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Hyponymy

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English

The term Hyponymy derives from the Greek words hypo and onoma which mean 'below' and 'name'.

What is Hyponymy?

Hyponymy roughly illustrates 'the subordinate relation of a word'¹― but what does it mean in practice? To better understand it, let's examine these sentences:

  • Your first task for today is to sweep the floor.

  • Could you wipe the crumbs off the table?

  • Scrub the vegetables clean before cutting them.

The three sentences have one thing in common: they all mean 'to clean something', but use different verbs (sweep, wipe, and scrub). If we put their relationship in a diagram, we get something like this:

Hyponymy, Hyponymy verb example, StudySmarterHyponymy verb example, Raisa Yogiaman, StudySmarter Originals

From this example we can say that:

  • Sweep, wipe and scrub are hyponyms of clean

  • Clean is the hypernym of sweep, wipe and scrub

  • Sweep, wipe and scrub are co-hyponyms of each other

In other words, hyponymous relations refer to the super- and subordinate relationships between words. Words on the superordinate level are called hypernyms, and words on the subordinate level are called hyponyms.

The hierarchical relationship is based on the definition of the word. The word meaning of a hyponym (eg sweep, wipe, and scrub) is included in its hypernym (clean). Hypernym is then the “broader term” of its hyponyms (a more “specific term” than the hypernym).

  • sweep: to clean a room using a broom

  • wipe: to clean dirt or liquid by rubbing something against a surface

  • scrub: to clean something by rubbing it hard

A ↑ ↓ B

What are some examples of hyponymy?

Hyponymy isn't restricted to verbs. It can be found in other parts of speech, such as adjectives and nouns.

Hyponymy, Hyponymy adjective example, StudySmarterHyponymy adjective example, Raisa Yogiaman, StudySmarter Originals

From this example we can say that:

  • Red, blue, and yellow are the hyponyms of colour.

  • Colour is the hypernym of red, blue, and yellow.

  • Red, blue, and yellow are co-hyponyms of each other.

Hyponymy, Hyponymy noun example, StudySmarterHyponymy noun example, Raisa Yogiaman, StudySmarter Originals

This example shows that:

  • Animal is the hypernym of bird and dog; bird and dog are the hyponyms of animal.
  • Bird and dog are co-hyponyms of each other.
  • Bird is the hypernym of robin and parrot; robin and parrot are the hyponyms of bird.
  • Robin and parrot are co-hyponyms of each other.

Based on the examples we can summarize as follows:

  • Hypernym refers to a general term (superordination).
  • Hyponym refers to a more specific term (subordination). The word meaning of a hyponym is included in its hypernym.
  • Co-hyponym refers to the hyponyms on the same hierarchical level.
  • Hyponyms, hypernyms, and co-hyponyms have a multiple-layers relationship. The classification is based on how many levels there are and what perspective you are looking from, so to speak.

From Example 3 we can say that:

  • From the perspective of the word robin, robin is the hyponym of bird and bird is the hypernym of robin.
  • However, if seen from the perspective of the word bird, bird is now the hyponym of animal and animal is the hypernym of bird.
  • The same notion applies to co-hyponyms. Bird & dog are co-hyponyms on their level; and robin & parrot are co-hyponyms on their level.

How to test for a hyponym

Since hyponymy is about super- and subordinates, you can test for a hyponym by using an 'a kind of' method. Ask this question: "Is X a kind of Y?" If the answer is yes, then X and Y have a hyponymy relationship, with X as the hyponym and Y as the hypernym (Cann, 2011).

For instance: "Is apple a kind of fruit?" → yes, apple is a kind of fruit.

  • apple is the hyponym of fruit.

  • fruit is the hypernym of apple.

How to use hyponyms

Understanding the concept of hyponymy can be useful when you want to substitute a word with a more general term (its hypernym). For example:

The doves have begun building their nest.

Since bird is the hypernym of dove, you can also say: the birds have begun building their nest. Be aware that substituting a word with its hypernym won't change the sense of the sentence, but will generalize it (doves → birds).

Important to note: If you replace a word with its co-hyponym and NOT with its hypernym, the sentence's meaning will change.

For example: The doves have begun building their nest.

  • Substitute doves with robin (its co-hyponym): 'The robins have begun building their nest' = the meaning of the sentence changes.
  • Thus, to keep the original meaning intact, word replacement only works in one direction: the hypernym replaces the hyponym.

What is the difference between hyponymy and polysemy?

Polysemy is about one word with more than one meaning. To explain the difference, let's take the word mouse as an example.

  • What does mouse mean?

  • Mouse has two meanings: an animal (meaning 1) and a computer device (meaning 2).

Because the word mouse has multiple meanings, it should be used clearly. Otherwise, it can cause lexical ambiguity: "Do you mean the animal mouse or the computer device?"

Hyponymy describes a super- and subordinate relationship between words.

  • What are the kinds of mouse?
  • There are two kinds of mouse (superordinate): house mouse (subordinate 1) and field mouse (subordinate 2).

Hence, even if the word mouse is used without a specific reference to the house mouse or field mouse, it still indicates the animal (mouse). It doesn't cause lexical ambiguity with another meaning of mouse (a computer device).

Polysemy vs. hyponymy

  • From the perspective of polysemy, house mouse and field mouse aren't the two different meanings of mouse. Both types of mouse refer to one meaning, mouse the animal.
  • From the perspective of hyponymy, mouse the computer device isn't a kind of mouse. It is a mouse (the connotation meaning of mouse = polysemy).

Based on these two different concepts, we can say:

Bring me the mouse!

  • Polysemy: can cause misunderstanding. Does it refer to the animal mouse or the computer device?
  • Hyponymy: doesn't cause misunderstanding. It clearly refers to the animal mouse and not the other meaning of mouse, eg the computer device

Study tip: Remember, you can always use the 'a kind of' method to test whether the words are hyponyms.

  • "Is a house mouse a kind of mouse?" → yes → house mouse is the hyponym of mouse.
  • "Is a mouse the computer device a kind of mouse?" → no, mouse the computer device is the connotative meaning of mouse → mouse the computer device is not the hyponym of mouse.

What is the difference between hyponymy and meronymy?

While hyponymy is about 'a kind of' relation, meronymy shows a part / whole relationship between words. A has B; that means B is a part of A.

For example, a human has two arms - an arm has a hand - a hand has five fingers.

This means fingers, hands, and arms are all meronyms of humans. They're parts of the human body. The same applies to lips, teeth, and tongues. They are meronyms to mouth, which in turn, is a meronym to face.

Hyponymy, Meronymy, StudySmarterMeronymy Example, Raisa Yogiaman, StudySmarter Original

Study tip: like before, use the 'a kind of' method to test whether the words are hyponyms.

  • "Are fingers a kind of hand?" → no, fingers are a part of hand = meronymy relationship.
  • "Are teeth a kind of mouth?" → no, teeth are a part of mouth = meronymy relationship.

Hyponymy - Key takeaways

  • 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.
  • Hyponymy has a multi-layer relationship: 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.
  • Polysemy refers to one word that has several meanings. Thus, unlike polysemy, hyponymy doesn't cause lexical ambiguity.
  • Meronymy describes a part/whole relationship whereas hyponymy Illustrates a hierarchical relationship.

¹ R. Cann, "Sense Relations," Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language and Meaning. (2011)

Hyponymy

Hyponymy defines a more specific word for a broader term, eg TV, radio, telephone, and fridge are the hyponyms of electronic devices (hypernym).

Some examples of hyponyms are rose, lily, and orchid. The hypernym in this case is flower.

Hyponymy in a sentence is used to replace a word with its hypernym. A hyponym can't be replaced with its co-hyponym. For instance, I planted the rose. Since flower is the hypernym of rose, you can also say: I planted the flower. Replacing rose with flower won't change the sense of the sentence but generalizes it.

A hypernym is the superordinate of hyponyms. For example, the hypernym of car, train, bus, and bicycle is a mode of transportation.

Co-hyponym is a hyponym that is on the same hierarchical level. For example, television, radio, newspaper, and the internet are co-hyponyms of each other with mass communication medium as their hypernym.

Final Hyponymy Quiz

Question

What is a hyponymous relationship?

Show answer

Answer

A hyponymous relationship explains a super- and subordination relationship between words.

Show question

Question

What is a hyponym?


Show answer

Answer

A hyponym defines a more specific word for a broader term. It is the subordinate of hypernym.

Show question

Question

What is a hypernym?


Show answer

Answer

 A hypernym is a general term for a word. It is the superordinate of hyponym.

Show question

Question

What is a co-hyponym?


Show answer

Answer

Co-hyponyms are hyponyms on the same hierarchical level

Show question

Question

Determine the hypernym, hyponym, and co-hyponym from these words:


cold, warm, temperature, and hot.

Show answer

Answer

Hypernym: temperature

hyponym: cold, warm, hot

co-hyponym: cold, warm, hot.

Show question

Question

Determine the hypernym, hyponym, and co-hyponym from these words: 


suite, hotel room, deluxe room, and standard room.

Show answer

Answer

Hypernym: hotel room

hyponym: suite, deluxe room, standard room

co-hyponym: suite, deluxe room, standard room.

Show question

Question

Determine the hypernym, hyponym, and co-hyponym from these words:


novel, books, dictionary, and cookbook.

Show answer

Answer

Hypernym: books

hyponym: novel, dictionary, cookbook

co-hyponym: novel, dictionary, and cookbook.

Show question

Question

Are these words co-hyponyms to each other: pop, jazz, rock, and blues? 


Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Are these words co-hyponyms to each other: sunny, cloudy, weather, rain, and snow?


Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

What is meant by the multi-layer relationship in hyponymy?


Show answer

Answer

A word can be a hypernym and a hyponym of another word at the same time. 

Show question

Question

How to test whether a set of words are hyponyms?


Show answer

Answer

A-kind-of method

Show question

Question

What kind of relationship do reading, learning, studying, and transcribing have? Is it hyponymy, polysemy, or meronymy?


Show answer

Answer

Hyponymy 

Show question

Question

What kind of relationship do the words good in these two sentences have: 


'Paul was a good man' and 'Tom was a good painter'?


Is it hyponymy, polysemy, or meronymy?

Show answer

Answer

Polysemy.

Show question

Question

True or false - car windows, car doors, bumpers, and headlights are the hyponyms of cars.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or false - roof, windows, doors, and walls are the meronyms of buildings.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The term Hyponymy derives from the Greek words hypo and onoma, which mean what?

Show answer

Answer

below and name

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


A hyponymous relation refers to the super and ____________ relationships between words.

Show answer

Answer

subordinate

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


________ is the superordinate of hyponym. 

Show answer

Answer

Hypernym

Show question

Question

Co-hyponyms are hyponyms on __________ hierarchical level. 

Show answer

Answer

the same

Show question

Question

True or false?


Polysemy refers to multiple words that have the same meaning.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Apple is the _______ of fruit.

Show answer

Answer

hyponym

Show question

Question

Fruit is the ________ of apple.

Show answer

Answer

hypernym

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Polysemy can cause ______________.

Show answer

Answer

misunderstanding

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Meronymy shows a part / _____ relationship between words. 

Show answer

Answer

whole

Show question

Question

True or false?


Hyponymy involves a kind of relation.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

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