Following recent trends in lexical studies to focus more on multiword rather than single-word vocabulary, this descriptive study examines fixed expressions and idioms (FEI) in spoken and written corpora of academic language. In this research, FEIs are operationalized as phrases that are conventionalized to a certain degree, have flexibility in word sequences, and have unclarity of interpretation (Fernando, 1996). With these three criteria, a new list of 652 target FEIs was culled from lists from eight previous corpus studies (Biber et al., 1999; Gardner & Davies, 2007; Garnier & Schmitt, 2015; Grant, 2007; Liu, 2003, 2012; Miller, 2020; Simpson & Mendis, 2003). To identify the most common academic FEIs, a search for these 652 FEIs was conducted in two existing academic corpora, the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE) and the Michigan Corpus of University Student Papers (MICUSP). The end result of this corpus study is the Academic Fixed Expressions and Idioms List (AFEIL), which consists of 123 unique items, with 66 from the spoken corpus and 87 from the written corpus. To select FEIs for the AFEIL, this study followed Liu's (2003) guidelines of a minimum frequency of two times per million words and a minimum range of three out of five academic divisions within MICASE and three out of four academic divisions within MICUSP. While we expect individual academic words to differ from individual general words, this study found that academic FEIs do not consist of academic lexical items. In fact, 100% of the words that make up the 66 academic FEIs from MICASE and almost 97% of the words that make up the 87 FEIs from MICUSP are from the first 2,000 words of the General Service List (GSL). Surprisingly, only six academic words form any part of the academic FEIs. Although knowledge of general vocabulary may be important in learning academic FEIs, the high number of FEIs with restricted variation may cause learning difficulties due to their high degree of non-compositionality. While numerous academic lists exist for single words (e.g., Academic Word List [Coxhead, 2000], Academic Vocabulary List [Gardner & Davies, 2013]), the AFEIL may be of particular interest to teachers of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) because it is an academic corpus-based list that goes beyond single words. Formulaic language and multiword vocabulary are very common in academic registers (Biber et al., 2007) and should therefore receive more attention in EAP classroom teaching through tools and materials like the AFEIL that portray English vocabulary accurately based on real language use rather than human intuition.


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Graduation Date





Folse, Keith


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Community Innovation and Education


School of Teacher Education

Degree Program

Education; TESOL Track




CFE0009384; DP0027107





Release Date

December 2027

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)

Restricted to the UCF community until December 2027; it will then be open access.