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Not just 'small potatoes': knowledge of the idiomatic meanings of collocations

Macis, Marijana; Schmitt, Norbert


Marijana Macis

Norbert Schmitt


This study investigated learner knowledge of the figurative meanings of 30 collocations that can be both literal and figurative. One hundred and seven Chilean Spanish-speaking university students of English were asked to complete a meaning-recall collocation test in which the target items were embedded in non-defining sentences. Results showed limited collocation knowledge, with a mean score of 33% correct. The study also examined the effects of frequency, semantic transparency, year at university, and everyday engagement with the second language (L2) outside the classroom on this collocation knowledge. Mixed-effects modelling indicated that there was no relationship between frequency and semantic transparency and the knowledge of the figurative meanings. However, a positive relationship was found between this knowledge and year at university, time spent in an English-speaking country, and time spent reading.


Macis, M., & Schmitt, N. (2017). Not just 'small potatoes': knowledge of the idiomatic meanings of collocations. Language Teaching Research, 21(3), 321-340. doi:10.1177/1362168816645957

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 5, 2016
Online Publication Date May 10, 2016
Publication Date May 1, 2017
Deposit Date Nov 27, 2017
Print ISSN 1362-1688
Publisher SAGE Publications (UK and US)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Issue 3
Pages 321-340
Public URL
Publisher URL