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English Lexicology Meaning Relations. Week 10 Instructor: Liu Hongyong. We are going to discuss. Words that have the “same” meaning: synonymy Words that have “opposite” meaning: antonymy Hierarchies of meaning: hyponymy and meronymy Meaning and word combination: collocation.

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English Lexicology Meaning Relations

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english lexicology meaning relations

English LexicologyMeaning Relations

Week 10

Instructor: Liu Hongyong

we are going to discuss
We are going to discuss
  • Words that have the “same” meaning:synonymy
  • Words that have “opposite” meaning: antonymy
  • Hierarchies of meaning:

hyponymy and meronymy

  • Meaning and word combination:


Synonymy (同义关系)
  • Synonymy is a relationship of ‘sameness of meaning’ that may hold between two words.
  • Synonyms(同义词) are traditionally defined as words having different form but identical or similar meaning.
problems with the definition
Problems with the definition
  • It is possible that a polysemous word just shares one meaning with another word. Are the two words synonyms?

There are no such thing as true synonymy.

the top of something

freedom of choice

head: the upper part of the body

mental ability

a person

1) chief

2) boss

3) leader

a headmaster

a person who leads

problems with the definition5
Problems with the definition
  • Besides the denotative meaning, a word may also have connotative meaning, stylistic meaning, and affective meaning.

adult: [+human, +adult]


grown-up: [+human, +adult]


Denotative meaning is the same, but the stylistic meaning is different. Can they be called synonyms?

strict absolute synonymy
Strict (absolute) synonymy
  • Linguists make a distinction between ‘strict’ or ‘absolute’ synonymy and ‘loose’ or ‘relative’ synonymy.
  • Strict synonyms refer to two words which are identical in meaning in all its aspects. They are interchangeable in all contexts.
  • Strict synonyms are very rare, and some linguists even argue that strict synonyms do not exist.
strict absolute synonymy7
Strict (absolute) synonymy
  • Strict synonymy is uneconomical; it creates unnecessary redundancy in a language.
  • When two words are in danger of becoming strict synonyms, one of them would either
    • change its meaning, or
    • fade away from the language and become an archaic word.
loose relative synonymy
Loose (relative) synonymy
  • When we speak of synonymy, we mean ‘loose’ or ‘relative’ synonymy, where we find not only a significant overlap in meaning between two words, but also some contexts where they cannot be used interchangeably.

John found/discovered the basketball in the grass.

Maria Curie discovered radium in 1898.

*Maria Curie found radium in 1898.

discover: be the first one to come across something

find: experience something in some way

differences between loose synonyms
Differences between loose synonyms
  • We often take the following things into consideration when we try to find the differences between synonyms.
    • Different English dialects
    • Different stylistic meanings
    • Different connotative meanings
synonyms from different dialects
Synonyms from different dialects
  • Some synonym pairs differ in that they belong to different dialects of English. Here are some examples of synonyms from British and American English:
synonyms with different stylistic meanings
Synonyms with different stylistic meanings
  • One of a pair of synonyms may be used in a more formal context than the other. Here are some examples of synonym pairs.
synonyms with different connotative meanings
Synonyms with different connotative meanings
  • Synonyms may have different emotive associations (connotative meanings).
source of synonyms
Source of synonyms
  • Why are there so many synonyms in English?
    • The primary reason for this has to do with the heavy borrowing from other languages, especially from French and Latin.
Antonymy (反义关系)
  • Antonymy is a relationship of ‘meaning opposition’ that may hold between two words.
  • Antonyms can be defined as words which are opposite in meaning.
  • Major types of antonyms:
    • Gradable antonyms
    • Contradictory or complementary antonyms
    • Converse antonyms
gradable antonyms
Gradable antonyms
  • Gradable antonyms include pairs like the following:

beautiful ugly

expensive cheap

fast slow

hot cold

long short

rich poor

wide narrow

These pairs are called gradable antonyms because they do not represent a more/less relation. The words can be the end-points of a continuum (连续体).

Since they are gradable, they allow comparison.

contradictory complementary antonyms
Contradictory (complementary) antonyms
  • Contradictory antonyms include pairs like the following:

asleep awake

dead alive

on off

remember forget

win lose

true false

These pairs are called contradictory antonyms because they represent an either/or relation.

If you permitsome behavior, then it is not forbidden.

Since they are not gradable, they do not allow comparison.

converse antonyms
Converse antonyms (逆行)
  • The following are examples of converse antonyms:

lend borrow

husband wife

above below

before after

behind in front of

buy sell

give receive

parent child

speak listen

Lend is the converse of borrowand vice versa; i.e. the substitution of one member for the other does not change the meaning of a sentence if it is accompanied by the change of subject and object.

John lent Mary five dollars.

Mary borrowed five dollars from John.

contradictory antonyms vs converse antonyms
Contradictory antonymsvs. Converse antonyms

Converse antonyms are relational antonyms.

The bridge is above the river.

The river is below the bridge.

This behavior is allowed.

This behavior is notprohibited.

Mary is John’s wife. John is Mary’s husband.

??Mary is not John’s husband.

I allow you to introduce Mary.

*You forbidden me to introduce Mary.

Contradictory antonyms are either/or antonym.

I don’t forbidden you to introduce Mary.

Hyponymy(词义之间的) 下义关系
  • Hyponymy is the sense relationship that relates words hierarchically. The underlying observation is that some words have a more general meaning, while others have a more specific meaning, while referring to the same entity.

We are not going to have any food today.

We are not going to have any vegetables today.






They are subordinate terms. They are hyponyms of the superordinate term FOOD.





They are subordinate terms. They are hyponyms of the superordinate term MEAT.










Reading from the bottom of the hierarchy, ORANGE is a ‘kind of’ fruit, which is a kind of food.

  • Metonymy (借喻修辞手法)
    • simile; metaphor; metonym
  • Meronymy (the part-of relation)
  • Different from the kind-of relation displayed by hyponymy, meronymy involves part-whole relation between words.

arm: body

wheel: car

An arm is part of a body;

A wheel is part of a car.


排球队 (volleyball team)




Outside hitters


Middle hitters


Opposite hitters



排球队员 (volleyball player)

Hyponyms of ??? 【kind-of】

Meronyms of ??? 【part-of】

collocation a structural relation
Collocation: a structural relation (搭配关系)
  • Collocation refers to a structural or syntagmatic relation. It refers to meaning relations that a word has with other words in the same sentence.
  • If the noun ‘kettle’ occurs in a sentence, there is a high chance that the verb ‘boil’ will also occur, e.g.

I will boil a kettle.

Is the kettle boiling now?

  • Collocation
    • Grammatical collocation (e.g. fond+of, want+to, etc.)
    • Meaning collocation (our focus)
  • Collocation refers to a meaning relation of predictable co-occurrence. There is a mutual expectancy between two collocated words. The force may be weak or strong. We can use corpus to identify the collocation patterns.
syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations
Syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations

A word has the syntagmatic relation with its neighboring words. It is a kind of collocation relation.

A word has the paradigmatic relation with other words which can be used in the same position in a sentence. It is a kind of substitution relation.