Module One | Describing language and language skills

Lexis: What are they?


Match questions 1 – 5 (vocabulary examples) with  the categories A – F. You will find that there is an extra categories which does not need to be used.  

Vocabulary examples 

1. Impossible, unhappy, disadvantage, rename 

2. Hard work, a heavy subject, a great idea 

3. Wonderful, marvelous, brilliant, great 

4. Longest, director, wooden, slowly

5. Oranges, apples, mangoes, bananas


(A) synonyms

(B) collocations

(C) compound words

(D) lexical set

(E) words with suffixes 

(F) words with prefixes 

Lexis means one or more words or sets of words that have a particular meaning, e.g. tree, sit down, last of all. 

Let’s consider the meaning of the word tree:

Vocabulary items have different meanings.

  1. Denotation: the meaning that explains the thing or idea behind vocabulary item. For example, a tree is a large plant with a trunk that is wooden. It has branches and leaves.
  2. Figurative meaning: e.g. tree of life, family tree. Figurative meanings comes from denotation but is different.
  3. The meaning that vocabulary item has when it is in context (the situation) where its used. For example, when we read the sentence ‘The house could not be seen because of all the tall trees that were in front of it’, we can get the idea about the height of the trees because we know how tall a house is in general and also from the word ‘tall’.

We can create the meaning of some vocabulary items by:

  1. Adding prefixes or suffixes to base words, e.g. disqualification, creativity.
  2. Making compound words, i.e. multiple words put together as a set which have meaning. For example, bookshop, shopkeeper, postal code, car park.
  3. Collocation, i.e. words that usually occur together. For example, to bear witness, to draw attention, to pay a visit.

When vocabulary items are grouped into synonyms (words that have meanings which are alike) , antonyms (words with meanings that are completely different)and lexical sets, (a group of words with the same topic, e.g. types of clothes, members of the club)  meanings of words can be recognized from other related words.

Vocabulary Items

clear (adjective)

paper (noun)


1.      Easy to understand

2.      Not covered or blocked

3.      Having no doubt

1.      Material which is used to write on or to wrap things in

2.      A newspaper

3.      A document which contains information


Simple (for meaning 1)

Certain (for meaning 3)



Confusing (meaning 1)

Untidy, covered (meaning 2)

Unsure (meaning 3)


Lexical sets


Stone, plastic, cloth, etc.

Vocabulary Items

Clear (adjective)

paper (noun)

Prefixes + base word



Base word + suffixes

Clearly, a clearing




Paper knife, paper shop, paperback


Clear skin, a clear day

To put pen to paper

Figurative meanings

A clear head

On paper (e.g. it seemed a good idea on paper)


Nerd baby says ...​

To actually know a word, one must:
a. Know all the various meanings of the word.
b. Understand its form (what part of speech it belongs to)
c. Understand how the word grammatically works.
d. Know how to pronounce it the right way.
e. Know how to spell it correctly.

Although we can recognise a word, it takes quite a while for us to know it and know how to use it thoroughly whether or not we are learning our first language or a new language.

To increase the chance of students remembering words well, teachers need to introduce new vocabulary items and do a lot of revision on what they teach, expanding on their forms and meanings little by little.

Before asking the students to use vocabulary items, teachers should introduce them in reading and listening.

Test Your Knowledge

What do you see in common in each of these words?

  1. Apple, bed, table lamp, fan, bookstore, shop, car
  2. Ugly-beautiful, dark-fair, quiet-noisy, tall-short, thick-thin, fat-skinny
  3. A narrow road, a good plan, no worries, so thankful, difficult job
  4. Unneat-messy, anybody-anyone, not sure-unsure, make-create
  5. Toothpaste, tablespoon, desktop, bedsheet, chairman
  6. Sickness, greatly, useful, truthful, available, shorter
  7. Impossible, reread, unaffordable, illegal, mistake

Write these words in the first column of the table given below (A – H).

Compound words        synonyms        denotations      collocations     lexical sets

Prefix + base word       antonyms         base word + suffix      



Care (noun)

To decide


Sensitive attention

to choose one option after thinking about several


Love and attention, worry

to make up your mind



To hesitate


Politeness, admiration, respect

To think, to hesitate, to wonder





Careful, careless, carelessness

Decided, decidedly





Great care, take care of

Finally decide

The comments given below were given by teachers. What in your opinion do they mean? Do you concur with them? Explain why or why not.

  1. Learners who are at beginner level need to know only the denotations of words.
  2. It is not necessary for learners to study names for different kinds of meanings.
  3. There is only one way to learn vocabulary and it is by reading extensively.

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