Phrase-frames in business emails: A contrast between learners of business English and working professionals

Detong Xia*, Mark A. Sulzer, Hye K. Pae

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


A phrase-frame (p-frame) is a multi-word sequence with a one-word variable within the sequence (e.g., it is ∗ to). P-frames are important components of language production and can demonstrate phraseological patterning. This study examined p-frames retrieved from one learner business emails corpus (1,413 texts based on the Education First-Cambridge Open Language Database) and one working professional email corpus (1,145 texts from the Enron email dataset). P-frames were investigated both quantitatively and qualitatively in terms of their structural characteristics, functional characteristics, and variability. Our results showed that the working professionals and the learners of business English used p-frames differently. The working professionals used p-frames in ways that aligned with written conventions, whereas the learners of business English used p-frames in ways that did not accord well with written conventions. This difference was detected by comparing tendencies in function-word frames and frames for referential function. In addition, p-frames used by the working professionals displayed a higher degree of variability than those by the learners of business English. This study facilitates an understanding of learners' p-frame use in English for business purposes and suggests that p-frames be incorporated into the teaching and learning of L2 business writing.

Original languageEnglish
JournalText and Talk
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • L2 business writing
  • business emails
  • corpus linguistics
  • multi-word sequences
  • p-frames
  • workplace discourse


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