In our everyday life, we can easily notice that words have different relationships with each other. In this lesson, we're going to learn them one by one.

Lexical Relations

What Are Lexical Relations?

Lexical relations are the ways in which words are related to each other in a language. Lexical relations are used to analyze the meanings of words based on their relationships with one another. In fact, they are one of the ways of understanding the meaning of words.

Lexical Relations: Types

Here are the most common types of lexical relationships between words:

  • Synonymy
  • Antonymy
  • Hyponymy
  • Prototypes
  • Homophones and Homonyms
  • Polysemy
  • Metonymy


'Synonymy' is the relation between two or more words that have a very close meaning. Words with the same meaning often can be substituted for each other in sentences. However, there are some cases in which a synonym of a word would be odd and cannot be used in a sentence. Note that synonymy does not mean total sameness; To replace a word with its synonym, you must consider many factors, including context and the relationships between words. Synonymy can be found in all parts of speech including nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Here are some examples:

The party was terrible = the party was awful.

As you can see, 'terrible' and 'awful' are synonyms of 'bad'. They are used to express the same meaning.

She has a big house = she has a large house

As you can see, 'large' and 'big' are synonyms. The meaning of both sentences is the same.

It was a difficult exam. = It was a hard exam.

an example of metonymy


There may also be differences in formal versus informal uses of synonyms. Take a look at the example below:

I bought a big car = I purchased a large automobile

As you can see, the first sentence is more casual than the second one.

Synonymy: Types

There are two types of synonymy:

  • Absolute Synonyms: Absolute synonyms have the same meaning and function. In all contexts, you can replace two absolutely synonymous words with their synonyms. Notice that it happens rarely.
  • Partial Synonyms: Partial synonyms occur when words have very closely related meanings. While the meanings are not the same, they are similar enough to convey the same message.


Antonymy is the relation between words with opposite meanings. Antonyms are usually in pairs and can be found across all parts of speech. Here are some examples:

Adjective: hot ≠ cold

Noun: freedom ≠ slavery

Verb: like ≠ dislike

Adverb: never ≠ always

Preposition: on ≠ off

Antonymy: Types

There are three types of antonymy based on the relationship between the opposing words:

  • Gradable antonyms
  • Complementary antonyms
  • Reverse antonyms

Gradable antonyms

Gradable antonyms are pairs of words that have opposite meanings and are relative to each other on a scale or spectrum. This means that the intensity of one word's meaning can be increased or decreased in relation to the other word. Comparative constructions are also categorized under this type. For example:

High ≠ Low (gradation: medium)

Young ≠ Old (gradation: teenager)

Hot ≠ Cold (gradation: warm)


Notice that when a word becomes negative, it does not point to the opposite or antonym. For example:

'These shoes are not old' → It does not mean that they are new.

Complementary antonyms (non-gradable antonyms)

Complementary antonymy is the relation between two words whose meanings are opposite but not on a scale. Each of these words is the absolute opposite of the other and they can be used independently. For example:

Dead ≠ Alive

Here, we do not say 'deader' or 'more dead', so comparative construction is not normally used.

Yes ≠ No

Single ≠ Married

Reverse antonyms

Reverse antonyms are two words that have a reverse relationship and they are dependent pairs. Take a look at the examples below:

Night ≠ Day

Push ≠ Pull

Pack ≠ Unpack


Hyponymy happens when the meaning of one form is included in the meaning of another in some type of hierarchical relationship. It can be found in verbs, adjectives, and nouns. There are three major terms used in hyponymy: 'hypernym' which refers to a general term, 'hyponym' which refers to a more specific term, and 'co-hyponyms' which refer to the hyponyms of the same level. Take a look at the examples below:

Green, white and blue are the hyponyms of 'color'.

Here, 'color' is the hypernym of green, white and blue. Green, white and blue are co-hyponyms of each other.

Cat, dog, and horse are the hyponyms of 'animal'.


The relationship between hyponyms can be expressed by the phrase 'is a kind of'. It is a way of testing if a word is a hyponym or not. Sometimes, this is the only way of ensuring a word’s meaning. For example:

'Dog is a kind of animal'. → dog is a hyponymy of animal.


A member or a set of members of a group that best represents the group as a whole is called a 'prototype'. An example of a group that is easily recognized by people is a prototype. Here are some examples:

Chair is the prototype of 'furniture'.

As you can see, people recognize 'chair' as a better example than bench or stool.

Robin is the prototype of 'bird'.

Here, 'dove', 'pelican' and 'robin' are all hyponyms of 'bird', but not all of them are good and recognizable examples of 'bird'. 'Robin' is the most well known member of 'bird'.

Homophones and Homonyms

When words with different spelling and meanings have the same pronunciation, they are defined as homophones. When words with the same spelling and pronunciation have different meanings, they are described as homonyms. Here are some examples:

Right/Write → homophones

Meat/Meet → homophones

Race (a competition for speed)/Race (people who belong to the same genetic stock) → homonyms

As you can see, the two types of 'race' are not related in meaning. They just have the same form.

Bat (flying animal)/bat (used for hitting the ball) → homonyms


Homographs are words that have different meanings and pronunciations but are spelled the same. For examples:

Desert (noun) /ˈdez.ɚt/ Vs. Desert (verb) /dɪˈzɜrt/

Here, 'desert' as a noun means 'an isolated area' and 'desert' as a verb means 'to leave someone in a difficult condition'.


Polysemy happens when a word has more than one meaning and all its meanings are listed under one entry in a dictionary. Here are some examples of polysemous words:

Mouth (noun) → mouth of a river, mouth of an animal, mouth of a cave.

As you can see, it has different meanings but they are related by sense.

Light (adjective): color, not heavy, not serious.

Difference Between Polysemy and Homonymy

Polysemy refers to one word with multiple meanings but homonymy refers to words with the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings. Notice that homonyms are words from different word classes but in polysemy, words must stem from the same word class. In polysemy, we have multiple meanings for a word but all those meanings are related to each other. For example:

Date as a noun and date as a verb are homonyms.

Here, date as a noun means 'a fruit', 'a point in time' or 'a social or romantic meeting'. Date as a verb means 'to have a romantic meeting' and 'to write a particular day'.


Metonymy is a relation between words in which a word or phrase is used to represent something else that is related to it, often through contiguity or association. In metonymy, the word or phrase being used is not meant to be taken literally, but rather as a symbol or representation of something else. Take a look at the examples:

I swear to the crown. → 'Crown' is a metonym for 'king' and 'queen'.

Here, 'crown' is a representative symbol of the monarch.

I drank the whole bottle. → 'Bottle' is a metonym for 'water/liquid'.

Here, there is a close connection between them.


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