Hyponymy and Hypernymy

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In linguistics, a hyponym is a word or phrase whose semantic field[1] is included within that of another word, its hypernym (sometimes spelled hyperonym outside of the natural language processing community.[2] In simpler terms, a hyponym shares a type-of relationship with its hypernym. For example, scarlet, vermilion, carmine, and crimson are all hyponyms of red (their hypernym); which, in turn, is a hyponym of colour.[3]


Computer science often terms this relationship an "is-a" relationship. For example, the phrase "Red is-a colour" can be used to describe the hyponymic relationship between red and colour.

Hypernymy is the semantic relation in which one word is the hypernym of another. Hypernymy—the relation in which words stand when their extensions stand in the relation of class to subclass—should not be confused with holonymy, which is the relation in which words stand when the things that they denote stand in the relation of whole to part. A similar warning applies to hyponymy and meronymy.

As a hypernym can be understood as a more general word than its hyponym, the relation is used in semantic compression by generalization to reduce a level of specialization.

The notion of hyponymy is particularly relevant to language translation, as hyponyms are very common across languages. For example, in Japanese the word for older brother is Ani (), and the word for younger brother is Otōto (). An English-to-Japanese translator presented with a phrase containing the English word brother would have to choose which Japanese word equivalent to use. This would be difficult, because abstract information (such as the speakers' relative ages) is often not available during machine translation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brinton, Laurel J. (2000). The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic Introduction (Illustrated ed.). John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 112. ISBN 978-90-272-2567-2. 
  2. ^ Stede, Manfred (June 2000). "The hyperonym problem revisited: Conceptual and lexical hierarchies in language generation - W00-1413" (PDF). Association for Computational Linguistics. pp. 93–99. doi:10.3115/1118253.1118267. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Fromkin, Victoria; Robert, Rodman (1998). Introduction to Language (6th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. ISBN 0-03-018682-X. [page needed]

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