Certain English words, when paired together, are always written in the same order. Native speakers learn these nonreversible word pairs through custom and usage. They intuitively understand that certain word pairs sound “wrong” when their order is reversed. However, these word pairs present a problem for non-native English speakers because only a few follow any sort of pattern. Most nonreversible word pairs are entirely arbitrary, meaning that their orders must be memorized.
Word Pairs with a Logical Order
A few nonreversible word pairs do present the words in an order that is logically consistent. For example, signed and sealed makes more sense than “sealed and signed” because you cannot sign a document once it is already sealed inside an envelope. “Cause and effect” is another good example: you can’t have an effect until you first have a cause for that effect.
Pairs of Opposites
Many nonreversible word pairs contain opposites. These include (but are not limited to), black and white, dead or alive, high and low, in and out, and thick and thin. While there is no pattern to word pairs made of opposites, breaking pairs down into categories in this way can make memorizing those pairs much more manageable.
Pairs That Follow No Pattern
Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason to the vast majority of nonreversible word pairs. In fact, rhyme or reason is itself one of these pairs. Here is brief list of some of the most useful nonreversible word pairs in the English language:
|back and forth||by and large||first and last|
|name and address||sooner or later||flesh and blood|
|null and void||suit and tie||ladies and gentlemen|
|lost and found||food and drink||pen and/or pencil|
|supply and demand||front and center||pros and cons|
|trial and error||right and/or wrong||rise and fall|
|give and take||rain or shine||up and/or down|
|in and out||read and write||wait and see|