Binomial pairs

A binomial pair is an expression containing two words which are joined by a conjunction (usually ‘and’ or ‘or’). The word order of a binomial pair is usually fixed.

Here are some of the most common binomials, split into five categories:

1. Binomial pairs joined by ‘and’
2. Binomial pairs joined by ‘or’
3. Binomial pairs with alliteration
4. Rhyming binomial pairs
5. Binomial pairs joined by other words

1. Binomials joined by and

neat and tidy

definition: clean, organised, tidy – not messy or untidy (also clean and tidy)
example: Her house is always very neat and tidy: there’s never anything out of place.

sick and tired

definition: annoyed or frustrated with something / someone and at the point of getting angry or losing your patience
example: I’m sick and tired of our neighbours making such a noise – I’m gonna call the police.

short and sweet

definition: when something is very quick and to-the-point; of minimum length and no longer than it needs to be
example: His speech was short and sweet – he just said what he needed to say and he was very quick about it.

wine and dine

definition: wine and dine someone – entertain someone with a good quality meal
example: The bosses of the advertising agency always wine and dine their top clients.

up and down

definition: moving between the same two points repeatedly
example: We drove up and down the same street ten times looking for the restaurant.

odds and ends

definition: various items of different types, usually small, often of little value and importance
example: There’s nothing important in those cupboards, just a few odds and ends.

skin and bone

definition: to be very thin; to look underfed
example: That dog’s all skin and bone. I don’t think anyone every feeds it.

loud and clear

definition: very clear and very easy to understand
examples: You don’t have to shout – I can hear you loud and clear.
The two pilots could hear each other loud and clear.

back and forth

definition: moving first in one direction then in another
examples: The taxi driver’s job consists mainly of going back and forth between the hotel and the airport all day.
We rocked the baby back and forth in the chair until she fell asleep.

by and large

definition: on the whole
example: Not all the food in that restaurant is fantastic, but by and large it’s very good.

far and wide

definition: a large number of places, across a large geographical area; often used with from
example: People travel from far and wide to see the birthplaces of the Beatles.

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2. Binomials joined by or

make or break

definition: the result will be either success or failure, nothing between
example: The next match is make or break for us. If we lose we’ll have no chance of winning the league.

take it or leave it

definition: (of a negotiation) your last offer: you are not going to negotiation further or allow the other person to negotiate
example: Eight hundred dollars is my final offer for your car – take it or leave it!

sooner or later

definition: that something will definitely happen, although it is not known when
examples: We’re all going to die sooner or later.
If you lie, people will find you out sooner or later.

more or less

definition: approximately; almost
examples: The repairs to the car will take a week, more or less.
Just give me another minute – I’ve more or less finished.

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3. Alliteration

Some binomials are based on alliteration, i.e. the two words begin with the same sound:

part and parcel

definition: that something is always an essential part of something and is never missing from it
examples: Long hours of training and a lot of travelling are part and parcel of being a professional footballer.
For some old people loneliness is part and parcel of everyday life.

safe and sound

definition: not in danger and not injured in any way
examples: The missing boy returned to his family safe and sound.
The soldier—thought to be dead—was found safe and sound in the forest.

rules and regulations

definition: laws, rules, legislation
examples: The rules and regulations in prisons are very strict.
There are different rules and regulations for commercial vehicles than for ordinary passenger cars.

live and learn

definition: to learn from the experiences that life gives us (often you live and learn), said when you hear or discover something which is surprising
example: You mean I can get a discount because I’m under 26? Well, you live and learn – I never knew that!

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4. Rhyming binomials

Other binomials have two words with a rhyming sound:

hustle and bustle

definition: a lot of noisy activity caused by people, usually in cities
example: There’s always lots of hustle and bustle at the market on Wednesdays.

wear and tear

definition: the decrease in value and/or quality of something because of its age and a lot of use
example: The wear and tear on his knees means he can no longer play football at the top level.
I paid 3000 euros for my car but because of wear and tear I sold it for just 1500 a year later.

willy-nilly

definition: haphazardly, randomly, and without much planning and organisation; without order
example: The product sold badly because the salesmen travelled to customers will-nilly without any strategy or plan.
She’s so untidy – when she gets undressed she simply throws her clothes around the room willy-nilly.

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5. Binomial pairs joined by other words

back to front

definition: when the back of something faces the front, and vice-versa
example: You’ve got your t-shirt on back to front! Take it off and turn it around.

step by step

definition: to do something methodically, one step at a time
example: Follow the course and step by step you will learn how to create modern and attractive web pages.