sandig, these are divided into the following:

  1. Type of self-expression
  2. Consideration of addressees
  3. Relationship creation

In Germany, for example, phrases were used in the past as a sign of belonging to the educated middle class. A certain social group can use special phraseology to make it clear where in society it stands or thinks it is. The phraseologisms then serve as a demarcation from other social groups.

Consideration of addressees is understood to entertain the reader of the text as well as to structure the text for the reader. Phraseologisms can contribute to both. “Entertaining is promoted through the use of idiomatic phrases and their playful modifications in different contexts and intensities.” It is precisely the idiomatic phraseologisms that help to make the text more interesting for the reader. Phrases have a structuring function if they are linked to a knowledge base shared with the listener. The often veiling effect of certain idiomatic phrases, for example, works in this way.

Related topics

  • Proverb : The greater the love, the less the language.
  • Quotes : Those who do not know foreign languages ​​do not know anything about their own. ( Goethe )
  • Sentences : The ax in the house saves the carpenter. ( Schiller )


  • Hans-Ulrich Dietz: Rhetoric in Phraseology. On the meaning of rhetorical style elements in the idiomatic vocabulary of German. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 978-3-484-31205-0 .
  • Elke Donalies: Basic knowledge of German phraseology. Francke, Tübingen / Basel 2009 (= UTB 3193), ISBN 3-8252-3193-3 .
  • Csaba Földes (Ed.): Phraseology disciplinary and interdisciplinary. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-8233-6534-1 .
  • Csaba Földes, Jan Wirrer (Ed.): Phraseologisms as an object of linguistic and cultural studies research. Schneider-Verlag Hohengehren, Baltmannsweiler 2004, ISBN 3-89676-880-8 .
  • Peter Kühn: Pragmatic Phraseology: Consequences for Phraseology and Phraseodidactics. In: Barbara Sandig (Hrsg.): Trends in phraseology research. Norbert Brockmeyer, Bochum 1994, ISBN 3-8196-0280-1 .
  • Marios Chrissou: Phraseologisms in German as a Foreign Language. Linguistic basics and didactic implementation of a corpus-based approach. Kovac, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-8300-6614-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Phraseologism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Logism, the . Duden online; Meanings: 1. (Detailed etymology on logism in this article here, as there is no wiki article (yet?) On the lemma "Logism".)
  2. Idiom, that . Duden online; Meanings: 2.
  3. Basic classification of phraseologisms according to Burger (with examples from feature films and film posters) (PDF; 1.4 MB)
  4. Barbara Sandig: Stylistic functions of phrases. In: Harald Burger (Ed.): Phraseology - An international handbook. Volume 1. Berlin 2007, p. 161.
  5. Barbara Sandig: Stylistic functions of phrases. In: Harald Burger (Ed.): Phraseology - An international handbook. Volume 1. Berlin 2007, pp. 162-164.
  6. Barbara Sandig: Stylistic functions of phrases. In: Harald Burger (Ed.): Phraseology - An international handbook. Volume 1. Berlin 2007, p. 162.
  7. Barbara Sandig: Stylistic functions of phrases. In: Harald Burger (Ed.): Phraseology - An international handbook. Volume 1. Berlin 2007, p. 164.
  8. Annette Sabban: Occasional Variations of Linguistic Schematics - An Analysis of French and German Press and Advertising Texts. Tübingen 1998, p. 164.