What are MWEs?

Multiword expressions (MWEs) are a vague concept. The goal of the AIM-WEST project is to tackle specific types of MWEs. Therefore, we provide here a list of constructions in which we are interested, along with some examples in the project languages English, French, Portuguese.


A multiword expression is a construction which is (a) decomposable into multiple lexemes and (2) presents some lexical, syntactic, semantic, pragmatic and/or statistical idiomaticity (Baldwin and Kim, 2010).

This vague definition includes many combinations of words like idioms, noun compounds, phrasal verbs, support verb constructions, multiword terminology, collocations, determinerless prepositional phrases, adverbial locutions, complex prepositions/conjunctions, phraseology, etc.

The MWE types we are interested in

Phrasal verbs

A verb + a particle (preposition or adverb) which represent a single action. The particle generally completes or modifies completely the meaning of the verb. Also called verb-particle constructions. Are specific for English and some other Germanic languages. In transitive phrasal verbs (take off), the particle may occur after the object (take something off). Are generally translated into Portuguese and French as a single verb.

Examples (EN): take off, give up, make up, blow out, break down, pick up, nail down

Noun compounds

Strictly speaking, noun compounds are sequences of nouns like cable car, air conditioning, data set. However, in Portuguese and French, these constructions are generally made up by using prepositions instead of sequences of nouns. Therefore, we are interested in compound nouns formed by a head noun and a complement which may be : (a) another noun, (b) and adjective and (c) a prepositional phrase. However, not any Noun Phrase is a noun compound, since the latter must be frequent and have a specific meaning, which would be lost if e.g. we replaced one of the elements by a synonym or tried another syntactic variant. This class can more generally include multiword terms like binary tree, greedy algorithm, best effort search and multiword named entities like World Cup, United Nations, United States

Examples (EN): degree of freedom, vacuum cleaner, high heel shoe, dry run, cable car, train station, traffic light, bus stop, United States
Examples (FR): machine à café, appareil photo, connexion Internet, verre à pied, fièvre jaune, fer à repasser, union européenne
Examples (PT): aspirador de pó, máquina de lavar, parada de ônibus, sapato de salto, grau de liberdade, febre amarela, brigada militar, Copa do Mundo, Rio de Janeiro

Light/support verb constructions

Verb + object in which the verb is semantically light and supports the noun, which actually describes most of the meaning of the action. Also sometimes called complex predicates. Generally have a single word paraphrase like take a walk and to walk.

Examples (EN): take a walk, pay attention, take a shower, make a presentation, give a wave
Examples (FR): faire une promenade, faire attention, donner une conférence, faire un coucou, prendre une douche, prendre/faire une photo
Examples (PT): dar um passeio, prestar atenção, dar uma palestra, dar um aceno, tirar uma foto, tomar banho


Idioms are expressions whose meaning is completely unpredictable, given the meanings of the words composing the idiom individually. They include from single words to complete sentences, and have not a well defined syntactic characterisation, as they are defined at the semantic level. We focus on two kinds of idioms: nominal idioms, that is, noun compounds with idiomatic semantics, and verbal idioms, which are idioms where a verb and an object must be interpreted idiomatically. Verb-object idioms are often very fixed in terms of the determiner and syntactic configuration.

Examples (EN): Nominal: rocket science, big deal, piece of cake – Verbal: spill the beans, hit the road, kick the bucket, give a hand
Examples (FR): Nominal: peau de vache, bras cassé, bras de fer – Verbal: faire la tête, avoir la banane, prendre une veste, avoir du bol
Examples (PT): Nominal: sorriso amarelo, zero à esquerda, amigo da onça, pavio curto, santo do pau oco – Verbal: quebrar um galho, perder as estribeiras, comer poeira,