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I hereby state that I, Dang Hong Phuc, group 061E14, being candidate for the degree of Bachelor of Art (TEFL) accept the requirements of the University relating to the retention and use of Bachelor’s Graduation Paper deposited in the library.

In terms of these conditions, I agree that the origin of my paper deposited in the library should be accessible for the purposes of study and research, in accordance with the normal conditions established by the librarian for the care, loan or reproduction of the paper.




I wish, first of all, to express my deep gratitude to my supervisor, Mrs. Nguyen Huong Giang for her enthusiastic guidance from the beginning to the completion of this paper. Without her valuable advice and critical comments, this research could not have taken its shape.

I also own a debt of gratitude to my teacher at high school, Mr. Phan Xuan Phu for his support and encouragement.

Last but not least, I am especially grateful to my parents, friends and relatives who have encouraged and assisted me during my study.



For Vietnamese learners of English, particularly advanced learners, knowing and understanding idiomatic expressions is a significant step to mastering this language. It can be noticed that such short expressions contain numerous linguistic features. Among these, metaphor and simile are of great interest to the author. Although metaphor and simile have been studied and viewed at different angles by numerous scholars, no one has ever reached totally persuasive answers to the questions of them. Thus, it is still a controversial topic which attracts people’s interest. The aims of this graduation paper are to investigate the ways in which metaphor and simile are used in English and Vietnamese idioms and to make some comparisons between English idioms and Vietnamese ones through these two tropes. In order to obtain these aims, data and sources are collected and gathered through reading and selecting numerous English and Vietnamese idiomatic expressions. After that, data are categorized and similes and metaphors in idioms are analyzed. The contrastive analysis method is also employed to make up the study on metaphor in English and Vietnamese idioms with an attempt to provide a clearer understanding of the aspect. The results show that there are both similarities and differences between English idioms and Vietnamese ones through similes and metaphors, which are specifically demonstrated in the thesis.



1. List of Tables

Table 1: Differences between idioms and proverbs

Table 2: Classification of idioms based on Syntactic feature

Table 3: Contrast cultural features of Vietnam and Britain.

2. List of Abbreviations

Adj: Adjective

Adv: Adverb

B: Things compared

C: Points of similarity

Conj: Conjunction

N: Noun

Prep: Preposition

S.C: Subordinate Clause

V: Verb



Retention and use of the thesis






List of tables and abbreviations




1.1 Rationale of the study


1.2 Aims of the study


1.3 Scope of the study


1.4 Methods of the study


1.5 Design of the study






2.1.1 Definitions of idioms


2.1.2 Features of idioms

7 Semantic feature

7 Syntactic feature


2.1.3 Distinction between idioms and proverbs

11 Definition of proverbs

11 Similarities of idioms and proverbs

11 Differences between idioms and proverbs


2.1.4 Classification of idioms

16 Based on Semantic structure

16 Phraseological fusion

16 Phraseological unities

17 Phraseological combinations

18 Based of Syntactic feature












22 Definition of metaphor

22 Classifications of metaphor

24 of metaphor according to semantic aspect

24 classification of metaphor


Distinction between metaphor and metonymy






2.2.2 Simile

31 Definition


31 Three elements of simile


2.2.3 Foundation of similes and metaphors in idioms


2.2.4 Similes and metaphors in idiom and idioms of comparison


2.2.5 Identification of idioms of comparison

38 Based on component word and phrase

38 Based on grammatical structure

40 Structural characteristics of comparative idioms


2.2.6 Similarities and differences between the Anglicist and Vietnamese

cultures expressed via idioms of comparison

42 Similarities


43 Differences




2.3.1 Introduction



2.3.2 Difficulties in understanding



English idioms with various grammatical structures

59 English idioms with distinctive culture features

60 Suggested solutions


2.3.3 Problems in memorizing

62 English idioms exist in large numbers

63 Lack of frequent use of English idioms

63 Inadequate method of learning English idioms

64 Suggested solutions




3.1 Major findings of the research


3.2 Pedagogical suggestions for teaching English idioms


3.2.1 Which idioms to teach


3.2.2 Separated lessons or integrated ones


3.2.3 Specific classroom activities


3.3 Suggestions for further studies


3.4 Limitations of the research


3.5 Contribution of the research






This initial chapter presents the rationale of the study, along with the aims, objectives and the scope of the whole dissertation. Above all, it is in this chapter that the research questions are demonstrated to work as clear guidelines for the whole paper.

1.1 Rationale for the study

English is now playing an indispensable role in all fields of life. It is not difficult to realize the dominance of English in international communication, science, business, aviation, entertainment, broadcast and education. Therefore, if the need for an international language is prompted, English will probably be chosen.

The demand for learning English worldwide, particularly in Vietnam is so great that people of all circles are now making a point of learning it. According to the official statistics issued by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training in 2003, the English language was chosen by 98.5% of Vietnamese secondary students as their compulsory foreign language.

However, the statistics did not mention the quality of English learning. It is assumed that Vietnamese learners do not often find it hard to learn English initially because of the similarities of the alphabet system in the two languages. They can do grammar exercises feeling like a rose. Nonetheless, it is challenging to become proficient in English.

For Vietnamese learners of English, particularly advanced learners, knowing and understanding idiomatic expressions is a significant step to mastering this


language. The more fluently and accurately Vietnamese learners can use English set phrases and collocations, the more successfully they can deal with the language of Shakespeare. Furthermore, idioms reflect distinctive features of each language, so they can be the bridge linking the soul of different nations. Thus, it should open doors to friendly atmosphere on the part of both native and non-native speakers, which leads to global mutual understanding in cultures, customs, traditions and behaviors as well – the key factor to avoid culture shocks during international communication.

As an English learner who has much interest in idiomatic expressions, I would like to avail myself of this chance to carry out a study on idioms from the linguistics angle. It can be noticed that such short expressions contain numerous linguistic features. Among these, metaphor which “has traditionally been viewed as the most important form of figurative language use” (John I., 2003, p.345) and simile is of great interest to me.

Metaphor and simile have been studied and viewed at different angles by numerous scholars. Unfortunately, no one has ever reached totally persuasive answers to the questions of them. Thus, it is still a controversial topic which attracts people’s interest. That’s why I would like to make some of my own contributions to the study on metaphor and simile in English and Vietnamese idioms to make a comparison.

Hopefully, a contrastive approach to metaphor and simile in English and Vietnamese idioms, to some extent, can help Vietnamese learners of English understand metaphor and simile more deeply so that they can use them more correctly and efficiently, particularly read between the lines. It has stood the test of time that using metaphors and simile in both written and spoken language could


enhance the efficiency of communication, narrowing the gap between the speaker and listener.

1.2 Aims of the study

My thesis mainly aims at finding out common types of metaphor and simile which are used in English and Vietnamese idiomatic expressions, discovering some similarities and differences in using metaphor and simile especially those commonly used in both languages.

In brief, these objectives could be summarized into two research questions as followed:

In what ways are metaphor and simile used in English and Vietnamese idioms? What are the differences and similarities between English idioms and Vietnamese ones through metaphors and similes?

1.3 Scope of the study

As a graduation paper, it is impossible to cover all kinds of metaphor and simile in all fields of life. My study only focuses on metaphors and similes in English idioms in comparison with Vietnamese equivalents, from which an insight into the two languages can be drawn. Moreover, access to all English and Vietnamese idioms is out of the question, thus merely idioms for the purpose of comparison are taken to serve as the subjects of the study.



Methods of the study

To carry out this research, some methods have been combined. First and foremost, a review of existing study results on idioms, metaphors and similes is necessary to provide a better understanding of the topic. Collecting data and gathering sources is done through selecting and reading English and Vietnamese idiomatic expressions. After that, data are categorized and similes and metaphors in idioms are analyzed. The contrastive analysis method is also employed to make up the study on metaphor in English and Vietnamese idioms with an attempt to provide a clearer understanding of the aspect.

1.5 Design of the study

The rest of the paper includes two main parts as follows:

Part 2: Development

Chapter 1 – Theoretical Background – provides the background of the study.

Chapter 2 – Study on metaphors and similes in English idioms and Vietnamese equivalents.

Chapter 3 – Problems faced by learners in studying idioms

Part 3: Conclusion – summarizes the main issues discussed in the paper, the limitations of the research as well as some suggestions for further studies. Following this chapter are references.



In this chapter, the researcher has elaborated on these following points:

(1) Statement and rationale for the study (2) Aims and objectives of the study (3) Scope of the study (4) Methods of the study (5) Design of the study Generally speaking, these elaborations have not only justified the major contents and structure of the study but will also work as the guidelines for the rest of the paper.




This chapter sheds light on the literature of the study, particularly the theoretical background of the research topic. To begin with, a sketchy picture of the research background will be provided with an overview of the key concept:

“idiom”. Added to that, a brief review of the related studies will exhibit the research gap and hence, justify the objectives of this research paper.

2.1.1 Definitions of idioms

According to Jenifer Seidl and W.Mc Mordie in “English Idiom and How to Use” “an idiom is a number of words which, taken together, mean something different from the individual words of the idiom when they stand alone.” (1979: 20)

The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics regards an idiom as “an expression which function as a single unit and whose meaning can not be worked out from its separate parts” (1992: 198)

Three years later, Jonathan Crowther in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (Oxford University Press - 1995) defines idiom as “a phrase or sentence whose meaning is not clear from the meaning of its individual words and which must be learnt as a whole unit.” (1995: 67) In the same year, Dean Curry in the “Illustrated American idioms” (1995) offered another definition of idiom as follows; “an idiom is the assigning of a new meaning to a group of words which already have their own meaning.” (1995: 49)


On reflection, it could be seen that there is no conflict between the aforementioned definitions of idiom. Regardless of obvious differences in expressing, they intersect at one point: an idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning can not be worked out by combining the literal meaning of its individual words.

2.1.2 Features of Idiom Semantic feature

It is undoubted that meaning is the most important factor when talking about semantic feature of idioms. Figurative meaning is the basic characteristic of idioms for it helps to decide whether a fixed expression is an idiom or not. As V.V. Vinogradow imaginatively expressed, the meaning of an idiom is “the special chemical mixture” of the meaning of all components, which is completely new in quality. Here is an idiom to exemplify: “to take one’s medicine” (to accept something unpleasant, for instance, punishment, without protesting or complaining). It can not be understood based on the component words of the idiom for their meaning is far from the same as that of the set phrase. Henceforth, it is important to understand idioms metaphorically rather than literally.

However, according to A.V Kunin (2006), the meaning of an idiom is either partly or completely different from the meaning of all components. In case of any partial difference, their figurative meaning is not different from the literal one. The partly different ones are such as from door to door, give and take, cry for the moon, etc. The meaning of these idioms can be guessed from the meaning of their components.


Another semantic feature of idioms is that idioms can convey positive, neutral, or negative meanings. Some idioms have a positive meaning such as a fair godmother (a person who helps you unexpectedly when you most need help), the fruit(s) of something (the good result of an activity or a situation), be (all) plain sailing (be simple and free from trouble). Examples of idioms with neutral meaning include take a/the hint (understand what somebody wants you to do, even though they tell you in an indirect way), in somebody’s shoes (be in somebody’s position), bring something home to somebody (make somebody realize how important, difficult or serious something is). Typical examples of idioms with negative meanings are monkey business (dishonest or silly behavior), a mummy’s boy (a boy or man who is thought to be too weak because he is influenced and controlled by his mother), a fair-weathered friend (somebody who is only a friend when it is pleasant for them, and stops being a friend when you are in trouble). Idioms with positive meanings have been proved to make up the largest number.

In short, idioms can be motivated, partially – motivated and non – motivated. Also, idiomatic expressions can convey positive, neutral, or negative meanings. Syntactic feature

It is common knowledge that an idiom is a set-expression. Hence, as its name tells, the components in idioms can neither be added nor substituted. They can not be changed or varied in the way literal expressions are normally varied, whether in speech or in writing. Moreover, when an idiom is used in a complete sentence, it is hardly possible to change it into passive. Let us consider such an


idiom: “to eat humble pie” which means to say and show that one is sorry for a mistake that he/she made in the sentence: “She had to eat humble pie when Harry, who she said would never have any success, won first prize”. It would be unnatural to say: “Humble pie was eaten by her”. It is also noticeable that one can not make other changes without losing the idiomatic meaning. Almost all idiomatic phrases fail in one way or another to permit the usual grammatical operations which literal phrases usually do. This relates to the grammatical fixity of idioms.

Over and above, idioms may take many different forms or structures. Some idioms are noun phrases such as “crocodile tears”, “child’s play” “a new man”, forty winks (a short sleep during the day) and “the storm in the tea cup”. In terms of structure, an idiom can have a regular structure, an irregular or even a grammatically incorrect structure. For the first type, they have common forms but there is no connection between the meaning of each component and that of the whole unit. Typical examples of idioms with regular structure are not difficult to find: the green-eyed monster (a feeling of anger or unhappiness because somebody you like or love is showing interest in somebody else), a pipe dream (a hope, believe, plan and so on that will probably not come true), poetic justice (a punishment or reward that is deserved). The meaning of idioms in this group can not be perceived without having been learnt already. The second group takes into account ones which have unconventional forms but their meaning can be worked out through the meaning of individual words. That is to say the meaning of the whole unit sometimes can be perceived through the meaning of its components. Take “I am good friends with him” as a typical illustration; since the idiom is irregular and illogical in terms of grammatical structure. According to the rule of language, “I” is singular and therefore “friend” must be singular, too. However, in this case, the idiom does not need to obey grammatical rule to make sense. “I am


good friends with him” can still be interpreted that “I am a friend of his”. In the last group, grammatically incorrect, both its form and meaning are irregular. The structure is grammatically inaccurate and the meaning is not precisely expressed by gathering the meaning of each member-word. Such idioms as “Be up to no good(doing or planning something wrong or dishonest), “to go through thick and thin” (in spite of all the difficulties and problems; in good and bad times) illustrate grammatical irregularity. The structure of the idioms can be written as “Verb + preposition + adjective”. In English, normally a structure like this is acknowledged once in a blue moon since adjectives never come after prepositions individually. As an idiom, however, the case is accepted.

To sum up, in terms of syntactic feature, firstly, an idiom is a set – expression. That is, one can not make any changes without losing the idiomatic meaning. Secondly, idioms may take many different forms or structure. Idioms can be in form of noun phrases, verb phrases, preposition phrases and so forth. In connection with structure, an idiom can have a regular structure, an irregular or even a grammatically incorrect structure.

2.1.3 Distinction between idioms and proverb Definition of proverbs Studying the language of a certain nation seems to be inadequate if attention is only paid to the characteristic of idioms without reviewing them in relation to proverbs. Idioms have been defined as fixed expressions whose meaning can not be worked out by combining the literal meaning of its individual words. Proverbs, however, have been defined differently as “a short well-known sentence or phrase that gives advice or says something is generally true in life.” (Oxford Student’s dictionary of English, 2001: 511). It is also worth noticing that a proverb is not


merely the language but one of the most substantial contributions to the folk culture of each country. People, through the treasure of proverbs of a nation, can perceive that nation’s lands, people and humanity tradition. Similarities of idioms and proverbs

It is not unintentional when many scholars, following V.Vinogradov, are of the opinion that proverbs and idioms should be put side by side to study, for people can easily realize proverbs have aspects much in common with idioms. They are so alike that from time to time learners feel unfeasible to differentiate between a proverb and an idiom. This part is a serious attempt to examine the similarities of proverbs and idioms, and then in the next part the differences will be demonstrated.

Both proverbs and idioms are reproduced as ready-made speeches. In daily life, people naturally accept their existence. Under no circumstances do they dispute the being of either a proverb or an idiom. They also never find the way to interchange any component by other words in a proverb or an idiom. In addition, idioms and proverbs are fairly common in some other ways. Their lexical items are permanent; moreover, their meanings are conventional and largely metaphorical. In contrast to free expressions in which the member words may differ according to the needs of conversations, the lexical components in proverbs and idioms are consistently presented as single immutable collocations. Here is the idiom to exemplify: “cut to the chase” which means “stop wasting time and do or say the important things that need to be done or said”. Undoubtedly, all the constituent elements making up the idiom can not be substituted by others. The word “cut” can not be commuted by “stop” or “break in” though in some way they are synonyms. An example of proverb is “out of sight, out of mind”. The collocations of the phrases in this proverb are not permutable and changeable. The


proverb will not make sense if it is modified as “out of mind, out of sight”. Due to the permanence of member-words in idioms and proverbs, therefore, it is out of the question to make any change in them, even when it is merely an inconsiderable change.

It is therefore assumed that the components of idioms and proverbs are stable and their meaning is understood figuratively other than literally.

Another point should also be referred to when studying proverbs and idioms is that in many cases idioms form the basis of proverbs; e.g. “rotten apple” (one bad person who has a bad effect on others in a group) is the basis to form the proverb “the rotten apple injures its neighbors”; or the case of the idiom “put all your eggs in one basket” (risk all your money, effort and so on one thing, so that if it is not successful, you have no chance) and the proverb “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

From all the features mentioned above, proverbs have no reason not to be taken into consideration together with idioms. Differences between idioms and proverbs

It is undeniable that idioms and proverbs have close relations. The similarities between them, however, are not broad enough to mingle these two concepts together. They still own its typical features that differentiate one from the other.

First and foremost, the difference lies in grammar. It is, on grammatical respect, an idiom is a set expression and a part of a sentence rather than a perfect sentence. Hence, it is equivalent merely to a word or a phrase. Typical examples are “Achilles heel”, “rotten apple” or “to twist somebody’s arm”. In contrast,


proverb is defined as a fully made sentence, demonstrating the whole idea to judge the value of social relationship, to carry the experience about the life, to provide people with moral lessons or to disapprove of a particular issue. In addition, it might be noteworthy to mention again that a proverb is formed on the basis of an idiom. As an illustration, the proverb “do not count your chickens before they are hatched” contains the idiom “count your chickens before they are hatched”. It is a complete sentence whose meaning can be understood as “it is not good to be too confident of success until it actually happens”.

Secondly, in comparison with idioms, proverbs bring another different feature in terms of function. Proverbs express the whole idea of judgment, general truth about life or moral lessons. Functionally, a proverb therefore can be considered as a perfect literature work which brings three basic functions:

perception, aestheticism and education. Let us have a look at the proverb “every hour of lost time is a chance of future misfortune” to clarify its three functions. The proverb can be interpreted as “a person who does not make use of time will probably encounter mishap sooner or later.” That is to say time is such a precious thing that people should make full use of. The proverb is an experience during our life and our work if time is wasted. It is also a lesson in utilizing time. The perceptive function of the proverb is to help people to know the significance of time and the price to pay for squandering time. Its educational function is to give its contribution to a better time usage. Its aesthetic function is to impart the aforementioned contents by using exaggerative and picturesque words which could easily persuade readers and draw the letter into a pleasant acceptance without any embarrassment. Idioms, on the other hand, do not draw a comment, a life experience, a moral lesson or any criticism. They frequently perform an aesthetic function but no function of perception or that of education. Lacking these two


functions of perception and education, idioms could not become a perfect literature work. Therefore, idioms belong to the language only. This can be clearly seen through the idiom “a meeting of minds” which means “people thinking in the same way about something, a special understanding between people”. Although this idiom is expressed figuratively and imaginatively, which performs its aesthetic function, it brings us neither an advice nor a lesson about life or society.

In conclusion, idioms and proverbs are so alike that people frequently take them into parallel consideration when studying a language. The close relations between idioms and proverbs, however, can not reflect their complete similarities. They are still distinguishable for their differences in grammar and function.

The similarities and differences between idioms and proverbs can be summarized in the table as follows:

Table 1: Differences between idioms and proverbs

Expression Feature







































Education - + 2.1.4 Classification of idioms Idioms contribute a large proportion to any languages. As



2.1.4 Classification of idioms

Idioms contribute a large proportion to any languages. As a matter of fact, the affluence of idioms brings about numerous ways of sorting them. In such a small study, however, it is beyond the bounds of possibility to cover all methods of classifying idioms. Therefore, focus will be put on merely two main ways of idiom categorization as follows:

Based on Semantic structure

Based on Syntactic feature Based on Semantic structure

One of the most remarkable conceptions of idioms may be attributed to V.V. Vinogradov – a linguist in old Soviet. Vinogradov (1977: 121) claims that idioms include 3 kinds: phraseological fusions, phraseological unities and phraseological combinations. Phraseological Fusion

Phraseological fusion is the highest stage of integrating together. In such kind of idioms, the meaning of the components and that of the whole group are of no relevance. In other words, the meanings of constituents are perceived by the meaning of the whole so thoroughly that they cannot be understood unless they are


studied as a whole unit. In reverse, the meaning of the whole could not be found through the meaning of each element. For instance, the idiom “out of the blue” is of no relevance to color for it means “suddenly and unexpectedly”. It is obvious that the complete stability of lexical components and grammatical structure of fusion have made such kind of idioms become specific for every language. It is therefore unfeasible to translate them literally into other languages. It is also impossible to find the equivalent meaning between the meaning of each component word in the two languages. Phraseological unities

It is notable that phraseological unities are much more abundant than phraseological fusions due to their less complete stability of lexical components. Unlike phraseological fusions with fully non-motivated word groups, phraseological unities are partially non-motivated. The coherence in phraseological unities is not as remarkable as in phraseological fusions. Also, the meaning of the whole unit at times can be perceived through the meaning of its components. This itself represents another feature of such kind of idiom, which is known as a synonymic substitution. In phraseological unities, changing a word for another synonym is acceptable. As an illustration, instead of saying “to have a hard job doing something” (to find it difficult to do something), people can also say “to have a difficult job doing something” without changing its meaning for difficult and hard are actually synonyms. Moreover, once being concerned with phraseological unities, people can hardly pay any attention to metaphoric meanings of the whole phraseological unit other than the lexical meanings of the component words. In the following idioms “be (all) plain sailing” the lexical meaning of component words makes the idiom easy to be understood literally. However, the


figurative meaning of the whole unit can be only perceived as “be simple and free from trouble”. Generally, phraseological unities are extensively employed in many countries. Some of them, consequently, are easily translated into other languages. By ways of illustration, the idiom “live like a king” which means “live in very comfortable surroundings, enjoying all the advantages of being rich” can be translated into Vietnamese as “sng như ông hoàng”. Other similar examples are “crocodile tears” (nước mt cá su), “go your separate way” (đường ai ny đi), “give somebody/ get the green light” (bt đèn xanh), “like father like son” (cha nào con ny) and so on. Phraseological combinations

Phraseological combinations are said to be the least idiomatic of all kinds of phraseological units. Unlike phraseological fusions which are fully non-motivated and phraseological unities which are partially non-motivated, phraseological combinations are motivated. In other words, in phraseological combinations, the meaning of the whole can be inferred from the meaning of its components. Specifically, this kind of idiom’s structure includes one component giving word- for-word meaning and other giving figurative one. The meaning of the idiom can be partly worked out thanks to the literal meaning of one component and the figurative meaning would express complete meaning of the whole unit. In the idiom “meet somebody’s eyes” which means “look straight at somebody because you realize that they are looking at you”, “meet” is used figuratively while somebody’s eyes is used in its direct meaning.

26 Based on Syntactic feature

In this part, the principal features of idioms will be given. Furthermore, a completely new aspect of idioms can be discovered: though structured like phrases, they function like words. It is, based on syntactic feature; idioms can be classified into five main types: idioms functioning like nouns, idioms functioning like verbs, idioms functioning like adjectives, idioms functioning like adverbs, and idioms functioning like prepositions. To make it easier to get the picture, five types of idioms, according to grammatical function, will be presented in the table as follows:

Table 2: Classification of idioms based on Syntactic feature

Types of


Idiom based

Some common

on Syntactic






N + N

Cannon folder

Large numbers of soldiers who are used in order to win a war, even though most of them are likely to be killed



N’s + N

A gentleman’s agreement

An agreement, contract, etc… in which nothing is written down because both people trust each other not to break it


N + prep + N

The letter of the law

The exact words of a law or rule



rather than its general meaning.



+ Adj

Knight errant

Chivalrous man who is ready to help and protect oppressed and helpless people.


+ and + N

Comings and goings

Arrivals and departures; movement of people



+ N

Good money

A lot of money; money that you earn with hard work



+ S.C

Ships that pass in the night

Meet for a short time, by chance, and perhaps for the only time in your life



+ N

Give birth

Produce a baby or young animal


Be willing to





+ and + V

Give and take

people’s wishes and




view and to change demands, if this is necessary


V+ (one’s)+ N

Glance one’s eyes down

Take a very quick superficial look at something







Give sb




+ one + N

Give sb moral support

encouragement, approval, etc. rather than financial or practical help



+ S.C

See which way the wind blows

See what most people think, or what is likely to happen before you decide how to act yourself.



Adj + and + Adj

High and low

(search for smt) in every possible place; everywhere


Adj + as + N

As innocent as a dove








N + and + N

First and foremost





Prep + N + or + prep + N

By hook or by crook

(of something difficult) by any method, whether it is honest or not


Conj + clause

Before you can say Jack Robinson

Very quickly or suddenly


Adv + prep + N

Once in a blue moon


Very rarely

Prep + N

At a stretch

Without stopping; continuously



Prep + N + Prep

On the ground of


On the basis of





2.2.1. Metaphors

In turning to study “metaphor in idioms”, it is necessary to demonstrate what is meant by the term ‘metaphor’.

There have been numerous linguistic definitions of ‘metaphor’, the briefest of which may be attributed to Dinh, T.L (1995) “metaphor is the transference of meaning from one object to another based on similarity between these two objects.” (p.194). This viewpoint is supported by Do, H.C (1996) as he defined metaphor as “the symbolic name of one object, which is based on the similarity, realistic or imaginary, between the identified object called “A” and the object called “B” of which the name is transferred to “A”.” (p.87)

Although these two authors expressed their ideas in different ways, both of them see the transference of meaning from A to B and their similarity of these two objects.

Western linguists shared the same opinion. Aristotle’s viewpoint on metaphor were introduced in Aristotle’ Poetics and Rhetoric (350 BC), which has been considered as the fundamental of rhetorical and metaphorical piece of


research for more than 2000 years. It is said to be the earliest and widely spread theory of metaphor until recent day. In his point of view, metaphor functions either as a substitution of the figurative for the literal, or as an abbreviated simile. Specifically, Aristotle assumed that metaphor was derived from seeing semblances in things, which is one feature of simile. However, by comparison with simile, metaphor was regarded as the more compressed figure of speech. In this view, the comprehending of a metaphor is an issue of interpreting the equivalent simile, for example, “A is B” had the same meaning as “A is like B”. Another notable point in Aristotle theory is so-called “substitution” theory, according to Max Black:

metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else; the transference being either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or on grounds of analogy” (The poetic, p.174). Some people may conclude based on this view that after all, metaphor was no more than a replacement of a different expression. Nevertheless, Aristotle viewpoint on metaphor was on a larger scale. It is apparent that the term “thing” and “name” in Aristotle’s account must be construed broadly. “Thing” also relates to any topic of brainwork rather than merely physical objects. Likewise, “name” might not be understood in the fixed sense of proper or common names. Thus, what we are left with is the notion that some object of thought is referred to by means of the sign for some other such objects. This will do well enough, but it is a little more convenient to say essentially the same thing from the sign rather than the object signified. Hence, we may say that in a metaphor sign having a conventional sense is used in a different sense.

It might be noteworthy to mention also the definition of metaphor from dictionaries for better clarity and neatness. In Oxford Student’s dictionary of English (2001), “metaphor is a word or phrase that is used in an imaginative way


to show that somebody/ something has the same qualities as another thing.


Despite apparent differences in expressing, all of these aforementioned definitions intersect at one point, which is that metaphor always is the transference of name based on the association of similarity. For the sake of clarity and consistency, this paper will refer to this definition whenever the term ‘metaphor’ is mentioned.

2.2.2 Classification of metaphor Classification of metaphor according to semantic aspect

According to Hoa N (2004, Semantics), metaphor is hidden comparison. The transference is based on the similarity of shape, position, movement, function, color, size and characteristic. Shape:

Ex: The nose of a plane, the teeth of a saw The names of parts of human body are transferred to other objects based on the likeness of appearance between them. Position:

Ex: Brow of the hill, foothills or the foot of a mountain There exists point of comparison between place of brow, foot and that of hill, mountain.



Ex: She wormed her way through the crowd The word “worm” is utilized here due to the resemblance between the movement of “she” and “worm”. Function:

Ex: The key to success, figure of instrument, Based on the function of the key, a metal object that is used for opening a door or starting a car, people often use a common phrase “the key to success”, which means something that helps people achieve a positive result. Color:

Ex: Violet, snow, orange The colour of violet, snow or orange become the name of the colours themselves. When a thing is illustrated as snow hue; for instance, there is the similarity between the color of snow and that of the described object. Size:

Ex: Midget, elephantine Midget” is used to describe a particularly small person; conversely, “elephantine” is employed to give an account of a very huge person. There exist implicit comparisons when we apply these words.

33 Characteristic:

Ex: Witch, fox When one says “Mary is a fox” one does not mean a fox is named “Mary” or literally Mary is a fox. What he means is a cunning person.

It is also worth noticing that the metaphoric meaning of a word denoting a part of human body is frequently employed, i.e. the names of the parts of human body are transferred to other objects:

The leg of the table Head of a cabbage

Names of animals are also regularly utilized as metaphorical expressions of human beings:

A fox – a crafty person A snake – malicious person

In addition, metaphor subgroup also contains proper names:

Hoan Thu (used to call a jealous person) Cicero (an eloquent speaker) Temporal classification of metaphor:

Metaphor, like all stylistic devices, can be classified into different types according to their degree of unexpectedness. Hoa N (2004, Semantics) states that there are three kinds of metaphor: living metaphor, faded metaphor and dead metaphor. Metaphors which are absolutely unexpected are called living metaphor.


Those which are commonly used in speech and therefore are sometimes even fixed in dictionaries as expressive means of language are faded and dead metaphor. Living metaphor:

Words or phrases used with unusual metaphorical sense or the metaphor created and used by an individual belong to living metaphor. Therefore, interpreting living metaphor is not the matter of comprehending each word literally; instead, they must be understood indirectly. For instance, “She is the apple of her parents’ eyes” should be interpreted that she is her parents’ favorite child or they love her very much. Faded metaphor:

Faded metaphor is the metaphor which lost its novelty because of long use and became customary. “Golden youth” is a good example of faded metaphor. People often use words or phrases like that as a habit without being aware of the fact that they are metaphors. Dead metaphor:

Metaphoric sense is not felt in dead metaphors. The original sentence meaning is bypassed and the sentence acquires a new literal meaning identical with the former metaphorical meaning. This is a shift from the metaphorical utterance to


the literal utterance. Words have lost their direct meaning and are used only figuratively in dead metaphor. For example, the word “to ponder” originally meant “to weight” but now it merely means “to meditate”, “to think or to consider carefully.” It is said that all our words are dead metaphor. In a linguistic metaphor, especially when it is dead as a result of long use, the comparison is completely forgotten and the thing named often has no other name, for instance, foot (of a mountain), leg (of a table), back (of a book), etc.

There are many other ways of categorizing metaphors based on different angles, such as form, structure and style. However, the paper merely raises the classification of metaphor according to semantic and time aspect due to time limit. Also, while the former is easy to understand, the latter has some drawbacks that there is no clear cut between living, faded and dead metaphor. Hence, this dissertation will put a stronger focus on the first way of sorting metaphors to study metaphor in idioms.

2.2.3 Distinction between metaphor and metonymy

Metaphor and metonymy are two concepts that often cause confusion to many learners. In fact, although learners understand quite well the concept of metaphor; they still find it difficult to make a clear distinction between metaphor and metonymy. In the eagerness to see metaphor in many areas of language and thought, scholars also often fail to distinguish between these different tropes for both metaphor and metonymy express mappings between things. Similarities

Together with metaphor, metonymy is the most familiar of the figures of rhetoric. Metonymy, like metaphor is a trope which applies to words, or single


signs, rather than to sentences, or sign complexes. The two figures both involve a substitution with the exchange of one element for another, rather than the suppression or addition of an element, or the permutation of the order of several elements. Differences

Firstly, what differentiates metaphor from metonymy is the nature relationship between the two elements entering into the substitutions. While a metaphorical term is connected with what for which it is substituted on the basis of similarity, metonymy is based on contiguity or closeness. Metonyms tend to suggest that they are directly connected with reality in contrast to the mere iconicity or symbolism of metaphor. (Jakobson & Halle 1956: 92). Jakobson stated that metaphor and metonymy are two basic axes of language and communication. Metaphor is a paradigmatic dimension (vertical, based on selection, substitution and similarity) and metonymy is a syntagmatic dimension (horizontal, based on combination, contexture and contiguity) (Jakobson & Halle 1956: 90-96).

Metaphor and metonymy is also regarded to be different in function. The function of a metaphor is understanding while the function of a metonymy is reference. According to Lakoff & Johnson (1980: 36), thus, conceive of metaphor as having primarily a function of understanding, which is a way of conceiving of one thing in terms of another; and metonymy as having primarily a referential function which allows us to use one entity to stand for another.

Let us take a look at the two examples of metaphor and metonymy:


Example 1: In response to the allegations of mass corruption within the team, a former player said today: “There may be the odd rotten apple in the pack, but the majority are clean and honest.” Example 2: White house is not saying anything. The metaphoric use of rotten apple in (1) involves the attribution of human qualities: a bad person who has bad effect on others in a group. In contrast, White house in (2) actually refers to the US president but does not involve the attribution of human qualities to Whitehouse. As for Lakoff & Johnson, the defining characteristic of metonymy is referential, as metonymy fundamentally involves the use of one entity to refer to another related entity.

According to Galperin I.R (1977: 146), metaphor and metonymy differ also

in the way they are deciphered. In the process of disclosing the meaning implied in

a metaphor, one image excludes the other. For example, the metaphoric idiom “a

fat cat”, when deciphered, means a person who earns a lot of money. Though there is a definite interplay of meaning, only one object known as person with a lot of money is perceived. This is not the case with metonymy. Metonymy, while presenting one object to our mind, does not exclude each other. Example is in “the teacher wanted some new faces to do the exercises”. Here, new faces and the “new” students itself are both perceived by the mind.

It is common knowledge that both metaphor and metonymy are the transference of meaning; thus, distinguishing the two things is not an easy task. To

a certain extent, however, the abovementioned theorists have drawn quite a clear distinction between the two types of tropes, metaphor and metonymy.

2.2.2 Simile

38 Definition

Of all figures of speech, simile is said to be the simplest and the most common used. Simile is utilized popularly in numerous languages and linguistic fields.

There are a variety of ways to define simile, the briefest of all may be attributed to C. Jonathan (1995) in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary Simile is a comparison of one thing with another.” (p. 593). Kirssner and Mandell (1987) in The Brief Holt Handbook, however, give a more specific definition: “A simile is a comparison between two essentially unlike items on the basis of a shared quality; similes are produced by like or as.” (p. 82). This viewpoint is supported in The American Heritage College Dictionary (1997) as the authors define simile as “a figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things is explicitly compared, usually by means of like or as. (p.1270)

The aforementioned definitions capture three essential properties of simile. Firstly, they involve some form of comparison. More importantly, the comparison is explicit. Last but not least, the comparison involves entities which are not normally considered comparable, that it is, in some sense, figurative.

The objectives compared in a simile do not usually belong to the same semantic groups or classes. A person can be compared to an animal or a thing. By way of illustration, in the simile “He was as cunning as a fox” a man’s characteristic is compared with a fox’s one. Another similar example is “He swims


like a fish”. Actually, a fish is so good at swimming. The action of “swimming” of a man is compared with that of a fish. That is to say he swims very well.

In Vietnamese, a simile always employs the word “như”, “ta” or “tày”, “bng”. For instance, Vietnamese idioms include “vchng như đũa có đôi” “nhta lông hng”, “hc thy không tày hc bn”, “mt miếng khi đói bng mt gói khi no”, “mt miếng gia làng bng mt sàng xó bếp”, etc. In some cases, simile in Vietnamese is expressed by a pair of words “bao nhiêu…by nhiêu”: “bao nhiêu tc đất tc vàng by nhiêu

Like numerous other types of figurative language, simile is conventional in written, spoken as well as daily language, which makes language more symbolic and comprehensible. Simile, then, seems to be a significant bridge between the interlocutors. Three elements of metaphors and similes

It is said that metaphor and simile is more alike than different. The distinction between simile and metaphor is among the oldest and most widely recognized in rhetorical theory. It is also one of the most tenuous. For many analysts it is, in fact, a distinction almost without a difference – as Aristotle (1954) puts it, “the simile also is metaphor… the difference is but slight” (Rhetoric III, 4). Traditionally, what difference there is has been seen as a matter of form: a simile simply makes explicit what a metaphor merely implies. Since the difference between these two is apparently so superficial, theorists have tended to define one figure in terms of the other. Such theorists as Aristotle, Lakoff and Johnson (1980),


and Glucksberg and Keysar (1990), takes metaphor as the more basic of the two figures, and view simile as the explicit expression of a metaphorical mapping.

That is, in short, while a simile is open comparison, a metaphor is implicit one. Therefore, a simile creates a comparison between two things by using the word “like” or “as”; metaphor also takes form of comparison but do not make use of these words.

For instance:

She is as cunning as a fox (simile) She is a fox (metaphor)

Grammatically, metaphor and simile are the forms which represent two propositions in the semantic structure. In reality, any proposition consists of two parts: a topic and a comment about that topic. To illustrate, the proposition “My friend is beautiful” amounts to the topic “my friend” and the comment “is beautiful”. Apparently, if a metaphor or simile occurs, there will be two propositions which are related to each other by a comparison. The comparison appears in the comment part of the propositions.

By way of illustration, the simile in English “My friend is as changeable as the weather” is based on two propositions:

1. My friend is changeable.

Topic comment

2. The weather is changeable.




In (1), the topic is “my friend” and the comment is “changeable”. In (2), the topic is “the weather” and the comment is also “changeable”. It is obvious that the topic of the former is being compared to that of the latter since the two propositions are identical. The topic in the second proposition is the thing that the first topic is like; it is called the “image” or the illustration. The “point of similarity” is found in the comments, in this case, is “is changeable”

Let us consider another example, “He was like a bull in a china shop, treading on everyone’s feet and apologize constantly.” In this case, only the topic “He” and the image of the simile “a bull in a china shop” are given out. The point of similarity, however, is implicit. To analyze this simile, we can state the two propositions explicitly as follows:

1. He is extremely careless and clumsy.


2. A bull in a china shop is extremely careless and clumsy.














similarity turns out to be “is extremely careless and clumsy”.

In short, similes and metaphors include three basic elements. They are:

1. TOPIC: the topic of the first proposition (non - figurative), i.e., the thing really being talked about.


2. IMAGE: the topic of the second proposition (figurative), i.e., what is being compared with.

3. POINT OF SIMILARITY: this is found in the comments of the two propositions involved.

To sum up, it is advisable to write out the propositions, which are basic to comparisons. That the topic, image, point of similarity have been identified is helpful to interpret simile and metaphor.

2.2.3 Foundation of similes and metaphors in idioms

It is common knowledge that a simile and metaphor requires a shared element for the two things taking part in forming the implicit or explicit comparison. The foundation of similes and metaphors is the similarity of them in characters. Specifically, such similarities may be frequently found:











measurement of compared identities. Such idiom as “as beautiful as the rainbow”

Similarity of quality: quality can be interpreted as good, bad, hot, cold, cool, etc. Here is an English idiom to exemplify: as gentle as sleep. In Vietnamese, when talking about gentle people, it is common to use the idiom “hin như bt” (as gentle as Buddha).


Similarity of behavior: the behavior may be of human beings or animals. Take “to sleep like a log” as typical illustration. In Vietnamese, to express exactly the same thing, the idiom: “ngsay như chết” is employed.

2.2.4 Similes and metaphors in idiom and idioms of comparison

Similes and metaphors are applied prevalently in literature, written language as well as spoken language as a tool to make the language become more vivid, and in some cases, more profound. Particularly, similes metaphors can also be found in idioms which are considered as linguistic combinations mainly with figurative meaning. Idioms with similes are identified as idioms of comparison.

In English idioms, there are about 700 or more entries of this kind. To illustrate, English idioms of comparison includes: “as beautiful as the sunset”, “as bright as day”, “as fair as a rose”, etc. In Vietnamese, it is said that the number of idioms of comparison is somehow the same as in English. Examples are “xanh như tàu lá”, “sướng như tiên”, “vui như tết”, etc.

Like idioms in general, idioms of comparison are the illustration of living breathing language, full of rhetoric and sometimes humor, conveying truths in a dramatic way. They provide users of language with fixed groups of words deriving from comparisons with figurative meaning such as “as delicious as a forbidden fruit”, “as careless as the wind”, “as restless as ambition”, etc. Vietnamese idioms also demonstrate such metaphorical meaning: “như cá nm trên tht”, “tin vào nhà khó như gió vào nhà trng”, etc.


One notable characteristic of idioms of comparison is that they cause almost no difficulty to comprehension, not like other kinds that usually do.

Also, idioms of comparison are so alluring that they have intrigued numerous scholars. In Vietnamese, they are V.Barbier (Les expressions comparatives de la langue Annamite, 1925), Truong Dong San (Thanh ngu so sanh trong tieng viet, 1974), Nguyen Quoc Hung (Thanh ngu Anh – Viet, 1974) and so forth. In English comparative idioms are more or less referred to in many books on idioms, which are listed in references at the end of this dissertation.

2.2.5 Identification of idioms of comparison

So as to have an insightful look at idioms of comparison, firstly, identification should be taken into consideration. There are various ways of identifying them based on different criteria. Since access to all of them seems to be unfeasible, mere three main ways will be considered:

Identification based on component words and phrases

Identification based on grammatical structure

Structural characteristics of comparative idioms Based on component word and phrase

Idioms of comparison can be divided into three groups as follows: Comparisons with adjectives


Idioms of this group are constructed as:

As + Adjective + as + (a/the) + Noun.

The point of similarity is explicitly given out. Through these idioms, characteristics of compared objectives are exposed symbolically. For instance: “as unchangeable as the past”, “as youthful as the month of May”, “as treacherous as the memory”, etc. In Vietnamese idioms, typical examples of comparisons with adjectives are “nhát như thỏ đế”, “hin như ckhoai”, etc. Comparison with verbs


Verbs + like + a/ the + noun

Many verbs with simple meaning and structure take part in forming idioms of this group to emphasize or make clear actions or behaviors of the compared objectives. Though the point of similarity is hidden, the idioms are still trouble-free to comprehend thanks to their simplicity. For instance, English idioms include “to cry like a baby, to fade like a dream”,” to follow like a shadow”, “to spread like wildfire”, etc. Vietnamese idioms utilize “ăn như mèo”, “chy như nga”, “khóc như mưa”, etc. Miscellaneous comparisons

These kinds of comparisons do not follow any regular patterns. As compared to the aforementioned ways, these types of “set of comparison” – even fewer in


number – are frequently used by native English speakers for this might make their

verbal communication more and more vivid. Their structures may be:

(Verb) + Like/ as + a clause

(Verb) + Like/ as + a verb phrase

(Verb) + Like/ as + a noun phrase

Here are the idioms to exemplify: “(to be) like a red rag to a bull”,” (to have) a memory like an elephant”, “to look as if / though one has been dragged

through a hedge backwards”, “như hn gp mưa rào”, “tin vào nhà khó như gió vào nhà trng”, etc. Based on grammatical structure

Comparative idioms can belong to the three following general patterns:

English idioms

As warm as sunbeam

As transparent as glass

Like two peas in a pod

as C as B

like/ as B

C like/ as B

To follow like a shadow

Vietnamese idioms

C như B

nóng như đổ la

trong sut như thy tinh

như B

như hai git nước

C như B

theo như hình vi bóng Structural characteristics of comparative idioms

Structural characteristics of comparative idioms can be identified as follows.


Firstly, in idioms of comparison, the part showing comparative relationship and the things compared (như B – as/ like B) are necessarily stable in both surface structure and deep structure. If the comparative structure is broken, the idiom of comparison will no longer exist. The image of comparison is constantly the symbolic one that is full of national identities. Through part “B” – the image of comparative idioms – the way of observing the world thinking, cultural life and the natural scene of a nation can be revealed. For instance, idioms in English exist: as rich as Croesus (Croesus was such a rich king that he had every guest takes as much gold as he could carry, upon leaving), to work like a Trojan (Trojan originally referred to the inhabitants of Troy, the ancient city besieged by the Greeks in their efforts to retrieve their queen, Helen, who had been abducted by the son of the King of Troy. According to the legend, the Trojans were a hard- working, determined, industrious people). Such in Vietnamese have: đẹp như tiên bng (as beautiful as a fairy in the fairy mountain), vng như chùa Bà Đanh, (as quiet as Ba Danh temple), hin như Bt (as gentle as Buddha).

This puts in plain words why there exist few equivalents between idioms in general and idioms of comparison in particular of two languages. As a matter of fact, with the same content, each people use different images to express. Let us look at the example and compare:

English As hot as mustard Like hot cake

Vietnamese cay như ớt đắt như tôm tươi


In reverse, the expression and vocabulary are identical but the values of content are dissimilar; for instance, as sharp as a razor (sc như dao). While Vietnamese idioms refer to the beauty of a girl’s eyes (mt em như dao cau), English submit intelligence of a person (The old man's senile, but his wife is as sharp as a razor.)

Secondly, the “C” factor, the point of similarity, in idioms of comparison is required in deep structure but not necessarily stable in surface structure. That is shown clearly in the relation between “C” and “B” as well as the possibility to be flexibly present or absent of element “C” in the usage.

Thirdly, certain elements could be absent in specific circumstance without affecting the meaning of the speech. “She is as bold as a lion” is not different from “she is like a lion”. Similarly, “cô y xinh như hoa” and “cô y như hoa” are the same. The potential ability is the premises to transfer a simile into a metaphor. For instance:

She is as gentle as a lamb – she is like a lamb – she is a lamb Nó hn như gu – nó như gu – nó gu

2.2.6 Similarities and differences between the Anglicist and Vietnamese cultures expressed via idioms of comparison

Idioms are shaped in a community after a long period’s living of the local people and it is the reflection and expression of the culture of a certain race, because of this, the differences on geography, history, custom and living habit will be reflected in the word used in idioms among cultures. In this part, the similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese cultures expressed in the images of idiomatic comparisons will be carefully analyzed.

49 Similarities

Despite the differences in culture, there are still coincidences in ways of thinking and observing the world of Anglicists and Vietnamese people. This undoubtedly leads to the similarities in the way of expressing ideas and concepts through idioms. In fact, many English idioms of comparison have exact equivalents in Vietnamese in terms of both meaning and vocabulary. To make this clear, let us consider these following idioms:

Idioms of comparison:

English idioms

1. As black as coal

2. As black as crow

3. As black as ink

4. As black as midnight

5. As black as soot

6. As brief as a dream

7. As bright as day

8. As brilliant as stars

9. As changeable as the weather

10. As cold as ice

11. As cheerful as a lark

12. As cunning as a fox

13. As dark as midnight


Vietnamese equivalents Đen như than Đen như quTi đen như mc Ti như đêm Đen như bhóng Ngn như mt gic mng Sáng như ban ngày Sáng như sao Hay thay đổi như thi tiết Lnh như đá Vui như sáo Xo quyt như cáo Ti như na đêm

14. As difficult as a beginning

15. As dumb as a an oyster

16. As fair as a rose

17. As fast as light

18. As fast as a hare

19. As fat as a pig

20. As fierce as a tiger

21. As firm as rock

22. As fleet as the wind

23. As fresh a rose

24. As gay as a lark

25. As gruff as a bear

26. As good (valuable) as gold

27. As green as a leaf

28. As heavy as an elephant

29. As hard as a stone

30. As heavy as lead

31. As hot as fire

32. As keen as a razor

33. As light as down

34. As light as a feather

35. As mum as an oyster

36. As old as the hills

37. As pretty as a picture

38. As quick as lightning


Vn skhi đầu nan Câm như hến Xinh như hoa Nhanh như ánh sáng Nhanh như thBéo như ln Dnhư cp Vng như đá Nhanh như gió Tươi như hoa Vui như sáo Hn như gu Quí giá như vàng Xanh như tàu lá Nng như voi Rn như đá Nng như chì Nóng như la Sc như dao Nhta lông hng Nhnhư lông hng Câm như hến Xưa như trái đất Đẹp như tranh Nhanh như ánh sáng

39. As quick as a flash

40. As red as blood

41. As red as a beetroot

42. As round as a barrel

43. As sharp as a razor

44. As silly as a calf

45. As sour as vinegar

46. As stink as a polecat

47. As swift as lightning

48. As smooth as velvet

49. As slow as a snail

50. As swift as an arrow

51. As steady as rock

52. As timid as a rabbit/ hare

53. As thick as ants

54. As transparent as glass

55. As yellow as saffron

56. As wet as a drowned mouse

57. As white as snow

58. As white as a sheet

59. Like father like son

60. To fight like cat and dog

61. To stick like a leech

62. To stick like glue

63. To cry like a baby

64. To follow like a shadow


Nhanh như chp Đỏ như máu Đỏ như gc Tròn như thùng phi Sc như dao Ngu như bò Chua như gim Hôi như chn Nhanh như chp Mn như nhung Chm như sên Nhanh như tên bn Rn như đá Nhát như thỏ đế Đông như kiến Trong sut như thy tinh Vàng như nghệ Ướt như chut lt Trng như tuyết Như tgiy trng Cha nào con ny Như chó vi mèo Bám dai như đỉa Dính như keo Khóc như đứa trTheo như hình vi bóng


To swim like fish

Bơi như

Other idioms

1. Have ants in your pants

2. (Speak ill) behinds one’s back

3. Beauty is only skin-deep

4. Blood is thicker than water

5. Have got your head in the clouds

6. Daylight robbery

7. Be water off a duck’s back

8. Go in one ear and out the other

9. Easier said than done

10. Men make house, women make home

11. Know where you stand

12. Let your heart rule your head

13. Live from hand to mouth

14. Every man has his price

15. Money doesn’t grow on tree

16. Teach your grandmother to suck eggs


St rut như có kiến bò Nói xu sau lưng Tt ghơn tt nước sơn Mt git máu đào hơn ao nước lã Đầu óc trên mây Cướp gia ban ngày Nước đổ đầu vt Nói vào tai này, ra tai kia Nói dhơn làm Đàn ông xây nhà, đàn bà xây tổ ấm Biết người biết ta Trái tim nhm chỗ để lên đầu Tay làm hàm nhai Có tin mua tiên cũng được Tin không phi lá tre Trng khôn

17. Virtue is its own reward

18. Where there’s a will, there’s a way

19. All work and no play (make Jack a dull boy)

20. Out of sight, out of mind

21. Go in one’s separate way

22. To play cat and mouse with someone Differences

hơn vt Có đức mc sc mà ăn Có chí thì nên H c mà ch ơ i, chơi mà hc. Xa mt cách lòng Đường ai ny đi Chơi trò mèo vn chut vi ai

Differences in the image of idiomatic comparisons in English and Vietnamese are consequences of dissimilarities between two cultures for language items are closely in connection with culture. Therefore, it is reasonable to take glimpse at some outstanding cultural factors first.

In a broad sense, talking about culture, it is of necessity to talk about the nature, and after all, culture is a mirror of the nature, in which it is being adjusted by human beings to satisfy their demands in all aspects of life.

Original cultural identities of a nation are naturally rooted from historical conditions. It is essential to refer to their geographical features as they play a significant role in the formation and growth of the culture; its own form of the economy, political institution, customs and so on. Culture, first and foremost, is a


respond to a community with challenges of geo – climatic condition, then a respond to that of socio – historical condition.

Here is a table to demonstrate contrast cultural features of Vietnam and Britain.

Table 3: Contrast cultural features of Vietnam and Britain






Tropical monsoon type of climate






Alluvial soil that is banked up by rivers and sea. Three quarters of the area are hill and mountain, however, Vietnam has large and rich plains which are used for agriculture.

Notable lack of extremes. There are not really high mountains, large rivers, plains or forests. Much of the land is used for human habitation.


Dense network of rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. There are long and navigable rivers.

Quite short but their easy navigability has made them an important part of the inland transport network


Has always been the cornerstone of the economy. Main agricultural products are rice, ground – nut trees, fruits and vegetables, husbandry products and industrial trees. Agriculture is linked with

Does not play the most important part in the economy. The main agriculture products are cereals, dairying of beef cattle, poultry meat, eggs,







Pigs, buffaloes, poultry and so on

Cow, cattle, sheep, horse, poultry, etc.


Rice is


the staple of most

Cereal and meat are staple in the meals. They like drinking coffee. They use knife and folks in stead of chopsticks.

Food and

Vietnamese meals. Tea is the traditional drink. They use chopstick in meals.

drink culture


Over 60% of the population still lives off the land and many more lead a rural life in small villages. Consists of 54 ethnic minorities.








towns or cities. Less



















Differences resulted from lifestyle and living condition

The first thing easy to be realized is that Vietnamese idioms of comparison mainly bear traces of rice – production agriculture whilst English equivalents consist of components more or less tending towards farming agriculture and industrial society.

Vietnamese culture is mainly based on wet rice production. That is, in daily life, people deal with production tools and animals that either directly or indirectly serve their farming. As a result, when using simile and metaphor,


they often take the familiar things which regularly exist in their daily lives and their way of thinking as the images of comparison. This, firstly, can be found easily in the comparison of strength. There are some idioms related to buffaloes such as: Khe như trâu (as strong as buffalo), đen như trâu (as black as buffalo)

Buffalos attach to a humid – warm ecological system during the whole lives. Therefore, people on mentioning strength or hard work often refer to that of buffaloes.

It is said that the image of a buffalo is constantly connected to wet – rice civilization. That image can be found not only in idioms but also in many proverbs and fork songs in Vietnamese. For instance:

Trâu ơi ta bo trâu này Trâu ra đồng rung trâu cày vi ta Cy cày vn nghip nông gia Ta đây trâu đấy ai mà qun công Bao gicây lúa con bông Thì con ngn cngoài đồng trâu ăn

The fork song is a beautiful picture on agricultural production activities of Vietnamese in which the farmer and his beloved buffalo work together. Also, the sentiment and closeness between the people and the animal are vividly demonstrated.

Cultivators in the past likened the buffalo to the primary factor of agricultural production: Con trâu là đầu cơ nghip. Since the buffalo can take


over every hard farming work, it is very essential for agricultural production. The farmers without modern machines could not manage unless they had buffaloes. More than that, the buffalo was considered the most valuable property of the farmers. In other words, the buffalo used to be a vital factor for agricultural life in the old days.

Buffaloes have really gone into spiritual world of Vietnamese people for thousands of years. According to the lunar calendar, they are presented in hour, day, month and year. For Vietnamese people, buffaloes are strong and industrious animal. The above things can explain why Vietnamese people frequently liken the strength of a person to that of a buffalo.

On the contrary, in nomadic culture, British people do not liken human strength to that of a buffalo since they are familiar to horses rather than buffaloes. Horses can be used to pull ploughs and cards, to transport and to entertain. They are energetic enough to be suitable for the life of moving from place to place of nomadic people. They can carry a weight that is many times greater than their own weight . If a person is compared to a horse, he must have a very good health. For example: Mark is as strong as a horse.

The images used in idioms of comparison such as animal components above, obviously, do not mean the horse is not strong in Vietnamese culture and the buffalo in not strong in nomadic culture. From the cross – cultural view, this different usage rooted from the difference in the way each people think.


Furthermore, due to the difference in culture, with the same values of content, the way of expressing ideas through comparative idioms varies among cultures. For example:


As gentle as a lamb = hin như ckhoai/ hin như đất (used of a well behaved

child, or an orderly person) As fat as butter = béo như ln (very fat) To eat like a horse = ăn như rng cun (to eat large quantities of food)

dumb as a statue = câm như hến (used of a person who says nothing)

The images used in Vietnamese idioms: ln – pig, khoai – sweet potato, hến - corbicula are familiar things to farmers of rice – production agriculture. Meanwhile, Anglicists use such images as butter, horse and lamb in their comparison for they are familiar with things and animals in nomadic agriculture, in which they grow wheat on big farms and raise domestic animals on big pastures.

Such pairs of idioms have the same meaning but different images are used:

English As tough as leather/ old boots

Vietnamese dai như chão

These idioms refer to something tough to cut or chew. The likenesses of English people are leather and old boots, which are typical things in their daily life. They regularly make things such as clothes, shoes, boots, etc from animal skin. Moreover, leather and boots are primarily used in cold weather as such in Western countries. It is thus obvious that those images have gone into their idioms. In contrast, in Vietnamese idioms, a tough thing is comparable to a


rope, a commonly used and useful string for them. This kind of string is made of jute trees which is very tough. As shown above, component words used in comparative idioms change among cultures.

Moreover, the way of thinking is also influenced by the living condition. English people employ the image “the weather” to indicate a person who changes his / her mood or opinion about something frequently. That is to say “as changeable as the weather”. It is explained that the weather there is changeable and it is almost impossible to tell what it will be like. Likewise, Vietnamese people have an idiom related to the weather as: như hn gp mưa rào (like drought has heavy rain). This idiom implies a meeting, which has been expected in an anxious mood so long before. It can be seen that “drought” and “rain” are common weather phenomena in a tropical country like Vietnam. To sum up, the use of images related to weather phenomenon in Vietnamese idioms differs from those in English idioms.

Aforementioned examples, to some extent, have clearly shown out how natural conditions and the living condition have an influence on the use of the comparative images in idioms. The same components have different meanings among cultures

Secondly, in comparative structures, the meaning of components varies among cultures. Components include objectives, happenings, phenomena and so on. Sometimes, a borrowed idea or an image of comparison may exist in both English and Vietnamese idiom systems but it has a positive meaning in the former and negative one in the latter. Some idioms in both languages have the


same vocabulary but different values of content. To make it clear, let us consider some examples.

English As bright as day

Vietnamese rõ như ban ngày

English people use this idiom with the sense of “light, not dark” as e.g. a room or the weather. Vietnamese people, however, mean a happening which has nothing suspicious.

English As hard as nails

Vietnamese chc như đinh đóng ct

Vietnamese people use this idiom when they mean such a consistent and unchangeable thing, whilst Anglicists apply it to illustrate nature of a strict person.

What is more, the idiom “as good as gold” is used by English people to evaluate a well – behaved child or an orderly person. On the contrary, in Vietnam, people say “tt như vàng” when they refer to a good quality of a certain object.

To sum up, the examples above have partly shown another difference between English and Vietnamese idioms: despite the same inanimate components in both languages, they still differ in terms of meaning and use.

The same animal components have different meanings among cultures


Thirdly, animal components, which are popularly used in comparative idioms, represent specific cultural features of each nation. Thus, their meanings vary across cultures. This results from the fact that the attitude and sentiment expressed by different peoples towards animals are distinctly different. Some animal components are used with positive meaning in English idioms but with negative meaning in Vietnamese ones or vice versa. That is, when expressing the same idea, each people use different animal components.

Specifically, in Vietnam, dogs are considered as unintelligent, dirty animals, which can be illustrated by such idioms: Ngu như chó (as stupid as a dog), Bn như chó (as dirty as a dog).

Yet, in some English speaking countries, dogs are beloved and considered as lovely pets. They are well fed and given good sleeping place. In Britain, it is even illegal if people run down a dog and keep on driving. Owing to great affection towards dogs, English idioms using these animal components have positive meaning, for instance, to be a lucky dog, to dress like a dog dinner

Mice, also, mentioned in Vietnamese idioms, bear negative meaning: Hôi như chut chù (as smelly as shrew - mouse). This can be explained that farmers do not like mice for they always damage their crops. On the contrary, in English idioms, the image of mice implies a positive meaning: As leak as a mouse

Also, each people take the image of a squirrel into their idioms with different meanings. While Anglicists have such an idiom: As shy as a squirrel, Vietnamese people say: Nhanh như sóc (as quick as a squirrel)


Again, when talking about a stupid person, English people often mention to an ass or a donkey: as stupid as an ass, as stupid as a donkey. Vietnamese people, however, say: ngu như (as stupid as a cow/ bull) ngu như ln (as stupid as a pig).

This distinction can be easily explained that in such a tropical agricultural nation as Vietnam, people are familiar with animals such as cow, bull, pig, fowls and so on. At the same time, British people, who live in nomadic culture, are familiar with horse, donkey and ass.

There are so many other examples, which can clarify the above differences between the two idiom systems in English and Vietnamese. It is the difference in habits and daily activities of the two peoples that make the image of animals in comparative idioms bear different meanings among cultures.

Differences in human – related components in comparative idioms

Last but not least, differences in the image of comparison are also reflected in the likeness of human appearance or characters to that of well – known persons in reality, history and literature of each nation. Obviously, each nation has it own history and literature with its own typical characters. On talking about a person who is jealous, Vietnamese people usually think of female jealousy whether that person is a man or a woman: Ghen như Hon Thư (as jealous as Hoan Thu). Hoan Thu, a character in Truyen Kieu by Nguyen Du, is terribly and extremely jealous, which was mute but cruel.


Anglicists, however, frequently think of Othello – a Shakespeare’s male character to describe jealousy: As jealousy as Othello.

Again, on talking about the state of being happy of a person, English people say: As happy as a king. It is due to the fact that a king usually lives well in a best decorated palace, on best food, etc. The state of being happy mentioned here is quite concrete since a king is a real person. Meanwhile, Vietnamese people consider tiên (fairy) as a happy one as an idiom says: “sướng như tiên” (as happy as a fairy). Tiên is unreal; she or he merely exists in the imagination of the poor peasants who always wish to have a better life. The comparative image is not concrete for it does not exist; no one knows exactly how it is. The use of comparative images in idioms to some extent reflects the way of thinking and observing the world of Anglicists and Vietnamese people. In this way, Anglicists tend to be more concrete than Vietnamese people.

In Vietnamese, there are some idioms related to characters in The Buddhist prayer – book or pagodas such as: Béo như ông Di Lc (as fat as Di Lac), bày như La Hán (as untidy as La Han), hin như Bt (as gentle as Buddha). Di Lac is a fat man with a protruding stomach, who represents for prosperity and wealth. Buddha is a kind of helpful character who is believed to defend the poor and the weak and bring happiness for them. La Han is the name of a statue in pagodas, which is worshipped by Vietnamese people. Buddhism is the major religion in Vietnam, thus, Vietnamese culture is much affected by this religion heritage. That is why there are idioms with images as above.

Briefly, comparative idioms using human – related components are really effective in expressing and describing. Deriving from different origins, idioms


of this kind are to pride or admonish one’s appearance or character or quality in a lively, and thus, effectively way. However, they sometimes cause difficulties to foreign learners. Characters depicted in idiomatic expressions are typical in one culture but not in others.


2.3.1 Introduction

It might be noteworthy to mention again that knowing and understanding idiomatic expressions is a significant step to mastering English. The more fluently and accurately Vietnamese learners can use English set phrases and collocations, the more successfully they can deal with the language of Shakespeare. According to Copper (1999), however, idiom study presents a special language problem for all language learners for the figurative meaning is unpredictable. In this part, attempts are made to shed light on common difficulties confronted by learners. Furthermore, suggestions to solve the problem as well as implications for teaching idioms are also given in the chapter.


2.3.2 Difficulties in understanding English idioms with various grammatical structures

As mentioned in the chapter of theoretical background, English idioms take various forms, structures which are fraught with difficulties for learners.

Firstly, they are various in length. Idioms can be mere letters (ABC), letters and prepositions (from A to B, A to Z), a word (rosy), a phrase (any Tom, Dick or Harry) or a sentence (Big Brother is watching you). Also, learners have to bear in mind that idioms may take many different structures. That is, an idiom can have a regular structure, an irregular or even a grammatically incorrect structure. For the first type, regular structure idioms have common form but there is no connection between the meaning of its components and that of the whole unit. The meaning of an idiom in the group can not be perceived without having been learnt already. Learners, therefore, finds it the most challenging to deal with this kind of idiom. For instance, it is hard to figure out “red tape” as “bureaucratic method” based on the idiom’s components. The meaning of idioms with irregular structures, on the contrary, can be perceived through the meaning of their components. Therefore it causes almost no difficulty to comprehension. In the last group: grammatically incorrect, both form and meaning are irregular. The structure is grammatically inaccurate and the meaning is not precisely expressed by gathering the meaning of each member - word. For instance, one can not rely on the grammar structure to explain the idiom “be in on the ground floor” exactly as “become involved in a plan, project, etc. at the beginning”.

66 English idioms with distinctive culture features

Apart from the difficulties caused by various grammatical structures of idioms, the differences between the English and Vietnamese cultures are frequently the most hindrance for learners to grasp the meaning of idioms. Cultural gap, in other words, results in numerous ways of expressing one’s idea. It is the valid reason causing considerable difficulties to learners. Also, the two dissimilar idiom–systems in two countries make learners from time to time feel at loss to find an exact equivalent to the idioms they encounter. For instance, “as alike as two peas” is the English idiom to express the indistinguishable features between two people or things. Vietnamese idioms, however, employ “ging nhau như hai git nước” (as alike as two drops of water) to express the identity. Another example is “as cool as cucumber”. In process of finding a Vietnamese equivalent idiom, it is notable to grasp beforehand the meaning of the English one as to describe “calm people, especially when the opposite might be expected, i.e. on a hot day or in a tough situation”. It will be a big mistake to do this by translating literally the English one. Be aware of those things, the Vietnamese idiom “bình chân như vi” is the right answer. Suggested solutions

Based on two notable reasons for difficulties in understanding idioms as above, in this part the author will give some suggested solutions.

Firstly, to deal with various grammar structures of idioms, a careful study should be conducted on them.


Furthermore, idioms should be better learnt in specific communicative contexts rather than learnt by heart. While trying to commit to memory that idioms are troublesome, learners should practice using idioms by putting them into specific and real situations so that their meanings become familiar at the beginning.

Also, frequent application of idioms is of great help.

Next, it is advisable that learners should guess the meaning of idioms before looking them up in the dictionary. According to Cooper (1999), guessing meanings from the context is the most successful strategies, leading to correct interpretation in 57 percent of the cases.

Last but not least, thorough understanding of idioms should be on a line with a deep knowledge of cultural features which include psychological characteristics, customs, beliefs, concepts, attitudes, etc. Accordingly, the background knowledge on a culture would be advantageous to firmly grasp idioms. It does take time since knowledge is accumulated gradually; nevertheless, learners can benefit much from using idioms during communication.

2.3.3 Problems in memorizing

Besides difficulties in understanding idioms, learners also encounter a variety of problems in memorizing them. In this part, three main obstacles in


memorizing idioms will be conveyed. Furthermore, attempts are also made to give suggested solutions. English idioms exist in large numbers

There are thousands of idioms in any language; there is no exclusive to English ones. Some English idiom dictionaries contains as many as 7000 entries. It is said that idioms change together with the change of life, society and language. Giving an exact total number of English idioms, henceforth, is out of the question. According to the author’s knowledge, English idioms in colors are now reaching about 192, animal-based idioms counting at about 320, conversational idioms about 350. Idioms of comparisons contribute about 800 items. That is not all. As a result, facing with such boundless ocean of idioms, one can easily get confused and discouraged in memorizing them. It is unlikely and unrealistic to expect a learner to master 5000 idioms in the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms (Heacock, 2003), for instance. A conclusion can be drawn that such large number of English idioms is actually one of the reasons that hinders Vietnamese learners from studying them. Lack of frequent use of English idioms

Unfortunately, English idioms are used by Vietnamese learners infrequently. This makes idiomatic expressions, which themselves are difficult to learn, become even more challenging to remember. On one hand, learners do not apply flexibly the idioms they have learnt in language production on the ground


that some of them sound uncommon for their interlocutors to take in. On the other hand, they do not firmly grasp the idioms, thus, they do not know how to use them appropriately. This makes them diffident of using idioms. Idioms, even though have been learnt and practiced in classroom-environment, they are little used in daily life. Learners tend to use ordinary expressions instead of idiomatic expressions even when they know those idioms. The lack of favorable language environment in which English idioms are utilized results in the fact that learners do not remember them and use them efficiently. Inadequate method of learning English idioms

In learning English idioms, foreign learners including Vietnamese ones face

a variety of obstacles in terms of learning method, which affects their memorization of idioms.

Normally, after getting the meaning of new idioms, learners tend to put them

in their own memory without using them in daily communication. Learners

study idioms out of specific communicative situations, that is, idioms are separated from the context. Unfortunately, this is not the way of learning idioms for knowing the idiom without using them is nonsense. Suggested solution

So as to deal with idioms as a convincing linguistic instrument, it is indispensable for learners to put them into long-term memory. Here are four practical suggestions for a retentive memorization of idiomatic expressions.


To begin with, there is no point worrying about the large number of idioms. Naturally, it is beyond the learners’ reach to know all English idioms. Attention, thus, should be devoted to the most useful and frequent ones. Potential resource is The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (1999), which includes a small section on most frequently used idioms. Oxford Idioms (2001) is also a good option. Furthermore, learners are advised to build their own way of classifying idioms based on a certain criterion. For instance, one may divide idioms into some following groups: idioms in connection with memory and remembering (bear something in mind, in one ear and out the other, jog someone's memory, lose one’s train of thought, trip down memory lane, ring a bell, slipped one’s mind, etc), idioms in connection with relationship (see eye to eye with someone, fair-weather friend, know someone/something inside out, be an item, keep someone at arm's length, to be at odds with somebody, give someone the cold shoulder, a stormy relationship, on the same wavelength, etc. ) and so forth.

Moreover, idioms must be practiced in authentic situations frequently. It is common knowledge that the more learners drill the language items, the more they can memorize them.

Next, as mentioned in the chapter of theoretical background, a complete new aspect of idioms can be discovered: though structured like phrases, they function like words. That is, based on grammatical function; idioms can be classified into five mains types: idioms functioning like nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. Consider idioms as words will surely help learners memorize them more easily.


Last but not least, it is advisable for learners to find equivalent Vietnamese idioms of the English ones. In this way, they can install the relation between the two languages; thus, can put them into their long-term memory. It is obvious that there are few absolute coincidences between idiom systems of different languages; nevertheless, there are still many items that can convey the same ideas. For instance:

English idioms

As fierce as a tiger As light as feather As wet as drowned rat As still as a log As thick as ants

Vietnamese equivalents

Dnhư cp Nhta lông hng Ướt như chut lt Trơ như khúc gỗ Đông như kiến




Preceding chapters have thoroughly elaborated on the introduction, the theoretical background of English idioms, a contrastive analysis on metaphors and similes in English idioms and Vietnamese idioms, problems faced by learners in studying idioms. The conclusion will summarize and evaluate the outcomes of the whole paper by summing up the findings, giving pedagogical suggestions for teaching English idioms, limitations, contributions of the research as well as putting forward several suggestions for further studies.

3.1. Major findings of the research:

Initially, the primary purpose of this study was first to obtain a comprehensible picture of English idioms, metaphor, simile.

An idiom is a fixed expression whose meaning can not be frequently worked out by combining the literal meaning of its individual words. The features of idioms are convincingly demonstrated. The semantic feature of idioms is that idioms can be motivated, partially – motivated and non – motivated. Also, idiomatic expressions can convey positive, neutral, or negative meanings. In terms of syntactic feature, firstly, an idiom is a set – expression. That is, one can not make any changes without losing the idiomatic meaning. Secondly, idioms may take many different forms or structure. Idioms can be in form of noun phrases, verb phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases, preposition phrases and sentences. In connection with structure, an idiom can have a regular structure, an irregular or even a grammatically incorrect structure.

On classifying English idioms, the author bases on two criteria: semantic structure and syntactic feature. In connection with semantic structure, there are three main kinds of idioms: phraseological fusions, phraseological unities and


phraseological combinations. Based on syntactic feature, there exist five types of idioms: ones functioning as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb and a preposition phrase.

Metaphor is the transference of name based on the association of similarity. Two criteria are based on to classify metaphor. Firstly, in term of semantic aspect, according to Hoa, N (2004), there are seven types of metaphors. Metaphors are known as hidden comparisons whose transference is based on the similarity of shape, position, movement, function, color, size and characteristic. The temporal classification of metaphor is likely to be simpler. That is, there are merely three kinds of metaphors which are living metaphor, faded metaphor and dead metaphor. As metaphor and metonymy are two concepts that cause confusion to many learners, the dissertation also demonstrates distinction between these two tropes.

Three basic points should be remembered about simile is that; they involve some forms of comparison, the comparison is explicit and figurative.

More importantly, the author wishes to emphasize that metaphors and simile is more alike than different, according to Aristotle’s viewpoint. A simile simply makes explicit what metaphor merely implies.

Three elements of metaphors and similes are topic, image and points of similarity.

As the core of the thesis, chapter two has studied contrastively metaphor and simile in English and Vietnamese idioms, thus, idioms of comparison have been examined in detail. Identification of idioms of comparison is clarified based on component word and phrase, grammatical structure and their structural characteristics. By close approach and thorough examination, the author has


discovered the effective use of metaphor and simile in idiomatic expressions. Moreover, both similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese comparative idioms which reflect social cultural phenomena of the two countries have been conveyed.

Specifically, the similarities between English and Vietnamese idioms have been vividly illustrated through 65 pairs of idioms of comparison and 22 pairs of other kinds. The statistic is the result of serious attempts to thorough examination of Oxford Idioms (2001) and background knowledge of the author about Vietnamese equivalents.

The differences between English and Vietnamese comparative idioms are obvious for idioms are the reflection and expression of the culture of a certain race. For general understanding, a table is given to demonstrate contrast culture features of Vietnam and Britain. Unlike Britain, Vietnamese culture is mainly based on wet rice production. That is, in daily life people deal with production tools and animals that serve their farming. Therefore, when using simile and metaphor, they often take the familiar things and regularly exist in their daily lives and their ways of thinking as the images of comparison. Specifically, the dissimilarities are showed in four parts. Firstly, the differences are resulted from lifestyle and living condition. Secondly, the same components have different meanings across cultures. Thirdly, the same animal components have different meanings among cultures. Finally, human – related components in comparative idioms are not the same.

3.2 Pedagogical suggestions for teaching English idioms


In such a small study on linguistic theory, the author has no ambition of going further into the field of ELT methodology. The following suggestions are collected from experienced teachers and subjectively created by the author. Focus, then, will be paid on implications for teaching English idioms.

3.2.1 Which idioms to teach

This is a primary consideration since teachers always wish their learners to learn those idioms that will allow them to participate more fully in interactions with native speakers. Since there are thousands of idioms in any language, people may want to devote attention to the most useful ones. Generally, “most useful” overlaps with “most frequent”. Fortunately, recent research has greatly contributed to knowledge in this area; English teachers may consult the work by Liu (2003) on the most frequent used spoken idioms in American English. In short, frequency is a significant criterion when choosing idioms for teaching purpose.

3.2.2 Separated lessons or integrated ones

If teachers decide to devote attention to idioms in their class, they may consider creating separated lessons so as to teach useful idioms. However, this is not necessarily the most effective way. The reason is that a lesson on idioms is likely to be limited in two ways, the time spent on them and the naturalness of language used to contextualized the idioms. For these reasons, many people have argued in favor of an integrated lesson which involves incorporating idioms into regular one that focus on any of the four skills.


Specifically, the first step would be to raise learners’ awareness of idioms so that they should develop a habit of noticing them in everyday situations, including reading and listening. Learners can be asked to keep an idiom notebook; they can later share their examples in class and ask questions about the usage. Teachers can draw attention to new idioms by taking them into vocabulary-improving or reading activities. Teachers should also take advantages of authentic materials like on TV, in newspapers, magazines and modify them for classroom purposes based on the learners’ level.

Another way is to instruct and familiarize learners with the way of learning idioms by connecting the new information with something they already know and by making a picture in their mind. Imagination could do much to help remember new idioms.

3.2.3 Specific classroom activities

Most researchers suggest using a wide range of techniques. Firstly, it is assumed that most vocabulary teaching strategies will be applicable to idioms as well. An important first step is exposing learners to idioms in context for contextual clues are useful to learners in comprehending unknown idioms. Learners should be encouraged to infer the meaning of the idiom by using contextual clues, background knowledge or first language equivalents. Teachers may help learners during this process, especially if the idiom is not easily worked out. There are several techniques to make learners aware of the link between the idiom’s literal and figurative meanings. For instance, learners can draw pictures to present the literal meaning; this can be particularly effective for lower – proficiency learners for idioms which are image – evoking (e.g., let the hair down,


keep an eye on someone, twist one’s arm). Alternatively, the teacher can provide an image associated with the idiom. It might be noteworthy to mention that images or pictures are more than mere entertainment for learners. Researchers suggest that forming a mental image of an idiom is a powerful tool for learning.

After presenting idioms in context and helping learners to infer their meaning, teachers should revise the idioms that have been studied. This can be done in numerous ways, including typical vocabulary exercises like matching idioms to their meanings, filling in blanks with the appropriate idiom, replacing underlined expressions with an idiom, etc.

Finally, to promote output and creative language use, learners can write dialogues using the idioms or tell stories based on pictures.

“Rome was not built in a day”. To master idiomatic expressions, teachers and learners should bear in mind that idiom learning is a lifelong process.

Another significant point is that by teaching idioms in class using some of the aforementioned techniques, teachers are also providing learners with strategies for dealing with figurative language in general. Through a greater awareness of idioms, their literal meaning and underlying conceptual metaphors, learners will be better equipped with figurative language and make sense of it without teacher’s guidance.

3.3. Suggestions for further studies


Since matter of metaphor and simile is still a controversial topic, it offers other researchers large room to conduct further studies. For instance, those who wish to learn more about metaphor and simile could delve into the topic by researching metaphor and simile in news headlines, poems or songs. They could also shed more lights on debatable matters like insightfully distinguishing metaphor and simile. Moreover, since the paper placed its focus on idioms of comparison, further research could expand this scope to other kinds of idioms.

3.4. Limitations of the research

Despite considerable efforts of the researcher, certain limitations could be detected in this study due to time constraint and other unexpected factors. Firstly, the number of idioms conveyed the similarities between English idioms and Vietnamese equivalents in the study remained relatively low in comparison with the enormous number of English and Vietnamese idioms. Secondly, in the thesis, stronger focus was put on English idioms, metaphor and simile rather than Vietnamese ones for English is target language to study on. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, the researcher’s serious work had well served the research questions and serve as a contribution to the rich collection of other previous studies on the same area. Furthermore, any topics related to English idioms generally and to the use of simile and metaphor in English and Vietnamese equivalents particularly can rely on this study for reliable and updated sources of information for further studies.

3.5. Contribution of the research

In general, the research could be considerably helpful for learners, teachers, as well as researchers working on the related studies.


As for learners, a contrastive approach to metaphor and simile in English and Vietnamese idioms, to some extent can help them understand metaphor, simile and idioms more deeply, use them more correctly and efficiently, particularly read between the lines.

Regarding teachers, the paper provides them with some suggestions and ideas so that they could take them into account to effectively teach idioms, raise the learners’ awareness of idioms so that they should develop a habit of noticing them in everyday situations, including reading and listening.

Finally, with regard to researchers, those who happen to develop an interest in this topic could certainly rely on this research to find reliable and useful information for their related studies in the future.



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