Lexis and Semantics Summary

Welcome to the Lexis and Semantics summary! Both lexis and semantics are key parts of the English language; without them, we would not be able to communicate in the first place! This summary will provide you with all the necessary information about lexis and semantics. Let's begin with Lexis!

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Lexis and Semantics Summary

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Welcome to the Lexis and Semantics summary! Both lexis and semantics are key parts of the English language; without them, we would not be able to communicate in the first place! This summary will provide you with all the necessary information about lexis and semantics. Let's begin with Lexis!

Lexis Definition

Lexis refers to the words in the English language (think of it as a fancy term for our vocabulary!) The word 'lexis' comes from the Greek 'lexis', which means 'word.' The study of lexis is known as 'lexicology.'

Lexis Summary

So what should you expect to find when studying lexis? Some key features of lexis include:

Levels of formalityInformal language, slang, colloquialisms, taboo, formal language, fixed expressions
Occupational registerJargon (specialised/technical language), formal language
Dialect and sociolectRegional and social language varieties

Let's take a look at each of these in more detail:

Levels of Formality

  • Formality helps us integrate ourselves into society, whether at school, with family, or in the workplace. Each social context and setting requires a different level of formality.

  • There are five levels (or registers) of formality: Intimate, Casual, Formal, Frozen, and Consultative. Each of them is characterised by a different register of the English language and is suitable in different social contexts.

Lexis and Semantics Summary Different language registers StudySmarterThe 5 different language registers from most to least informal

  • The English language doesn't have a pronoun that differs the formal from the informal register. We dropped the informal 'thou' with time, leaving only the formal register, i.e., 'you'.

  • Knowing the differences between the levels of formality will allow you to express yourself appropriately in different environments.

Informal Language

  • Informal language is a style of speech and writing used when addressing someone we know well, or someone we would like to get to know.

  • Informal language is used in friendly settings, or in casual conversations with people we know well.

  • The role of informal language is to serve the purpose of day-to-day communication, such as text messages and casual conversations.


  • Slang is informal language used with specific groups of people, regions and contexts.

  • Slang is used more in speech and online communication than in formal writing.

  • Internet slang refers to the words used by people on the internet. Some internet slang is also used in daily life. Examples include:

Internet Slang TermsMeaning
LOLLaugh(ing) out loud
OMGOh my god
LMAOLaugh(ing) my arse off
IKRI know right
BRBBe right back
WTFWhat the f***
TBHTo be honest
BTWBy the way
IDKI don't know
IDCI don't care
JKJust kidding
IRLIn real life
CBACan't be arsed
  • Gen Z slang refers to the slang used by people born from 1997 to 2012.

  • Slang is dependent on region and language; different countries use different slang.


  • Colloquialism is a term for informal language - colloquial language describes the informal language used between friends and people who know each other well in conversation.

  • Examples of colloquialisms include the words 'wanna' and 'gonna' - instead of 'want to' and 'going to.'

  • Colloquial language can tell readers about the regional area of a character or the setting of a text - colloquialisms are specific to regional dialects and time periods, so can reveal further information about the area in which the text is set, the views of society at the time, and where the character is from. For example, Southern Americans often use the colloquialism 'y'all' instead if 'you all.'

  • Colloquial language is similar to jargon and slang but it is not the same - jargon is specific to professional environments and slang is ever-changing, whereas colloquial language refers to the informal language used in conversation.

  • We use colloquial language on a daily basis but it is also a literary technique - whilst we use colloquial language every day, writers use it to make their characters appear relatable and authentic, to hint at their age, where they are from, and where the text is set.


  • Taboo language features words that are to be avoided in public or entirely.
  • Taboos are always contextual, which means there is no such thing as an absolute taboo.
  • Common taboos are death, menstruation, blasphemy, food-related, incest.
  • We sometimes use euphemisms or asterisks (*) in place of taboo words to make them more socially acceptable.
  • Taboo words arise from the motivating factors of cleanliness, morality, ritual (religious) doctrines, and political correctness.

Formal language

  • Formal language is a style of speech and writing used when addressing someone we don't know, or someone we respect and on whom we would like to make a good impression.

  • Formal language is used in official forms of communication, such as academic writing and work-related correspondence.

  • The role of formal language is to convey and receive knowledge and expertise as well as to give a sense of occasion.

  • Formal language is different from informal language in that it is not used in casual settings such as casual chats with friends.

  • Formal language uses complex grammar, vocabulary and modal verbs. It also uses often the pronoun 'we' instead of the pronoun 'I.' For example, 'we regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful.'

Occupational Register

  • Occupational register is the language used by professionals in their specialist fields. It is also called consultative or professional register.

  • The occupational register uses jargon, which is specialised/technical language specific to a certain profession. For example, lawyers often use legal terms such as 'prima facie', 'voir dire' and 'habeas corpus.'

  • When deciding whether to use an occupational register, it is important to take into account the audience and whether or not they are from the profession. If they are not, they may struggle to understand the language used.

  • Occupational register shares characteristics with the formal register. It is not often used in casual/informal settings.

  • Using an occupational register makes it easier to communicate with those in the same industry.


  • A sociolect is a language variety influenced by certain social factors and groups.

  • Social factors that can influence sociolects include socioeconomic status, age, occupation, gender, and ethnicity.

  • Sociolects can differ from standard forms of a language in terms of lexicon, grammar, pronunciation, and slang.

  • Most people know and use multiple sociolects, as they likely belong to multiple social groups.

  • A sociolect is a type of dialect (the name itself is a portmanteau of 'social' and 'dialect').

Semantics Definition

Semantics is the study of meaning in the English language. When we study semantics, there are two main groups to consider; structural semantics and cognitive semantics.

Structural semantics analyses the relationship between the lexical unit at word, phrase, clause, and sentence levels (known as the language-internal perspective). Cognitive semantics examines how an individual perceives and groups lexical items into conceptual categories (known as the language-external perspective).

Semantics Summary

Some key features of semantics include:

Denotative and connotative meaningLiteral vs associated meaning
Paradigmatic relationsSynonyms, antonyms, hyponymy
Lexical ambiguityPolysemy and homonymy
Syntagmatic relationsCollocations, idioms, fixed expressions
Figurative languageSimile, metaphor, personification, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, hyperbole, litotes, oxymoron, paradox, pun
NeologismCompounding, derivation, zero-derivation, eponyms, initialisms, acronyms, clipping, blends
Semantic changeNarrowing, broadening, amelioration, pejoration, semantic reclamation

Let's take a look at each of these in more detail:

Denotative Meaning

  • There are four characteristics of denotative meaning: Every word has a denotative meaning. multiple words can have the same denotation, denotation meaning is objective, and denotation doesn't always carry a neutral meaning.

  • The difference between denotative and connotative meaning in literature depends on the tone and setting of the story.

  • Denotative meaning is used when the author wants the reader to see a word in its literal form, yet connotative meaning adds extra meaning to the word, which can create emotional or cultural associations to that word that change the tone and mood of the story.

Connotative Meaning

  • Connotative meaning explains the “extra” or associated meaning of a word.

  • Connotative meaning is also known as the associated meaning, implied meaning, or secondary meaning.

  • Types of connotative meaning include positive, negative, and neutral.

Positive Connotation Neutral Connotation Negative Connotation
  • Forms of connotative meaning include associative, attitudinal, affective, reflected, geographical dialect-related, temporal dialect-related, and emphasis.

  • Connotative meaning in literary devices appears in metaphors, similes, metonymys, and personification.

  • The difference between connotative and denotative meaning in writing depends on the tone and setting of the story.

Paradigmatic Relations

  • Paradigmatic relation is concerned with the substitution of words in a sentence as long as they belong to the same word class. A paradigm is a set of associated concepts or sound images which are members of a category, yet each element is different.

  • Syntagmatic relation refers to the relationship between words in a sentence. A Syntagm is a relationship between words in the same sentence.

  • Synonymy refers to words with similar meanings (A ≈ B), eg big, large, huge, gigantic.

  • Antonymy refers to words with opposite meanings (A↔B), eg big vs small.

  • Hyponymy refers to a super- and subordination relationship between words (A ↑ ↓ B, where A is a kind of B), eg bread - brioche, challah, sourdough.


  • Synonymy is a linguistic term for words with similar meanings. For example, small, little, tiny, mini.

  • If you replace one word with its synonym, the meaning/sense of the sentence doesn't change. You can test synonymy by using the substitution method.

  • There are two types of synonymy: absolute synonyms (when the meaning and function of the words is exactly the same) and partial synonyms (when the meaning and function of the words is only partially the same). This may depend on the collocation, register, and regional/social variety of the words.

  • Synonymy differs from homonymy - synonymy features words with similar meanings, while homonymy has words with different meaning but have the same pronunciation, spelling, or both.

  • Synonymy is also different from polysemy - synonymy Involves words with similar meanings, while polysemy is words with multiple meanings did create wordplay.


  • Antonymy refers to a pair of words that have opposite meanings. It is also known as 'opposition'.

  • The term antonymy derives from the Greek words anti and onym, which mean opposite and name.

  • The opposite of antonymy is synonymy (words with the same/similar meanings).

  • There are three types of antonymy: gradable antonyms, complementary antonyms, and relational/converse antonyms.

Lexis and Semantics Summary Types of antonyms StudySmarterTypes of antonymy


  • A hyponymous relation explains a super and subordination relationship between words. To test this, use the 'a kind of' method by asking "Is X a kind of Y?" If yes, X and Y have a hyponymy relationship, with Y as the hypernym of X.

  • Hypernym (general term) is the superordinate of hyponym.

  • Co-hyponyms are hyponyms on the same hierarchical level.

Lexis and Semantics Summary Examples of hyponymy StudySmarterExamples of hyponymy

  • Hyponymy has a multi-layer relationship, e.g. bird is the hyponym of animal but at the same time, a hypernym of parrot and robin.

  • To keep the original sentence's meaning, only the hypernym of a word can substitute its hyponym.

Lexical Ambiguity

  • Lexical ambiguity happens when the multiple meanings of a word cause several interpretations.

  • Some examples of Lexical Ambiguity include (1) metal - 'a substance' or 'a music genre'; (2) scrub 'to clean' or 'special clothes worn by surgeons' or 'exfoliator'; (3) funny man - 'amusing man' or 'strange man'.

  • Lexical ambiguity can be classified into two types: Polysemy which refers to a word with more than one meaning, and Homonymy which involves words that are pronounced or spelt the same, or both, yet their meanings are not related to each other.

  • Structural ambiguity occurs when the structure of a sentence causes multiple interpretations. It is also known as syntactic ambiguity.

  • Lexical ambiguity is caused by the multiple meanings of a word, while structural ambiguity is caused by the structure of a sentence.


  • Polysemy is about a single word with many related meanings. The multiple meanings are listed under one dictionary entry.
  • An example of polysemy is the word 'sound.' This word has many meanings - as a noun alone, it has 19 different meanings!
  • The opposite of polysemy is monosemy (a word that has one meaning only). All non-polysemous words are monosemous.
  • Polysemy differs from homonymy - Homonymy defines words with multiple meanings but are written and/or pronounced the same. The different meanings are unrelated, eg to address (verb) - an address (noun).
  • Polysemy also differs from hyponymy - Hyponymy refers to super- and subordinate relationships between words. One word has one meaning but can be divided into several subtypes.


  • Homonymy defines words with different meanings but with the same pronunciation and/or spelling.

  • Homonymy is the broad term for homophones and homographs.

  • Homophones are words with different meanings but the same pronunciation, while homographs are words with different meanings and pronunciations but the same spelling.

Lexis and Semantics Summary Homonyms, homophones and homographs StudySmarterHomophones and homographs are types of homonyms

  • Homonyms are usually used to create rhythmic effects and multiple meanings which may cause ambiguity, puncture, and shrewdness or humorous effects.

  • Homonymy differs from polysemy - polysemy refers to words with several related meanings but listed under one dictionary entry.

Syntagmatic Relations

  • Syntagmatic relation illustrates the relationship between words that co-occur in the same sentence. It occurs on the horizontal axis.

  • Collocations are words that frequently occur together. The word pairings in collocations are not fixed, but changing the word pairing will make the combination sound unnatural, eg handsome man vs. handsome girl.

  • Fixed expressions are groups of words used together to express a particular idea or concept that is more specific than the individual words. The word order usually cannot be changed.

  • Idioms are fixed expressions that possess a meaning other than their literal one. The words in idioms can't be substituted, eg miss the boat becomes miss the ship, which is not an idiom.


  • Collocations are combinations of words in a sentence. In other words, a collocation is a relationship between a pair (or a small group) of words.

  • There are two types of collocations; typical and untypical.

  • Typical collocations are combinations of words that are frequently used together; they are familiar and feel natural to native speakers of the English language.

  • Untypical collocations are words that are not commonly used together. They are less natural - they often sound strange, or 'incorrect' to native speakers.

  • In many typical collocations, the order of the words is fixed. Examples of fixed phrases include 'knife and fork', and 'to and fro'. You do not often hear the term, 'fork and knife', and you would practically never hear the term 'fro and to' in natural English, as it sounds completely 'wrong'.

Fixed Expressions

  • Fixed expressions are groups of words used together to express a particular idea or concept that is more specific than the individual words.

  • Fixed expressions usually have literal meanings (but can also have figurative meanings in some cases).

  • Fixed expressions usually keep the same word pattern. Semi-fixed expressions keep the same word order, but some parts can change to portray a slightly different meaning.

  • An example of a fixed expression is 'all of a sudden' - we wouldn't say 'all of a suddenly' or other variations.


  • An idiom is a common phrase or expression that has a figurative, rather than literal, meaning.

  • Many idioms were originally used in a literal sense. For example: “letting the cat out of the bag” used to refer to the practice of having actual cats in bags that merchants would try to pass off as piglets. Over time, phrases like this lose their literal meaning and they become purely figurative, or figures of speech.

  • Idioms are very common in everyday speech, and they also appear frequently in literature.

  • Idioms and proverbs are not the same things. A proverb is designed to give advice or state a general truth and is either literal or figurative. An idiom does NOT give advice or wisdom; it is designed to express a simple feeling or idea, and it is always figurative.

  • Idioms often use metaphor, but a metaphor is not an idiom unless it is a well-established phrase or expression.

Figurative Language

  • Figurative language uses figures of speech. Figures of speech include simile, metaphor, personification, idioms, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, irony and oxymoron.

  • Figurative language appears frequently in literature and everyday conversation.

  • Figurative language helps us to express opinions and feelings in ways that plain English sometimes can't. It can help to express an opinion or communicate a point; it can also help to make the language more colourful, vivid and engaging.


  • A simile is a type of figurative language, or a figure of speech, that compares two things, usually to draw attention to their similarities.

  • Similes use connecting words, such as “like” or “as” to draw comparisons - this is one of the main differences between simile and metaphor.

  • Many common phrases, or idioms, make use of similes. Examples include: 'as cold as ice', 'sleeping like a baby', and 'hotter than a sauna.'

  • People use similes to create imagery and to express their opinions and feelings in imaginative and creative ways.


  • Metaphor directly refers to one thing as another thing to help us see the similarities between them.

  • Metaphor is a type of figurative language, meaning that it is not to be taken literally; metaphors are symbolic.

  • An example of a metaphor is 'he is a monster.' This directly refers to someone as something else.

  • A simile is different from a metaphor as it uses connecting words such as 'like' or 'as'. A simile will state that something is like another thing; a metaphor will state that something is another thing.

  • An extended metaphor is longer than a single line; it contains more detail than a typical metaphor. Extended metaphors represent something other than what the writer is telling us. Their meaning is not always obvious.


  • Personification is what you get when you give human qualities to something that is not human (such as animals, objects or abstract concepts).

  • Personification can make a piece of writing much more vivid. By giving human qualities to things such as the weather or everyday objects, you can paint a clearer picture in the reader's mind.

  • Some characters represent abstract concepts and so they are the personification of that thing. An example of this is the Grim Reaper, who is the personification of death.

  • Personification and anthropomorphism are not the same. Personification is figurative or symbolic; anthropomorphism is literal.

  • An example of personification is 'The sun smiled down on us.'


  • Metonymy is a type of figurative language, or a figure of speech, that refers to a thing by the name of something associated with it. The word that replaces the original thing is called a metonym.

  • A metonym works because it is the name of something closely associated with the thing it is replacing. For example, 'dish' is closely associated with 'meal', so it works as a metonym for meal in the sentence, “What’s your favourite dish?

  • Metonymy is different from synecdoche; a metonym is something associated with the thing it refers to, whereas a synecdoche is either something that is part of the thing or that the thing is part of. For example, wheels are part of a car, and so “wheels” works as a synecdoche for car in the sentence, “Check out my new wheels”.

  • Metonymy is also different from metaphor; metonymy is about association, whereas metaphor is about comparison. For example, if you describe a car as a “tin can”, it is a metaphor, as tin cans are not typically associated with cars, but with a bit of imagination, you can see some similarities.


  • Synecdoche is a type of figurative language or a figure of speech, that refers to a thing by either the name of something that is part of it or by the name of something that it is part of. In other words, it is a part that refers to the whole, or a whole that refers to the part.

  • If a synecdoche is referring to the part as a whole, then it is zooming in on a particular detail of a thing. For example, we understand that the phrase, “I've got mouths to feed” means “I've got people to feed”. This phrase mentions a part (mouths) to refer to the whole (people).

  • If a synecdoche is referring to the whole as a part, then it is zooming out to reveal the whole that a thing is a part of. For example, if we hear the phrase, “Germany won the world cup”, we understand that as meaning “The German football team won the World Cup”. The original phrase mentions the whole (Germany) to refer to the part (the German football team).

  • Synecdoche is different from metonymy. Synecdoche refers to a thing by the name of something that is part of it, or that it is part of, whereas metonymy refers to a thing by the name of something associated with it.

Check out this diagram if you are struggling to determine whether something is metonymy, synecdoche or metaphor:

Lexis and Semantics Summary Difference between synecdoche, metonymy and metaphor StudySmarterMetonymy vs. synecdoche vs. metaphor


  • Hyperbole is a technique in the English language that uses exaggeration to emphasise something or evoke strong emotions.

  • Hyperbole is a figure of speech, meaning that, rather than a literal meaning, it has a figurative meaning.

  • Hyperbolic language is used frequently in everyday conversation, and also often appears in literature.

  • An example of hyperbole is 'I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse.'

  • Although they all use figurative language, metaphors and similes are not always the same as hyperbole. Hyperbole always uses exaggeration, whereas metaphors and similes only use exaggeration sometimes.


  • Irony is a technique in the English language that shows a contradiction between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. Irony is a figure of speech and a rhetorical device.

  • Dramatic irony refers to when someone in a situation doesn’t know what will happen, but other people do. For example, if a person is running away from someone, but doesn't realise they are standing right behind them.

  • Situational irony refers to when a situation expected to happen is different from what really happens. For example, you are on a plane but the pilot is afraid of heights.

  • Verbal irony refers to when someone says something but means the opposite. For example, saying 'the weather is so great' when it's actually raining.

  • Comic irony refers to when irony is used to create humour. It can be in the form of dramatic, situational or verbal irony.


  • Litotes is a form of verbal irony that uses a negative statement to express the opposite of what is meant. It is used to ironically understate what is being said.

  • Litotes is an example of a figure of speech and is used in both daily life and literature.

  • An example of litotes is saying 'the weather isn't bad' when it is actually a lovely day.

  • The meaning of litotes can change depending on the context of the situation and the intonation of the speaker.

  • Litotes can be used for ironic humour, euphemism, and modesty.


  • An oxymoron is a language device that uses contrast. An oxymoron is a figure of speech.

  • An oxymoron takes two words with opposing meanings and puts them together to make sense in a strange or different way.

  • Oxymorons are a common language device used in poetry, but can also be used in other types of literature, as well as in everyday speech.

  • Examples of oxymorons are: 'good grief', 'going nowhere' and 'small crowd.'

  • You can identify an oxymoron as it is made up of only two contrasting words, whereas other language devices such as juxtaposition and paradox use phrases or sentences that oppose each other.


  • A paradox is a statement that is self-contradictory and illogical but that can contain some truth. For example, 'less is more.'

  • There are two types of paradox: logical paradox and literary paradox.

  • Logical paradoxes follow the strict rules of paradox whereas literary paradoxes have a looser definition.

  • Paradoxes can sometimes be confused with oxymorons, irony, juxtaposition, and dilemma.

  • Literary paradoxes are quite difficult to distinguish from juxtaposition - so be careful when trying to define a phrase using this term.


  • Puns are a type of wordplay using words that have more than one meaning to create humour and double meaning.
  • There are three common types of pun: homophonic pun (uses homophones), homographic pun (uses homographs), and compound pun (a sentence containing more than one pun).
Type of punExample
HomophonicYesterday, I bet the butcher that she couldn't reach the meat on the top shelf. She refused to take my bet since the steaks were too high.
HomographicTime flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.
CompoundDon't scam in the jungle; cheetahs are always spotted.
  • Puns can be used to create humour in a text, but can also be used to give multiple meanings.
  • Puns can often be found in plays - and you may find lots of them when studying Shakespeare.
  • They can also be used in other types of literature, such as prose.


  • Neology is the process of creating new words and phrases, which then turn into neologisms. It also involves adopting words that exist and adapting them to show a different meaning.

  • Blending refers to blending two or more words to create a new word.

  • Clipping refers to shortening a longer existing word to create a new word.

  • Within neology, we use acronyms because it's a faster way of communicating, writing and remembering words. Many organisations use them within their branding.

  • The main difference between acronyms and initialisms is that acronyms are pronounced as a set word. Initialisms are pronounced as individual letters.


  • Blends are words that are formed by taking parts of two different words and putting them together to create a new word.
  • Blending two words together creates a new word with a different meaning. This is different to some other ways of word formation (e.g. clipping, abbreviations) in which the meanings do not change.
  • There are two different types of blend: total and partial. Total blends involve taking different parts of two words and combining them to create a new one. Partial blends involve taking one whole word and combining it with part of another word.
Total blend examplesPartial blend examples
Breakfast + lunch = brunchStay + vacation = staycation
Global + English = GlobishDumb + confound = dumbfound
Situation + comedy = sitcomNews + broadcast = newscast
Motor = pedaler = mopedVideo + telephone = videophone
  • Blended words can also overlap with one another (contain the same letters in each individual word). For example, smoke + fog = smog and motor + hotel = motel.
  • We blend words for ease of communication, to create new terms for things/ideas that are similar to existing things, and to create trendy words that can go mainstream.


  • Clipping refers to the shortening of an existing word. This is done by removing part of a longer word and creating a new word, usually a single syllable.

  • Clipping does not change the meaning of the word.

  • There are two types of clipping: final clipping (apocope) and initial clipping (apheresis).

Final clipping examplesInitial clipping examples
Existing word: MathematicsClipped word: MathsExisting word: TelephoneClipped word: Phone
Existing word: PhotographClipped word: PhotoExisting word: AeroplaneClipped word: Plane
Existing word: UniversityClipped word: UniExisting word: RobotClipped word: Bot
  • Clipping is used in both written and spoken language. This is different from abbreviations, which are used mostly in writing.

  • We use clipped words to change the formality of spoken and written language and for simpler and more efficient communication.


  • An acronym is made up of the initial letters of other words and is pronounced as a word.

  • Acronyms can be divided into groups: word acronyms, syllabic acronyms, TLAs, etc.

  • Word acronyms use initials of words to form one new word (i.e., POTUS, scuba).

  • Syllabic acronyms use syllables of words instead of initials to make new words.

  • Other acronym groups combine initials with syllables or words (i.e., jpeg, sonar).

  • A recursive acronym is an acronym that refers to itself. Usually, the first letter of a recursive acronym stands for the acronym itself.


  • An initialism is an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of words in phrases. It is also known as an alphabetism.

  • Initialisms are a convenient way of giving information quickly and are popular in technology and online communication - for example, LOL and OMG.

  • An initialism instead is a set of initials representing a name, company, or group, and which cannot be spoken as words: they are spoken letter by letter.

  • Initialisms are usually written in capital letters, without spaces or full stops.

  • Unlike acronyms, initialisms are not spoken as one word; they are spoken letter by letter.


  • An eponym refers to a person, place or thing that gives its name to something or someone else. For example, James Watt is the eponym of the watt (a unit of power).

  • An eponym is a form of neologism, which is a way of creating new words.

  • The six main types of eponyms are simple, compounds, suffix-based derivatives, possessives, clippings and blends.

  • Eponyms are used to show the close connection between certain people and their discoveries/inventions and celebrate their importance.

  • Eponyms are not to be confused with namesakes, which refer to people or things that are named after someone/something that originally had the name.


  • Derivation refers to the creation of a new word from an existing word by adding affixes (prefixes or suffixes) to the root of a word.

  • Derivation is a form of neologism, which refers to the creation of new words.

  • When suffixes are added, the word form changes and usually the word class too (though not always). The word form changes when prefixes are added, but the word class rarely does.

  • Zero derivation refers to when a new word is created, and there is no change in the word form, but the word class changes.

  • Inflection refers to the change in the form of an existing word by adding affixes to show grammatical meaning. The word class does not change.


  • Zero derivation is also known as conversion or functional shift.

  • Zero derivation happens when you create a word (eg. a noun) from another word (eg. a verb) without changing its form.

  • Adjectives can be made into nouns, nouns into adjectives, nouns or adjectives into verbs etc.

  • Verbification has produced many new words for everyday use. Sometimes a verbified form can have a prepositional particle, eg, 'elbow someone out of the way.'

  • Verbification also occurs in social media terms; for example: google it; skype me etc.


  • Compounding combines two or more words to create a new word.

  • A compound is made up of various parts of speech such as a noun, verb, adverb, etc.

  • Compounds can be a combination of noun plus noun, verb plus noun, adjective plus noun etc.

  • Compounds can be written as one word, as two separate words, or as a word with a hyphen.

    Lexis and Semantics Summary Examples of compounding StudySmarterExamples of compounds

  • Compounds can be divided into four subclasses: endocentric, exocentric, coordinative and appositional.

Semantic Change

  • Semantic change refers to a type of language change in which the meaning of a word changes over time. Semantic change can be caused by extralinguistic and linguistic factors.

  • Narrowing is when a word's meaning becomes more specialised in time.

  • Broadening is when a word becomes more generalised and gains additional meanings.

  • Amelioration is when a word's meaning changes from negative to positive.

  • Pejoration is when a word's meaning changes from positive to negative.

  • Semantic reclamation is a process where a word that was once used to disparage a group of people is reclaimed by the group.


  • Semantics is a term that refers to the study of the meaning of words.

  • Semantic change refers to how the meaning of a word can change over time.

  • Narrowing is a specific process of semantic change where a word's meaning becomes more specific over time.

  • This is a common process that often takes place over many years.

  • An example of narrowing is the word 'starve.' In Old English, it meant generally 'to die', whereas in Modern English it means more specifically 'to die of hunger.'


  • Semantics refers to the study of meaning.

  • Semantic change refers to how the meaning of a word can change over time.

  • Broadening is when the meaning of a word becomes broader and more generalised over time.

  • Broadening is typically caused by extralinguistic factors.

  • An example of broadening is the word 'holiday.' This stemmed from 'holy day', which referred specifically to a religious feast. Nowadays, 'holiday' refers generally to a break from work.


  • Amelioration is a type of semantic change that elevates a word's meaning over time so that a word that previously had a negative meaning develops a positive one.

  • Amelioration is also referred to as semantic melioration or semantic elevation.

  • Some examples of amelioration are words we use on a daily basis, such as 'nice', 'pretty' and 'lady'. Some slang words, such as 'sick' and 'wicked', have also been elevated.

  • Amelioration is an important process in the development of language which shows us how societal perceptions have changed over time.

  • Amelioration is less common than its opposite process - pejoration. Pejoration is a type of semantic change that degenerates the meaning of a word over time so that word takes on more negative connotations.


  • Pejoration is the process by which a word develops a negative meaning or negative connotations over time. It is a type of semantic change.

  • The process of pejoration occurs as the values of society shift. This can lead to shifts in language and meaning associated with these changing values.

  • It is important to remember that different terms are perceived as pejorative by different groups of people.

  • An example of pejoration is the word 'silly' which meant 'happy' or 'fortunate' in the Middle English period. The meaning shifted to mean 'innocent' or 'holy', then again to 'naïve'. Nowadays, 'silly' has negative connotations of foolishness and idiocy.

  • The opposite of pejoration is a process called 'amelioration'. Amelioration is the process by which a word develops a positive meaning over time.

Semantic Reclamation

  • Semantic reclamation is a process in which an oppressed group redefines a slur and how it has been used against them, using it in their own context to empower themselves.

  • Words that have been reappropriated are often controversial and political as they are emotionally charged by historic events and beliefs.

  • It is not only words that can be reclaimed. Art such as paintings and statues can also be reappropriated, as well as other items like vintage clothes and farming tools.

  • As our society progresses our language also alters. Semantic reclamation is one of the ways in which our language changes to suit our ever-changing needs. For example, our society becomes more inclusive and our language needs to reflect this.

  • Reappropriated language can often be controversial due to the historic views that the words represent, and the fact that not everyone in the oppressed group will share the same opinion that the word should be reclaimed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lexis and Semantics Summary

Lexis refers to all the words of a language.

Lexical examples include single words such as 'dog', 'jump', 'funny' etc, or parts of words, such as prefixes and suffixes.

Lexis could be considered the same as vocabulary as they both refer to the words in a language. But, lexis may often be seen as a more complex, broader topic than simple vocabulary.

Semantics focuses on the study of the meaning of words, whereas grammar deals with the structure and patterns of language.

The three kinds of semantics are formal semantics, lexical semantics and conceptual semantics.

More about Lexis and Semantics Summary

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