Lexical Chunks (1) Suggested Answers

This task asks you to analyse the form and use of various lexical chunks from a novel. For the full text of the task, see here.

Cold sweat

Form : Adjective cold  + singular countable common noun sweat

Semantic use : Collocation indicating the physical manifestation of a state of anxiety.

Syntactic use :  Part of the noun phrase a cold sweat, with cold used attributively to pre-modify sweat (head of the noun phrase). The noun phrase acts as object in the clause


Spread eagled

Form : Past participle of the transitive, regular verb to spread-eagle  (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). Example from Lextutor : I found a trooper once the Apache had SPREAD-EAGLED on an ant hill

Syntactic use : here used as part of the passive construction to be spread-eagled. 

Semantic use :  Used to describe the position of the protagonist - ie with arms and legs outstretched in the form of a cross (similar to an eagle in flight with its wings outstretched).


Turned her attention

Form : Semi-fixed lexical chunk composed of:

·         regular lexical verb turn (here in past simple form – base form of the verb + -ed suffix). Is occasionally substituted by one of a small number of other verbs with similar meaning – eg switch, shift.

·         + possessive noun or (usually) determiner (here, 3rd person singular, feminine possessive determiner her)

·         + uncountable singular abstract noun attention.  

Syntactic useHere used as the verb phrase (main verb + object) in the clause


At hand

Formprepositional phrase composed of simple preposition at (head of prepositional phrase) plus singular uncountable noun hand (complement of prepositional phrase).

Use : Postmodifies the noun phrase the matter, and can be seen as a reduced relative clause (one where both the relative pronoun and the verb BE have been ellipted )  the matter which was at hand. Fixed lexical chunk  expressing the idea the matter which needed immediate attention.


In particular

Form : Fixed lexical chunk – a polyword. Adverbial (restrictive adjunct) composed of preposition in  +  noun particular, (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English).

Syntactic Use: Quirk et al (A Grammar of Contemporary English, Section 8.16) point out that while other restrictive adjuncts such as only  ”can either precede or follow the part on which they are focused”,  in particular, “favours a position after the focused part” – as happens here.


Lame attempt

Form: adjective lame + singular countable common noun attempt

Semantic use: Semi-fixed collocation. Semi-fixed because other collocations with a very similar meaning exist, such as weak attempt or feeble attempt. Similarly, there are other expressions with lame - eg a lame excuse (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). This is a metaphorical use of the word lame. Lame literally means unable to walk properly, so by extension  a lame attempt, or a lame excuse is one that functions badly.

Syntactic use: Part of the noun phrase “a babbling, lame attempt”, where “lame” is used attributively to modify “attempt” (head of the noun phrase). The full noun phrase acts as subject complement  in the clause.


Failed miserably


a) failed - past simple verb - base form of regular verb  fail plus regular past suffix -ed

b) miserably – adverb of manner derived from the adjective miserable with suffix - ly replacing final -le

Semantic use : Fixed lexical chunk, a collocation, expressing the concept of having failed totally.

Syntactic use:

a) Failed = main verb in the clause.

b) Miserably = acts as an intensifier for the verb


Under arrest

Form : Prepositional phrase: preposition under plus singular countable noun arrest.

Semantic Use : Semi fixed collocation. When used to mean in the state of being XXXed,  “under” collocates with a number of other nouns - eg under control/suspicion/investigation etc. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

Syntactic Use: Acts as an adverbial in the clause.


Private plane

Form Semi-fixed lexical chunk consisting of adjective (private)    +  singular countable common noun in clipped form (ie plane rather than aeroplane). 

Semantic use: Collocation expressing the concept of a plane owned by an individual  rather than an airline. Only semi-fixed as the alternative personal plane exists, although it is much less commonly used. Similarly the noun may change to describe the specific type of plane - eg private jet

Syntactic use:  Here, part of the noun phrase "a private plane",  with private used attributively to pre-modify plane (head of the noun phrase). The noun phrase acts as object in the clause. 


Take off

Form: Intransitive phrasal verb (verb + adverb). Infinitive form of irregular verb take following the infinitive particle to.

Syntactic Use: Used as non-finite complement of the catenative verb construction permit someone/something to do something


Flight plan

Form : Compound noun composed of two singular, countable nouns flight + plan   

Syntactic use : Here acts as object of the non-finite verb registering.


Traffic Controller

Form :   Compound noun composed of uncountable noun traffic  + countable noun (here, singular) controller. 

Use :

§  Discoursal Use : An reduced form of the job title more usually expressed as air traffic controller describing the person in control of planes landing and taking off at an airport. Probably abbreviated because fully stated in earlier text (which is also suggested by the simple use of the controller in the first sentence). This reduction of the full phrase prevents unnecessary repetition  which might make the text boring.

§  Syntactic Use : Part of the noun phrase "the traffic controller" : controller =head of the phrase, traffic = part of the pre-head. The full noun phrase acts as subject of the clause.


A surge of terror

Form/Use: Noun phrase consisting of indefinite article 'a' used as a determiner in the noun phrase  + singular, countable noun 'surge' postmodified by a prepositional phrase (preposition 'of' = head of the phrase + complement : singular, uncountable noun 'terror' –

Syntactic Use: used as direct object of verb 'felt'.

Semantic Use : Metaphoric use of “surge”. Literally, surge = a sudden movement forward, and the verb is often used in this literal sense - eg the crowd surged into the square. However, the noun tends to be used metaphorically to indicate a sudden increase in something.  As here, it often collocates with emotions (a surge of terror / anger / resentment / optimism etc )  to indicate a sudden strong feeling, but has a wide variety of uses. Here are some, found on Lextutor,  from just one corpus of academic English (BAWE) :

001.  In particular, the recent SURGE of regional trade agreements (RTAs):"about 162 RT [politics]
002. ... be argued that a variety of factors gave rise to the SURGE of recent regional projects and motivated states  [politics]
003.. A SURGE in the number of political offices was to be expected [history]
004. ...the 'renewed SURGE of feminization of labour activity'. This surge has... [sociology]
005.... the huge SURGE of international trade and foreign direct investment [sociology]
006.  The 1990s witnessed a notable SURGE of interest and activity in both regions and regi [politics]
007....youth and womens groups that sprouted in the SURGE of working class participation.  [us_studies]
008. This is largely due to rapid capital accumulation, a SURGE in the number of hours worked and faster growth  [economics]
009.  ...the SURGE of domestic tourism is expected to raise 15-20% i [hospitality]
011....a rise in income may lead to a sudden SURGE of satisfaction, but we soon become accustomed to [psychology]
012. In reality, a SURGE of activity could be expected during the last few [business]
013.... this sudden SURGE of patriotic feeling towards America translated d [politics]