Lexis Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Lexis is a term in linguistics for the vocabulary of a language. Adjective: lexical.

The study of lexis and the lexicon (a collection of words) is called lexicology. The process of adding words and word patterns to the lexicon of a language is called lexicalization.

In grammar, the distinction between syntax and morphology is, by tradition, lexically based. In recent decades, however, this distinction has been disrupted by research in lexicogrammar: lexis and grammar are now generally perceived as interdependent.

From the Greek, "word, speech"

Examples and Observations

"The term lexis, from the ancient Greek for 'word,' refers to all the words in a language, the entire vocabulary of a language. . . .

"In the history of modern linguistics, since approximately the middle of the twentieth century, the treatment of lexis has evolved substantially by acknowledging to a greater degree the important and central role of words and lexicalized phrases in the mental representation of linguistic knowledge and in linguistic processing." (Joe Barcroft, Gretchen Sunderman, and Norvert Schmitt, "Lexis." The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics, ed. by James Simpson. Routledge, 2011) 

Grammar and Lexis

"Lexis and morphology [are] listed alongside syntax and grammar because these aspects of language are inter-related. . . . The morphemes above—the 's' on 'cats' and on 'eats'—give grammatical information: the 's' on 'cats' tells us that the noun is plural, and the 's' on 'eats' could suggest a plural noun, as in 'they had some eats.' The 's' on 'eats' could also be a form of the verb used in the third person—he, she, or it 'eats.' In each case, then, the morphology of the word is strongly connected with grammar, or the structural rules that govern how words and phrases relate to each other." (Angela Goddard, Doing English Language: A Guide for Students.

Routledge, 2012) 

"[R]esearch, particularly over the last fifteen years or so, is beginning to demonstrate more and more clearly that the relationship between grammar and lexis is much closer than [we used to think]: in making sentences we may start with the grammar, but the final shape of a sentence is determined by the words which make up the sentence.

Let us take a simple example. These are both likely sentences of English:

I laughed.
She bought it.

But the following are not likely sentences of English.

She put it away.
She put it.

The verb put is incomplete unless it is followed by both a direct object, such as it, and also an adverbial of place like here or away:

I put it on the shelf.
She put it.

Taking three different verbs, laugh, buy and put, as starting points results in sentences which are quite different in structure. . . .

"The lexis and the grammar, the words and the sentence, proceed hand in hand." (Dave Willis, Rules, Patterns and Words: Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press, 2004)