I was exploring some various aspects of corpus linguistics and studying different approaches to corpus research on the internet when I came across these phinomena of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations. Can I get a satisfactory elucidation of both the concepts as well as how do the two technically and practically differ?

  • Your very first statement sounds rather fallacious to me, when you say that Paradigmatic relation is the relation simultaneously of the opposition and functional identity between linguistic elements, the combination of two contrasting attributes isn't getting down my throat. Could you please further illaborate that? – AbdurRehman Jun 24 '19 at 19:56
  • Your comment should probably be under my answer, not here. Still, I'll answer. There's nothing fallacious there. If we take phonemes, they oppose each other, they form contrasting pairs, but still they function the same way, identically – they all serve as building blocks for morphemes with their opposition needed to differentiate morphemes. There's no contradiction in what I wrote. – Yellow Sky Jun 24 '19 at 20:18
  • Syntagmas and paradigms are orthogonal to each other. Syntax is time-related -- one item follows another -- whereas paradigms are fixed relationships among the choices available at each stage of a syntagma. Paradigms are the divergence and syntagmas are the curl; they each describe one aspect of many in language. – jlawler Jun 26 '19 at 15:13


Paradigmatic relations are relations of opposition and functional identity of linguistic elements (“OR - OR”), i.e. the paradigm combines sets of linguistic units that are similar according to one, and opposed according to some other criterion(s). Paradigmatics determines to which level of grammatical categoric hierarchy this or that language unit belongs, by analogy with units similar to it. For example:

  • Phonemes b, ɪ, g, s, t are the building blocks of morphemes big and -est.
  • Morphemes big and -est can combine to form the lexeme biggest.
  • The lexeme biggest is a part of the sentence That's the biggest fish I've ever seen!


Syntagmatic relations can be defined as relations of compatibility of elements of the level in a sequence of speech events, i.e. combination of phonemes with phonemes, morphemes with morphemes, etc. Syntagmatics combines language units by their direct combination.

The logical formula of syntagmatic relations is the formula "AND - AND", i.e. both one element and another element together, side by side, one after another, forming a chain of the same-order elements of a certain length.

Examples of syntagmatic relationships:

  • b=ɪ=g=ɪ=s=t, bɪg=ɪst (phonetico-phonological level)
  • big=est, water=s, walk=ing (morphological level)
  • teach=er, re=name (word-building sub-level)
  • tall man, tall tree (lexical level)
  • The tree is tall. (syntactical level)

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