He set the apples down and took her by (the arm) or (by arm).

If I used (by arm), are syntactic semantics acceptable? Does the meaning change?

  • 1
    Is your question about whether to use "by the arm" or "by arm", or is it about syntax and semantics? Commented May 6, 2020 at 16:38
  • Are you focused only on that one specific sentence, or are you asking in general? Different contexts will give the same phrase (or construction) different meanings. Please clarify the scope of your question. For instance, by arm would be fine if the sentence continued on in a certain way—and it would also mean the same thing as by the arm. Do you only care about arm or would by car or by the car also be considered in your question? Commented May 6, 2020 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


You have to say "by the arm". "By arm" is not correct. It is not a matter of semantics or syntax, but of idiomaticity (ref.).

As an introduction, I will offer the following two definitions of idiomaticity:
(i) nativelike selection of expression (inspired by Pawley and Syder (1983))
(ii) that which one has to know over and above rules and words (inspired by Fillmore et al (1988))

Allerton (1989: 36), realizing that there are syntactically and lexically unmotivated "locutional co-occurrence restrictions", which a language-user needs to master, suggests that these justify the introduction of "idiomatics" as a special branch of lexicology.

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