You are on page 1of 84

VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF

LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHER EDUCATION

-----***-----

DANG HONG PHUC

A STUDY
ON METAPHOR AND SIMILE
IN ENGLISH IDIOMS AND VIETNAMESE
EQUIVALENTS

SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF BACHELOR OF ARTS (TELT)

Hanoi,May-2010

1
VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF

LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHER EDUCATION

-----***-----

DANG HONG PHUC

A STUDY
ON METAPHOR AND SIMILE
IN ENGLISH IDIOMS AND VIETNAMESE
EQUIVALENTS

SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF BACHELOR OF ARTS (TELT)

SUPERVISOR: NGUYEN HUONG GIANG, MA.

Hanoi,May-2010

2
RETENTION AND USE OF THE THESIS

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.

Signature

3
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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.

4
ABSTRACT

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.

5
LIST OF TABLES AND ABBREVIATIONS

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

6
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Retention and use of the thesis i
Acknowledgement ii
Abstract iii
List of tables and abbreviations iv
PART 1: INTRODUCTION 1
1.1 Rationale of the study 1
1.2 Aims of the study 3
1.3 Scope of the study 3
1.4 Methods of the study 4
1.5 Design of the study 4
PART 2: DEVELOPMENT 6
CHAPTER 1: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND OF IDIOMS IN
ENGLISH 6
2.1.1 Definitions of idioms 6
2.1.2 Features of idioms 7
2.1.2.1 Semantic feature 7
2.1.2.2 Syntactic feature 9
2.1.3 Distinction between idioms and proverbs 11
2.1.3.1 Definition of proverbs 11
2.1.3.2 Similarities of idioms and proverbs 11
2.1.3.3 Differences between idioms and proverbs 13
2.1.4 Classification of idioms 16
2.1.4.1 Based on Semantic structure 16
2.1.4.1.1 Phraseological fusion 16
2.1.4.1.2 Phraseological unities 17
2.1.4.1.3 Phraseological combinations 18
2.1.4.2 Based of Syntactic feature 19

7
CHAPTER 2: A CONTRASTIVE ANALYSIS ON METAPHORS AND
SIMILIES IN ENGLISH IDIOMS AND VIETNAMESE
EQUIVALENTS 22
2.2.1 Metaphor 22
2.2.1.1 Definition of metaphor 22
2.2.1.2 Classifications of metaphor 24
2.2.1.2.1Classification of metaphor according to semantic aspect 24
2.2.1.2.2Temporal classification of metaphor 27
2.2.1.3 Distinction between metaphor and metonymy 28
2.2.1.3.1 Similarities 29
2.2.1.3.2 Differences 29
2.2.2 Simile 31
2.2.2.1 Definition 31
2.2.2.2 Three elements of simile 33
2.2.3 Foundation of similes and metaphors in idioms 36
2.2.4 Similes and metaphors in idiom and idioms of comparison 36
2.2.5 Identification of idioms of comparison 38
2.2.5.1 Based on component word and phrase 38
2.2.5.2 Based on grammatical structure 40
2.2.5.3 Structural characteristics of comparative idioms 40
2.2.6 Similarities and differences between the Anglicist and Vietnamese
cultures expressed via idioms of comparison 42
2.2.6.1 Similarities 43
2.2.6.2 Differences 47
CHAPTER 3: PROBLEMS FACED BY LEARNERS IN STUDYING
IDIOMS 59
2.3.1 Introduction 59
2.3.2 Difficulties in understanding 59
2.3.2.1 English idioms with various grammatical structures 59
2.3.2.2 English idioms with distinctive culture features 60
2.3.2.3 Suggested solutions 61
2.3.3 Problems in memorizing 62
2.3.3.1 English idioms exist in large numbers 63
2.3.3.2 Lack of frequent use of English idioms 63
2.3.3.3 Inadequate method of learning English idioms 64
2.3.3.4 Suggested solutions 64
PART 3: CONCLUSION 67
3.1 Major findings of the research 67
3.2 Pedagogical suggestions for teaching English idioms 70
3.2.1 Which idioms to teach 70
3.2.2 Separated lessons or integrated ones 71
3.2.3 Specific classroom activities 72
3.3 Suggestions for further studies 73
3.4 Limitations of the research 74
3.5 Contribution of the research 74
References 76
PART 1: INTRODUCTION

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

10
10
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

11
11
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.

12
12
1.4 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.

Summary

13
13
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.

PART 2: DEVELOPMENT
14
14
CHAPTER 1: THEORETICAL BACKGROUND OF
IDIOMS IN ENGLISH

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)

15
15
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

2.1.2.1 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.
16
16
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.

2.1.2.2 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
17
17
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

18
18
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

2.1.3.1 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

19
19
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.

2.1.3.2 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

20
20
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.

2.1.3.3 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,
21
21
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

22
22
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
Idioms Proverb
Feature
Fixedness
+ +
Phrase
Syntactic
+ -
feature Clause
+ -
Sentence
+ +
Non
Semantic
feature
motivated + +
Perception
Communicative - +
function Aestheticism + +

23
23
Education
- +

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

2.1.4.1 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.

2.1.4.1.1 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

24
24
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.

2.1.4.1.2 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
25
25
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 “sống như ông hoàng”. Other similar examples are
“crocodile tears” (nước mắt cá sấu), “go your separate way” (đường ai nấy đi),
“give somebody/ get the green light” (bật đèn xanh), “like father like son” (cha nào
con nấy) and so on.

2.1.4.1.3 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
26
2.1.4.2 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
Examples Meaning
on Syntactic structures
feature
Large numbers of soldiers who
are used in order to win a war,
N+N Cannon folder
even though most of them are
likely to be killed
1. N An agreement, contract, etc… in
which nothing is written down
N’s + N A gentleman’s agreement
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

27
27
rather than its general meaning.
Chivalrous man who is ready to
N + Adj Knight errant help and protect oppressed and
helpless people.
Arrivals and departures;
N + and + N Comings and goings
movement of people
A lot of money; money that you
A+ N Good money
earn with hard work
Meet for a short time, by chance,
Ships that pass in the
N + S.C and perhaps for the only time in
night
your life
V+N Give birth Produce a baby or young animal
Be willing to listen to other
people’s wishes and points of
V + and + V Give and take
view and to change your
demands, if this is necessary
V+ (one’s)+ N Take a very quick superficial look
Glance one’s eyes down
+prep at something
2. V
Give sb your friendship,
encouragement, approval, etc.
V + one + N Give sb moral support
rather than financial or practical
help
See what most people think, or
See which way the wind
V + S.C what is likely to happen before
blows
you decide how to act yourself.
(search for smt) in every possible
Adj + and + Adj High and low
3. Adj place; everywhere
Adj + as + N As innocent as a dove Innocent

28
Before everything else; most
N + and + N First and foremost
importantly
(of something difficult) by any
Prep + N + or +
By hook or by crook method, whether it is honest or
prep + N
4. Adv not
Before you can say Jack
Conj + clause Very quickly or suddenly
Robinson
Adv + prep + N Once in a blue moon Very rarely
Prep + N At a stretch Without stopping; continuously

5. Prep Prep + N + Prep On the ground of On the basis of

29
CHAPTER 2

A STUDY ON METAPHOR AND SIMILE IN
ENGLISH IDIOMS AND VIETNAMESE
EQUIVALENTS

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

30
30
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
31
31
to show that somebody/ something has the same qualities as another thing.”
(p.140)

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

2.2.2.1 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.

2.2.2.1.1 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.

2.2.2.1.2 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.

32
32
2.2.2.1.3 Movement:

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”.

2.2.2.1.4 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.

2.2.2.1.5 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.

2.2.2.1.6 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
33
2.2.2.1.7 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)

2.2.2.2 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.
34
34
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.

2.2.2.2.1 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.

2.2.2.2.2 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.

2.2.2.2.3 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
35
35
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.

2.2.3.1 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
36
36
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.

2.2.3.2 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:

37
37
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
38
2.2.2.1 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
39
39
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”, “tựa” or “tày”,
“bằng”. For instance, Vietnamese idioms include “vợ chồng như đũa có đôi” “nhẹ
tựa lông hồng”, “học thầy không tày học bạn”, “một miếng khi đói bằng một
gói khi no”, “một miếng giữa làng bằng một sàng xó bếp”, etc. In some cases,
simile in Vietnamese is expressed by a pair of words “bao nhiêu…bấy nhiêu”:
“bao nhiêu tấc đất tấc vàng bấy 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.

2.2.2.2 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),

40
40
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.
Topic comment
41
41
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.
Topic comment
2. A bull in a china shop is extremely careless and clumsy.
Topic comment

Subsequently, the implicit information becomes apparent. The point of
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.

42
42
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:

Similarity of appearance: the appearance may be shape, color, and
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 “hiền như bụt” (as
gentle as Buddha).

43
43
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: “ngủ say 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 nằm trên thớt”,
“tiền vào nhà khó như gió vào nhà trống”, etc.

44
44
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

2.2.5.1 Based on component word and phrase

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

2.2.5.1.1 Comparisons with adjectives

45
45
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”, “hiền như củ khoai”, etc.

2.2.5.1.2 Comparison with verbs

Structure:
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”, “chạy như ngựa”, “khóc
như mưa”, etc.

2.2.5.1.3 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
46
46
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 hạn gặp mưa rào”, “tiền vào nhà khó như gió
vào nhà trống”, etc.

2.2.5.2 Based on grammatical structure

Comparative idioms can belong to the three following general patterns:

English idioms Vietnamese idioms
as C as B C như B
As warm as sunbeam nóng như đổ lửa
As transparent as glass trong suốt như thủy tinh
like/ as B như B
Like two peas in a pod như hai giọt nước
C like/ as B C như B
To follow like a shadow theo như hình với bóng

2.2.5.3 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
bồng (as beautiful as a fairy in the fairy mountain), vắng như chùa Bà Đanh, (as
quiet as Ba Danh temple), hiền như Bụt (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 Vietnamese
As hot as mustard cay như ớt
Like hot cake đắt như tôm tươi

48
48
In reverse, the expression and vocabulary are identical but the values of content
are dissimilar; for instance, as sharp as a razor (sắc như dao). While Vietnamese
idioms refer to the beauty of a girl’s eyes (mắt 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 ấy xinh như hoa” and “cô ấy 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 hỗn như gấu – nó như gấu – nó gấu

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
49
2.2.6.1 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 Vietnamese equivalents
1. As black as coal Đen như than
2. As black as crow Đen như quạ
3. As black as ink Tối đen như mực
4. As black as midnight Tối như đêm
5. As black as soot Đen như bồ hóng
6. As brief as a dream Ngắn như một
giấc mộng
7. As bright as day Sáng như ban ngày
8. As brilliant as stars Sáng như sao
9. As changeable as the weather Hay thay đổi
như thời tiết
10. As cold as ice Lạnh như đá
11. As cheerful as a lark Vui như sáo
12. As cunning as a fox Xảo quyệt như cáo
13. As dark as midnight Tối như nửa đêm

50
50
14. As difficult as a beginning Vạn sự khởi đầu
nan
15. As dumb as a an oyster Câm như hến
16. As fair as a rose Xinh như hoa
17. As fast as light Nhanh như ánh
sáng
18. As fast as a hare Nhanh như thỏ
19. As fat as a pig Béo như lợn
20. As fierce as a tiger Dữ như cọp
21. As firm as rock Vững như đá
22. As fleet as the wind Nhanh như gió
23. As fresh a rose Tươi như hoa
24. As gay as a lark Vui như sáo
25. As gruff as a bear Hỗn như gấu
26. As good (valuable) as gold Quí giá như vàng
27. As green as a leaf Xanh như tàu lá
28. As heavy as an elephant Nặng như voi
29. As hard as a stone Rắn như đá
30. As heavy as lead Nặng như chì
31. As hot as fire Nóng như lửa
32. As keen as a razor Sắc như dao
33. As light as down Nhẹ tựa lông hồng
34. As light as a feather Nhẹ như lông
hồng
35. As mum as an oyster Câm như hến
36. As old as the hills Xưa như trái đất
37. As pretty as a picture Đẹp như tranh
38. As quick as lightning Nhanh như ánh
sáng

51
51
39. As quick as a flash Nhanh như chớp
40. As red as blood Đỏ như máu
41. As red as a beetroot Đỏ như gấc
42. As round as a barrel Tròn như thùng
phi
43. As sharp as a razor Sắc như dao
44. As silly as a calf Ngu như bò
45. As sour as vinegar Chua như giấm
46. As stink as a polecat Hôi như chồn
47. As swift as lightning Nhanh như chớp
48. As smooth as velvet Mịn như nhung
49. As slow as a snail Chậm như sên
50. As swift as an arrow Nhanh như tên bắn
51. As steady as rock Rắn như đá
52. As timid as a rabbit/ hare Nhát như thỏ đế
53. As thick as ants Đông như kiến
54. As transparent as glass Trong suốt như
thủy tinh
55. As yellow as saffron Vàng như nghệ
56. As wet as a drowned mouse Ướt như chuột lột
57. As white as snow Trắng như tuyết
58. As white as a sheet Như tờ giấy trắng
59. Like father like son Cha nào con nấy
60. To fight like cat and dog Như chó với mèo
61. To stick like a leech Bám dai như đỉa
62. To stick like glue Dính như keo
63. To cry like a baby Khóc như đứa trẻ
64. To follow like a shadow Theo như hình với
bóng

52
52
65. To swim like fish Bơi như cá

Other idioms

1. Have ants in your pants Sốt ruột như có
kiến bò
2. (Speak ill) behinds one’s back Nói xấu sau lưng
3. Beauty is only skin-deep Tốt gỗ hơn tốt
nước sơn
4. Blood is thicker than water Một giọt máu đào
hơn ao nước lã
5. Have got your head in the clouds Đầu óc trên mây
6. Daylight robbery Cướp giữa ban
ngày
7. Be water off a duck’s back Nước đổ đầu vịt
8. Go in one ear and out the other Nói vào tai này,
ra tai kia
9. Easier said than done Nói dễ hơn làm
10. Men make house, women make home Đàn ông xây nhà,
đàn bà xây tổ ấm
11. Know where you stand Biết người biết ta
12. Let your heart rule your head Trái tim nhầm chỗ
để lên đầu
13. Live from hand to mouth Tay làm hàm nhai
14. Every man has his price Có tiền mua
tiên cũng được
15. Money doesn’t grow on tree Tiền không phải
lá tre
16. Teach your grandmother to suck eggs Trứng khôn

53
53
hơn vịt
17. Virtue is its own reward Có đức mặc sức
mà ăn
18. Where there’s a will, there’s a way Có chí thì nên
19. All work and no play (make Jack a dull boy) Học mà chơi,
chơi mà học.
20. Out of sight, out of mind Xa mặt cách lòng
21. Go in one’s separate way Đường ai nấy đi
22. To play cat and mouse with someone Chơi trò mèo vờn
chuột với ai

2.2.6.2 Differences

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

54
54
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

Vietnam Britain
Tropical monsoon type of climate Varied,
Climate
temperate climate
Alluvial soil that is banked up by Notable lack of extremes.
rivers and sea. Three quarters of the There are not really high
area are hill and mountain, however, mountains, large rivers,
Land
Vietnam has large and rich plains plains or forests. Much of
which are used for agriculture. the land is used for
human habitation.
Dense network of rivers, streams, Quite short but their easy
lakes and ponds. There are long and navigability has made
Rivers navigable rivers. them an important part of
the inland transport
network
Has always been the cornerstone of Does not play the most
the economy. Main agricultural important part in the
products are rice, ground – nut trees, economy. The main
Agriculture
fruits and vegetables, husbandry agriculture products are
products and industrial trees. cereals, dairying of beef
Agriculture is linked with cattle, poultry meat, eggs,

55
55
aquaculture. etc.
Pigs, buffaloes, poultry and so on Cow, cattle, sheep, horse,
Husbandry
poultry, etc.
Rice is also the staple of most Cereal and meat are
Vietnamese meals. Tea is the staple in the meals. They
Food and
traditional drink. They use chopstick like drinking coffee. They
drink culture
in meals. use knife and folks in
stead of chopsticks.
Over 60% of the population still Over 90% of the
lives off the land and many more population lives in
lead a rural life in small villages. towns or cities. Less
Population Consists of 54 ethnic minorities. than 3% of the
working population
is employed in
agriculture.
Religion Buddhism Christianism

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,

56
56
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: Khỏe 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 bảo trâu này
Trâu ra đồng ruộng trâu cày với ta
Cấy cày vốn nghiệp nông gia Ta
đây trâu đấy ai mà quản công
Bao giờ cây lúa con bông
Thì con ngọn cỏ ngoài 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 nghiệp. Since the buffalo can take
57
57
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.

58
58
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 dumb as a statue = câm như hến (used of a person who says nothing)
As gentle as a lamb = hiền như củ khoai/ hiền như đất (used of a well behaved
child, or an orderly person)
As fat as butter = béo như lợn (very fat)
To eat like a horse = ăn như rồng cuốn (to eat large quantities of food)

The images used in Vietnamese idioms: lợn – 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 Vietnamese
As tough as leather/ old boots 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
59
59
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 hạn gặp 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.

2.2.6.2.2 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
60
60
same vocabulary but different values of content. To make it clear, let us
consider some examples.

English Vietnamese
As bright as day 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 Vietnamese
As hard as nails chắc như đinh đóng cột

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 “tốt 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
61
61
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), Bẩn
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 chuột 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,
62
62
Vietnamese people say: Nhanh như sóc (as quick as a squirrel)

63
63
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 bò (as stupid as a cow/ bull)
ngu như lợn (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 Hoạn 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.

64
64
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 Lặc (as fat as Di Lac),
bày như La Hán (as untidy as La Han), hiền như Bụt (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
65
65
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.

CHAPTER 3
PROBLEMS FACED BY LEARNERS IN
STUDYING IDIOMS

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.

66
66
2.3.2 Difficulties in understanding

2.3.2.1 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”.
67
67
2.3.2.2 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
“giống nhau như hai giọt 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 vại” is the right answer.

2.3.2.3 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.
67
67
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

68
68
memorizing idioms will be conveyed. Furthermore, attempts are also made to
give suggested solutions.

2.3.3.1 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.

2.3.3.2 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
69
69
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.

2.3.3.3 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.

2.3.3.4 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.

70
70
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.

71
71
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 Vietnamese equivalents

As fierce as a tiger Dữ như cọp
As light as feather Nhẹ tựa lông hồng
As wet as drowned rat Ướt như chuột lột
As still as a log Trơ như khúc gỗ
As thick as ants Đông như kiến

PART 3: CONCLUSION
[

72
72
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

73
73
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

74
74
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

75
75
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.

76
76
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
77
77
down,

78
78
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

79
79
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.
80
80
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.

80
80
REFERENCES

Antrushina, G.B. (1985). English lexicology. Moscow: Moscow Higher School
publishing house.

Aristotle. (1953). Aristotle’ Poetics and Rhetoric. New York: Dent.

Aristotle. (1954). Rhetoric. New York: Modern Library.

Collies, H. (1986). American English idioms. Passport book, USA.

Cooper T. (1999). Processing of idioms by L2 Learner of English. TESOL
Quarterly, 33 (2), 233 – 262.

Curry, D. (1994). Illustrated American Idioms. United State Information Agency
Washington D.C.20547.

Dinh, T.L & Nguyen, T.H. (1995). Phong cach hoc Tieng Viet. Hanoi: Education
publishing house.

Do, H.C. (1996). Tu vung ngu nghia Tieng Viet. Hanoi: Vietnam National University
Press.

Galperin I.R. (1977). Stylistics. Moscow: Moscow Higher School publishing
house.

Heacock, P. (Ed.). (2003). Cambridge dictionary of American idioms. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Heritage, A. (1997). The American Heritage College Dictionary. New York:
Houghton Mifflin.

Hoa, N. (2001). An introduction to Semantics. Hanoi: Vietnam National
University Press.

Hornby A.S (1995). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

81
81
Kunin, A.V. (2006). Comprehensive English – Russia phraseological Dictionary.
Moscow: Moscow Higher school publishing house.

Jakobson, R. & Halle, M. (1956). Fundamentals of Language. The Hague:
Mouton Publisher.

John, I. S. (2003). Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Joint, W. (2001). Oxford Student’s dictionary of English, Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Jonathan, C. (1995). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kirssner, J., & Mandell, W. (1987). The Brief Holt Handbook. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Lakoff, G & Johnson, M (1980). Metaphors We Live by. Chicago and London:
Chicago University Press.

Liu, D. (2003). The most frequently used spoken American English idioms: A
corpus analysis and its implications. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 671 -700.

Richards, J., Schmidt, R., Platt, H., & Schmidt, M. (1992). The Longman
Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. London and New
Work: Longman Publisher.

Seidl, J. & Mc Mordie, W. (1979). English Idiom and How to Use. Oxford
Univeristy Press.

Vinogradov.V.V. (1977). Fundamentals of General Linguistics. Moscow:
Moscow Higher School Publishing House.

82
82