Lexical Semantics


Lexical semantics is the subfield of linguistics that studies how and what words of a language denote and thus involves the meaning of individual words.

Lexical semantics focuses on theories of:

classification and decomposition of word meaning

differences and similarities in lexical semantic structure between different languages

the relationship of word meaning to sentence meaning and syntax

The study of lexical semantics includes the study of:

lexical fields

lexical relations

Lexical fields are sets of words that share semantic affinity


Lexical field of colour includes words such as

black, orange, red, green …

There are two types of lexical fields:


words share a particular syntactic relationship to one another


words organized into a head term and other subordinate terms in a hierarchical organization pattern

A lexical relation is a pattern of association that exists between lexical units in a particular language.

Lexical relations we will be looking at are:



hyponymy & hypernymy




Synonyms are words that have identical or similar meanings that can be used interchangeably in most cases; although no synonyms have exactly the same meaning (in all contexts or social levels of language)


smooth, silky

give, deliver, provide

house, home, hut, dwelling, abode

Synonyms can be nouns, adverbs or adjectives as long as they belong to the same part of speech

Meronomies describe part-whole relations. A meronym denotes a constituent part of, or a member of something


finger is a meronym of hand

Hyponym is a word whose semantic range is included within that of another word


car, van, train, dhoni, ship, aircraft are all hyponyms of vehicles.

Hypernym is a word whose meaning encompasses the meaning of (an)other word(s)


Vehicle is the hypernym for each of the following:

car, van, train, dhoni, ship, aircraft

Homonym is a word whose senses are not obviously related (other than through coincidence or accident)


I, eye and aye

Homonyms can be divided into further sub-categories:


same spelling (bark of tree; bark of dog)


same pronunciation (there, their, they’re)


same spelling, different meaning & pronunciation (desert (abandon) and desert (arid region))


different meanings when capitalized (polish, Polish)


from different languages; have same spelling but different meaning (‘Hell’ in English & ‘Hell’ in German which means bright)

A polyseme is a single word with two distinct but very closely related senses.The distinction between polysemy and homonymy is often very subtle and subjective. Some sources state that homonym meanings must be unrelated (rather than just different), or that the words must have a different origin. Whereas polysemes have related meanings often with the same origin


fork (in road / instrument to eat)

Antonyms are word pairs that are opposite in meaning and can be divided into four main types:

gradable antonyms

extremes of a scale (hot >< cold)

complementary antonyms

mutually exclusive (married >< single)

converse/relational antonyms

a sort of binary opposition (parent >< child)

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By azu