Characteristics of Wordsmyth’s “phrases”

What Wordsmyth terms “phrases” in its dictionaries are multi-word expressions that range from highly idiomatic expressions (“with a grain of salt“, “sell like hot cakes“) to marginally idiomatic phrasal verbs and expressions (“get off,” “go through,” “do the dishes,” little by little,” “again and again“). These multi-word expressions that may seem only mildly or weakly idiomatic are included as “phrases” in Wordsmyth because they are tightly bound units of meaning with very high frequency. Even though their meaning may not seem difficult to comprehend, at least to a native speaker, their form—their exact necessary parts and ordering—as well as their significance in the language, cannot be predicted by learners, and, consequently, we feel these expressions deserve to be singled out and defined along with traditional “idioms.”  In addition, phrases that seem quite transparent in one sense often have other important senses that are more distinctly idiomatic.  Compare “go through a difficult time” versus “go through a gallon of milk.”

In many ESL resources, and even in some dictionaries, phrasal verbs tend to be listed with only one basic meaning, sometimes with two or more, but, as most teachers are aware, the most common phrasal verbs tend to have a rather large number of different meanings.  In the Advanced Dictionary, Wordsmyth lists seven definitions for the phrase “go through,” for example.  The phrase “come down” has nine senses listed in Wordsmyth, without including “come down on,” “come down to,” and “come down with,” which have their own separate entries. Because of the large number of senses for many phrases, we recommend using the customization tool (“Customize definition and example”) when creating a Vocabulary Center wordlist that includes phrases, especially two-word phrasal verbs. In this way, you can check for additional senses of the phrases you wish to use.

In addition to having more senses than in many other resources, Wordsmyth offers far more example sentences for the most common and essential phrases.  And because the examples are created by lexicographers, they are carefully matched to each sense of a phrase.

Ease of searching for phrases

Individual phrases in Wordsmyth are easy to find because they have their own individual entries, and they can be looked up using the search box just as you would look up any headword.  You do not need to look through the whole entry for “run,” for example, in order to find the expression “run into” or “run out.”  Moreover, if you happen to be in the entry for “run,” you may find phrases that include the word “run” listed at the top of the entry.  (Phrases can also be found by checking the alphabetical results in the sidebar within the entry that you are currently in or by checking the multi-word results listed in the sidebar). Please note that the phrases that are listed at the top of the entry for a particular headword may not be the only phrases that include that headword. Other phrases that include the headword may be linked to a different word in the phrase. For example, the phrase “run amok” is linked with “amok” rather than with “run.” Typically, however, phrases consisting of a verb plus an adverbial particle or preposition (two-word verbs such as “run down,” “run across”) are linked with the verb entry.

If you’d like to take a closer look at how Wordsmyth treats its phrases, we’ve created a set of 20 essential phrasal verbs for you to review. You may be surprised at the range of meanings you’ll find!