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Topic 11A – Lexical and semantic fields in English. Lexicon need for socialization, information and expression of attitudes. Typology linked to teaching and learning vocabulary in the foreign language classroom activities.

Lexical and semantical fields of english.


Words are essential to communication. Everybody learns to speak in isolated words and then we begin to use chains of words and verbs. Students tend to pick up vocabulary first and then a framework in which these words can be used.

At the same time that students learn vocabulary they must learn phonetics and grammar.

Usually students have a problem with the vocabulary when they have to use it in a context and also with words that don’t have the same meaning as in their mother tongue.

For that reason, they must practice to assimilate them.


We can identify two groups:

Lexical field: which refers to the formation of words.

Semantic field: which refers to the understanding of words.


To understand this subject, first I am going to explain what BASE and STEM are, within the rules of word-formation.

BASE: is a form to which a rule of word-formation is applied.

STEM: is the part of the word that remaining after every affix has been removed.

For example:










The STEM can be understood as the root of the word and the BASE as the original part from which a mixture is made. Once a base has undergone a rule of word-formation, the derived word itself may become the base for another derivation.

For example:














The chief processes of English word-formation by which the base may be modified are:

3.1. Affixation:

a) Prefixation

Adding a prefix to the base: happy—unhappy

-Types of prefixes.

Negative prefixes

Un-: unfair

Reversative prefixes

Dis-: discontent

Pejorative prefixes

Mis-: misinform

Prefixes of degree or size

Super-: supermarket

Prefixes of attitude

Anti-: anti-social

Locative prefixes

Sub-: subway

Prefixes of time and order

Pre-: precaution

Number prefixes

Tri-: trident

Conversion prefixes

En-: endanger

Other Prefixes

Vice-: vicepresident

b) Suffixation

Adding a suffix to the base: happy—–happily

-Types of suffixes.

1. Noun suffixes:


-er: gangster

Diminutive or femenine

-ess: waitress


hood: childhood

Other noun suffixes

-ful: spoonful

Noun/adjectives suffixes

-ese: Chinese

Deverbal suffixes

-er: driver

De-adjectival suffixes

-ee: employee

2. Verb suffixes:

-ify: simplify

-(ize): popularise

-en: sadden

3. Adjective suffixes:

Suffixes added to nouns

-ful: useful

Suffixes common in borrowed and neo-classical words

-ic: Arabic

Other adjective suffixes

-able: readable

4. Adverb suffixes:

-ly: happily

-ward (s): backwards

-wise: weatherwise

3.2. Compound words.

Adding one base to another: tea + pot= teapot.

1. Kinds of composition in the noun:

Subject + verb: playboy

Verb + object: storytelling

Verb + adverbial compounds: sun-bathing

Noun + noun compounds: frogman

Adjectives + noun: blackboard

Bahubrihi compounds: paperback

2. Kinds of composition in the verb:

Back-formation: housekeeper

Verb + adverb: outdo

3. Adjective compounds:

Object + -ing participle: heartbreaking

Verb + adverbial compounds: homemade

Verbless compounds: tax-free

Reduplicatives or repetition compounds: ping-pong


As I have said, the semantic field refers to the understanding of words (homonyms, synonyms and antonyms).

4.1. Homonymy and Polysemy.

Homonymy is when a single word has different meanings not closely related.

For example:


– a box for keeping papers in order


– a tool for smoothing surfaces


– a line of persons or things one behind the other

We can find two classes of homonymy:

1. Homophones: are the words that show identity of pronunciation: “no”—“know”

2. Homographs: are the words that have the same spelling: “saw (noun)”—-“saw (verb)”

– Homomorph is the term to refer to those words which share the same morphological form, the same stem. This concept is relevant to grammar: fast (adjective)—fast (adverb).

And, Polysemy is when a word has several different but closely related meanings.

For example:


– of a tree


– family


– railway line…

4.2. Synonymy.

Synonymy is the relationship between words that mean exactly the same. It is a semantic relation.

For example:



4.3. Antonymy.

Antonymy is when a word is opposite in meaning to another. For example: better—worst

a) Complementaries: words that are incompatibles and there is no possibility of a third lying between them: true—false

b) Multiple Incompatibles: Days, seasons, months… “It’s Monday” excludes all other the days.

c) Gradable Antonyms: There are intermediate terms between them: hot/ warm/ cool/ cold.

d) Converses: The words are reciprocal: husband—wife // father—son.


We call false friend to a word that is similar to another in our language.

For instance, Spanish students must pay attention to Latin fields because they may change:

“Success”—éxito, not “suceso”

“Contamination”—-infección, not “contaminación”—-“pollution”


To learn vocabulary words, the teacher should pronounce the new item, in association to the orthographic realization of the same and also to teach it meaning.

The teacher also has to use the new word on a context to help students assimilate this word with its meaning.

After this, student must try to use the new item, inserting it in a context they think suitable to use it.

Finally, the student should use this word as many time as possible to fix it in their minds.

There are some techniques in vocabulary teaching that may help These are the followings:

a) The use of visuals

Flashcards; blackboard; transparencies; “clock board”; labels; magazine pictures; props; colour coding; classroom objects; posters…

b) The use of gestures

Students can gesture when describing adjectives as tall,…

c) The use of known vocabulary

The teacher can use synonyms and antonyms; categories; definitions… to explain the new meanings.


There are many different methods to teach vocabulary. These methods depend on the level of the students and on the types of items we want to teach them.

However, as the students advance in their learning process, their needs become more and more important. For that reason, we must study which are the most common fields that they would like to deal with in the class.