Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The name of this candy (Good & Plenty) is a binomial.


In language studies, a pair of words (for example, loud and clear) conventionally linked by a conjunction (usually and) or a preposition. Also called a binomial pair.

When the word order is fixed, the binomial is said to be irreversible. (See Examples and Observations below.)

A similar construction involving three nouns or adjectives (bell, book, and candle; calm, cool, and collected) is called a trinomial.

Also, see:


From the Latin, 'two names'

Examples and Observations

  • Examples of binomials in English include aches and pains, all or nothing, back and forth, beck and call, bigger and better, bit by bit, black and blue, black and white, blood and guts, bread and butter, bubble and squeak, cease and desist, checks and balances, cloak and dagger, cops and robbers, corned beef and cabbage, cut and dried, dead or alive, death and destruction, dollar for dollar, dos and don'ts, fair and square, fast and loose, fire and brimstone, fish and chips, flesh and bones, goods and services, ham and eggs, hand to mouth, hands and knees, heads or tails, hearts and flowers, hem and haw, high and dry, high and low, high and mighty, huff and puff, hugs and kisses, kiss and make up, knife and fork, leaps and bounds, life and death, little by little, long and short, lost and found, loud and clear, make or break, milk and honey, needle and thread, nickel and dime, nip and tuck, now or never, null and void, nuts and bolts, old and gray, one to one, open and shut, part and parcel, peace and quiet, pins and needles, pots and pans, rags to riches, rise and fall, rise and shine, rough and ready, safe and sound, saints and sinners, short but sweet, show and tell, side by side, slip and slide, soap and water, song and dance, sooner or later, spic and span, sticks and stones, strange but true, sugar and spice, thick and thin, time after time, tit for tat, tooth and nail, toss and turn, ups and downs, wash and wear, and win or lose.

Reversible and Irreversible Binomials

  • "In the typical newspaper headline Cold and snow grip the nation it is proper to set off the segment cold and snow as a binomial, if one agrees so to label the sequence of two words pertaining to the same form-class, placed on an identical level of syntactic hierarchy, and ordinarily connected by some kind of lexical link. There is nothing unchangeable or formulaic about this particular binomial: Speakers are at liberty to invert the succession of its members (snow and cold . . .) and may with impunity replace either snow or cold by some semantically related word (say, wind or ice). However, in a binomial such as odds and ends the situation is different: The succession of its constituents has hardened to such an extent that an inversion of the two kernels--*ends and odds--would be barely understandable to listeners caught by surprise. Odds and ends, then, represents the special case of an irreversible binomial."
    (Yakov Malkiel, "Studies in Irreversible Binomials." Essays on Linguistic Themes. University of California Press, 1968)

Synonymous and Echoic Binomials

  • "The third most frequent binomial in the DoD [Department of Defense] corpus is 'friends and allies,' with 67 instances. Unlike the majority of binomials, it is reversible: 'allies and friends' also occurs, with 47 occurrences.
    "Both allies and friends refer to countries which accord with US policies; as such, the two coordinates of the binomial may incline us to categorize the binomial as 'synonymous' (Gustafsson, 1975). Rhetorically speaking, friends and allies may have an intensifying function, similar to 'echoic' binomials (where WORD1 is identical to WORD2), such as more and more and stronger and stronger."
    (Andrea Mayr, Language and Power: An Introduction to Institutional Discourse. Continuum, 2008)