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Exploring the Semantic Complexity of English Phrasal Verbs and Polysemous Verbs: A Study on Vocabulary Building for Business Communication

Kohei Takebayashi
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, Japan


This two-part study aims to explore semantic transformations exhibited by English phrasal verbs (PVs) and polysemous verbs in order to provide a new type of pedagogical resources for vocabulary building with a focus on business communication. Despite the prevalence of PVs in English, L2 English learners have a noticeable tendency to avoid PVs in favour of their one-word equivalents. The author argues that PVs may serve as significant building blocks for developing learners’ vocabulary knowledge in business English. To this end, this study explores the possibility of utilising PVs as a bridge between semantics of A-level verbs and those of B/C-level verbs as defined by the CEFR. To ascertain the vocabulary levels of verbs found in common PVs, a corpus of PV textbooks (size = 3.5 million tokens) was compiled, and frequency data of word pairs composed of verbs and particles were extracted. Also, pairs of PVs and their single-word verb equivalents (SVs) were retrieved from a thesaurus. After producing a list of [PV – SV] pairs, the vocabulary levels of the SVs present on the list were identified in accordance with the English Vocabulary Profile to investigate the extent to which PVs can replace their SV counterparts. Additionally, verb semantics typically found in business contexts were compared in relation to those of PVs. This study will demonstrate how PVs have the potential to serve as a bridge between A-level verbs and verbs commonly employed in business contexts, and a selected group of PVs will make a significant impact on the expansion of lexical knowledge in verb semantics. Furthermore, a similar methodology was applied to the investigation of sense relations and semantic transparency exhibited by polysemous A-level verbs in relation to their businesslike SVs. The findings indicate that learners may benefit from the lexical relations in accurately grasping business English.


Business English; CEFR; Lexical Relations; Vocabulary; Phrasal Verbs

International Joint Conference of APLX, ETRA40, and TESPA 2023