What is a fixed binomial and how will it help my English?

How many speeches have you heard start with the words ‘Ladies and gentlemen’? Quite a lot, right?

What about speeches beginning with the words ‘Gentlemen and ladies’? I know, none.

So why do we always use the words ‘ladies and gentlemen’ in the same order? They form what we call a ‘fixed binomial’. ‘Fixed binomials’, or ‘fixed binomial pairs’, are pairs of words, often separated by ‘or’, ‘and’, or ‘to’, always appearing in the same order.

Like collocations, there is no grammatical reason why one word in the ‘fixed binomial’ should always come before the other. They just sound more natural one way, and to use them the other way around would sound strange to a native speaker.

Take a look at this paragraph and see if you can spot the ‘fixed binomials’:

Last night, I made fish and chips for dinner. I wanted a drink with, it so I had a gin and tonic with ice and a slice. Normally, I’d use a knife and fork to eat but I searched the house from top to bottom and couldn’t find any. That was strange—my house was normally neat and tidy.

I walked back and forth looking for the cutlery until my flatmate came home and showed me where it was: safe and sound in a box behind the washing machine where she’d hidden it. When I asked her why she had hidden it there, she said she was sick and tired of me eating without her every evening. So the long and short of it is, I’ll wait for her next time.

So, how does knowing these expressions help you improve your English?

Like phrasal verbs or idioms, using these expressions correctly can make your English sound more fluent and make it easier for people to understand you. If you get the words in the pair in the wrong order, people will still understand what you are saying, but it may sound strange to them. In the time that they are thinking about what it was that sounded strange, they might not pay full attention to the words you use afterwards.

‘Fixed binomials’ aren’t the ‘be-all and end-all’ of learning English but, they are used by native-speakers ‘far and wide’. If you are ‘sick and tired’ of not being able to use expressions like this, give it a go today – ‘it’s now or never’!