The Internet TESL Journal

A Man for Every Purpose - Increasing Learners' Vocabulary Awareness

Rolf Palmberg
rpalmber [at]
Department of Teacher Education, Abo Akademi University, Finland

We all know that a milkman delivers milk and that a postman delivers letters and parcels, i.e. post. But does a sandwichman deliver sandwiches, or a garbageman deliver garbage?

There are a numerous compound words in English that end in 'man', as the above examples illustrate. One interesting fact is that the word 'man' and its counterpart can have very different meaning relationships, which, in turn, can be used for classroom activities to increase learners' vocabulary awareness. In the sample activities presented below, the level of difficulty can easily be modified by the teacher by choosing an appropriate number of 'man' words included in the activity and by selecting such 'man' words that fit the learners' age, proficiency level and/or interests. The learners may work individually or in pairs, using dictionaries if necessary.

Eight sample learner activities:

  1. Here is a list of 'man' words and a list of definitions. Match each word with its correct definition.
  2. Here is a list of 'man' words. Identify the meaning relationship between each 'man' and its counterpart. Example: X, Y and Z deliver things, whereas M and N are members of something.
  3. Here is a list of 'man' words. Categorise the words according to who delivers things, who collects things, who sells things, who is something etc.
  4. Here is a list of definitions. See if you can produce the correct compound word (the latter part of which is 'man') for each definition.
  5. Here is a list of 'man' words. Find out which 'man' words can in fact be 'woman' words as well.
  6. Here is a list of 'man' words. Find out which 'man' words are gender neutral, i.e. which do in fact refer to a 'person'.
  7. Here is a list of 'man' words. Find out which words are in fact occupations.
  8. Here is a list of 'man' words. Find out which 'man' words do in fact not relate to human beings at all.

35 'man' words (there are many more) and their definitions:

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 10, October 1998