For example, these multi-word expressions or lexical units can be listed in their very base forms on thefreedictionary.com:

leave one's mark
leave mark on
develop from
develop from someone
fight shy of
fight shy of something
be fighting shy of doing something
be out of one's shell

instead of any of their variations like the following:

leave his mark
left mark on
developing from
developed from a painfully shy girl 
fighting shy of
fight shy of controversy
was fighting shy of cheating
is out of your shell

I know that they are not the idioms(as idioms may include possessive pronouns), stems(as stems include subwords), lemmas(as lemmas also include pronouns), or lexemes(also include pronouns; and 'is' and 'be' are two different lexemes) of their inflections or variations.

I wonder if such a very base form has a terminology? I want to normalize the variations into their most base units. Possessive pronouns should become forms like "one's" which cannot be further normalized.

  • The thefreedictionary.com includes them, and I see them listed on the Full Browser section. @Lambie Mar 13 at 2:20
  • Those are just called idioms: look at the name of the URL: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/leave+(one%27s)+mark These are called idioms or idiomatic expressions.
    – Lambie
    Mar 13 at 13:14
  • @Lambie I differ. Look at the Full browser part. Mar 13 at 13:55
  • You differ? What does that mean: I differ??
    – Lambie
    Mar 13 at 13:55
  • The window has these categories: Dictionary Thesaurus/Medical/Dictionary/Legal Dictionary/Financial Dictionary/Acronyms/Idioms/Encyclopedia Wikipedia What you are calling basic forms are known as idioms.
    – Lambie
    Mar 13 at 13:58

2 Answers 2


These are "lemmas". A lemma is the form of a word or phrase that is listed as the headword in a dictionary.

I'm not sure what you mean by "lemmas include pronouns". Yes, "He" is a lemma, as is "His" and "Him" (in most dictionaries). That is irrelevant to whether or not "Leave his mark" is a lemma in this particular dictionary.

There is no single or standard process of lemmatization. The Free Dictionary uses "one" or "one's" instead of gendered pronouns, and "somebody" or "something" instead of anything more specific, when a noun phrase is required by the idiom, but any could be used. It uses the bare infinitive form of verbs, it drops the subject if it is not a fixed part of the idiom.

Those are sensible, but not universal processes for lemmatization of a phrase or idiom.

  • I have not found any rules or standards for lemmatization of a phrase or idiom Mar 14 at 5:26
  • 1
    That is because there are not rules or standards for the lemmatization of a phrase or idiom. But you can infer the methods that a dictionary is using from the evidence.
    – James K
    Mar 14 at 5:27

I don't know of any specific term that will cover exactly what you want, but you might try "normal form" or "canonical form" (which have similar meanings in logic, computer science, etc.). I think that those terms are different from what you want but somewhat close. You might have better luck asking on the ELU or Linguistics sites.

(You may want to edit your examples to make them clearer. For example, the 6th entry in each list is "developed", so I don't know why you'd want the first "instead of" the second. I tried my best to understand what you were looking for.)

  • I have updated my question and am sorry for the mistake I made in the 6th entry. Mar 14 at 3:54

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