What Are Hyponyms in English?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

hyponyms - cat and rabbit
Cat and rabbit are co-hyponyms of the hypernym animal.

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In linguistics and lexicography, hyponym is a term used to designate a particular member of a broader class. For instance, daisy and rose are hyponyms of flower. Also called a subtype or a subordinate term. The adjective is hyponymic. The term is pronounced "HI-po-nim" (with the emphasis on the first syllable), and its etymology from the Greek, "below" plus "name."

Words that are hyponyms of the same broader term (that is, a hypernym) are called co-hyponyms. The semantic relationship between each of the more specific words (such as daisy and rose) and the broader term (flower) is called hyponymy or inclusion.

Hyponymy is not restricted to nouns. The verb to see, for example, has several hyponyms—glimpse, stare, gaze, ogle, and so on. In "Language: Its Structure and Use," Edward Finnegan points out that although "hyponymy is found in all languages, the concepts that have words in hyponymic relationships vary from one language to the next."

Examples and Observations

"Hyponymy is a less familiar term to most people than either synonymy or antonymy, but it refers to a much more important sense relation. It describes what happens when we say 'An X is a kind of Y'—A daffodil is a kind of flower, or simply, A daffodil is a flower."

– David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2003

Hyponyms of Red

"[L]et us consider words that have a similar meaning because they belong to the same segment of a domain. For instance, the words pink, scarlet, orange, hot pink, and pumpkin . . . are all more marked, specific terms for colors that derive from the color red...These words share many of the semantic properties of the word red. Because these words form a subclass of the word red, they are referred to as hyponyms of red. Similarly, maple, birch, and pine are hyponyms of tree...Hyponyms are more specific words that constitute a subclass of a more general word."

– Bruce M. Rowe and Diane P. Levine, "A Concise Introduction to Linguistics, 4th ed." Routledge, 2016

A Test for Hyponymy

"Hyponymy involves specific instantiations of a more general concept such as holds between horse and animal or vermillion and red or buy and get. In each case, one word provides a more specific type of concept than is displayed by the other. The more specific word is called a hyponym and the more general word is the superordinate which may also be referred to as a hyperonym or hypernym...Where the words being classified according to this relation are nouns, one can test for hyponymy by replacing X and Y in the frame 'X is a kind of Y' and seeing if the result makes sense. So we have '(A) horse is a kind of animal' but not '(An) animal is a kind of horse' and so on."

– Ronnie Cann, "Sense Relations." Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language and Meaning, Vol. 1, ed. by Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger, and Paul Portner. Walter de Gruyter, 2011


"In general, there are a number of hyponyms for each superordinate. For example, boar and piglet are also hyponyms of the superordinate pig, since the meaning of each of the three words sow, boar, and piglet 'contains' the meaning of the word pig. (Note that in defining a word like sow, boar, or piglet, the superordinate word pig is often used as part of the definition: 'A sow is an adult female pig.') Thus, it is not surprising that hyponymy is sometimes referred to as inclusion. The superordinate is the included word and the hyponym is the including one."

– Frank Parker and Kathryn Riley, "Linguistics for Non-Linguists." Allyn and Bacon, 1994

Hierarchical Relationships and Multiple Layers

"House is a hyponym of the superordinate building, but building is in turn, a hyponym of the superordinate structure, and, in its turn, structure is a hyponym of the superordinate thing. A superordinate at a given level can itself be a hyponym at a higher level."

– Patrick Griffiths, "An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics." Edinburgh University Press, 2006

"​Hyponyms and hypernyms have multiple layers, as in the following examples, where fry is a hyponym of the hypernym cook, but fry itself is a hypernym for some other types of frying:
Hypernym: cook
Hyponyms: bake, boil, grill, fry, steam, roast
Hypernym: fry
Hyponyms: stir-fry, pan-fry, sauté, deep-fry"

– Michael Israel, "Semantics: How Language Makes Sense." How Languages Work: An Introduction to Language and Linguistics, ed. by Carol Genetti. Cambridge University Press, 2014

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Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Hyponyms in English?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/hyponym-words-term-1690946. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What Are Hyponyms in English? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hyponym-words-term-1690946 Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Hyponyms in English?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hyponym-words-term-1690946 (accessed May 29, 2023).