Definition and Examples of Hypernyms in English

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In linguistics and lexicography, a hypernym is a word whose meaning includes the meanings of other words. For instance, flower is a hypernym of daisy and rose. Adjective: hypernymous.

Put another way, hypernyms (also called superordinates and supertypes) are general words; hyponyms (also called subordinates) are subdivisions of more general words. The semantic relationship between each of the more specific words (e.g., daisy and rose) and the more general term (flower) is called hyponymy or inclusion.


From the Greek, "extra" + "name"

Examples and Observations

"[A] hypernym is a broad, superordinate label that applies to many members of a set, while the members themselves are the hyponyms. "Hyponymy is a hierarchical relationship, and it may consist of a number of levels. For example, dog is a hyponym of animal, but it is also the hypernym of poodle, alsatian, chihuahua, terrier, beagle and so on."

(Jan McAllister and James E. Miller, Introductory Linguistics for Speech and Language Therapy Practice. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)

"A hypernym is a word with a general meaning that has basically the same meaning of a more specific word. For example, dog is a hypernym, while collie and chihuahua are more specific subordinate terms. The hypernym tends to be a basic-level category that is used by speakers with high frequency; speakers usually refer to collies and chihuahuas as dogs, rather than using the subordinate terms, which are consequently of relatively low frequency."

(Laurie Beth Feldman, Morphological Aspects of Language Processing. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1995)

"The foot of footstep narrows down the type of step being expressed to the step made by a foot. A footstep is a kind of step; or, in more technical terms, footstep is a hyponym, or subtype, of step, and step is a hypernym, or supertype, of footstep. . . . Doorstep is also a hyponym of step, and step is a hypernym of doorstep."

(Keith M. Denning, Brett Kessler, and William Ronald Leben, English Vocabulary Elements. Oxford University Press, 2007)

Hypernyms, Hyponyms, and Connotations

"Hyponyms are more likely to carry strong connotations than hypernyms, though this is not an invariable rule. The word 'animal' can carry negative connotations in metaphors such as 'He behaved like an animal.' However, more specific connotations can be carried by the use of more specific words. 'He ate like a pig.' 'You rat!' 'She's a bitch.'"

(Maggie Bowring et al., Working with Texts: A Core Introduction to Language Analysis. Routledge, 1997)

A Method of Definition

"The most illuminating way of defining a lexeme is to provide a hypernym along with various distinguishing features—an approach to definition whose history can be traced back to Aristotle. For example, a majorette is 'a girl' (the hypernym) 'who twirls a baton and accompanies a marching band.' It is usually possible to trace a hierarchical path through a dictionary, following the hypernyms as they become increasingly abstract until we arrive at such general notions (essence, being, existence) that clear sense-relations between the lexemes no longer exist."

(David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Alternate Spellings: hyperonym

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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Hypernyms in English." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Definition and Examples of Hypernyms in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Hypernyms in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).