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Concourse 2

Relationships between words

we understand each other


Technical terms

This is where the terminology gets a little technical but bear with us, the concepts are quite easy to understand even if you forget the terminology.


Five key ideas

If we need to talk about the relationships between lexemes, we need to have some terms to talk about the ideas.  Here they are:


Idea 1: Homonymy

The term homonymy comes from the Greek and means 'same name'.  The reference is to words like these:

dear and deer
These words are written differently but pronounced the same and have different meanings.  They are homophones.  Other examples are:
lead weight and lead an army
These words are written the same but pronounced differently and have different meanings.  They are homographs.  Other examples are:
read (present tense) and read (past tense)
invalid (not usable) and invalid (sick person)
bass (a deep voice) and bass (a fish)
desert (leave one's duty) and desert (arid area)
export (the noun, stressed on the first syllable) and export (the verb, stressed on the second syllable)
tear (rip) and tear (drop of eye water)
Sometimes homographs are spelt and pronounced the same way but have different meanings.  They are homographs and homophones and often simply called homonyms.
Examples of homonyms are:
bat (hitting tool) and bat (flying animal)
down (lower) and down (feathers)

Idea 2: Hyponymy

a relationship between words in which the meaning of one word includes the meaning of others which are closely related
The word derives from the Greek meanings of under and name.

The superordinate or hypernym
is the word which includes the meanings of all the others
The hyponyms
are all the second-level words which are related to each other

Like this:


Idea 3: Word families, lexical sets and lexical fields

On this site, the terms are defined like this because for teaching purposes, it seems the most useful.
A word family refers to words with the same root
A lexical set refers to words for objects (or verbs etc.) found in the same conceptual area.
A lexical field refers to words of all kinds which occur in the same topic.

Like this:

family set field
Lexical sets are usually defined as being words of the same class so we could also have, e.g.
    treat, care for, tend, operate, nurse, examine, cure etc.
as verbs in a lexical set to do with health care.


Idea 4: Synonymy

Loosely, this means words of the same meaning but they don't always mean exactly the same to all people and often aren't interchangeable.

Examples are:

and so on.

There is a good argument that no pairs of words can be absolute synonyms because shades of meaning, grammatical forms or dialect use will always distinguish them.  For example:


Idea 5: Antonymy

Antonymy refers to words which have opposite meanings.  There are three types of antonymy:

antonymy 1


Some words very often occur together so we have, for example:
   torrential + rain
   bright + sunshine
   bitterly + cold

and so on.
Some words do not collocate so we can have:
   strong winds and heavy snow
but not
   strong snow and heavy winds
   tall people and high mountains
but not
   high people and tall mountains

Collocations can be analysed by:


Take a test

To make sure you have understood so far, try a very short test of your knowledge of word relationships.
Use the 'Back' button to return when you have done that.

If you got that all right, it is safe to move on.

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