Multi-word unit

A group of words (e.g. a verb + adverb particle or preposition) which has a meaning as a whole and for which the meaning of the whole group of words is different from the meaning of each individual word. Multi-word units are often phrasal verbs, idioms, compounds. Examples of multi-word units are fall in love, a hand-set, once in a blue moon, to look after. It is useful for learners to learn these units as chunks rather than piecing them together from individual words. Multi-word units are sometimes referred to as polywords.


"Learners seem to learn phrasal verbs more easily if they see each one as a multi-word unit which is a complete lexical item in itself, rather than as a verb + an adverb or preposition."

Further reading

Laufer, B. (1997). What’s in a word that makes it hard or easy: some interlexical factors that affect

the learning of words. In N. Schmitt and M. McCarthy (ed.s) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition, Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindstromberg, S. and Boers, F. (2008). Teaching Chunks of Language. Helbling Languages.

Nattinger, J.R. and DeCarrico, J.(1992) Lexical Phrases and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



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