Word sense

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In linguistics, a word sense is one of the meanings of a word. For example, a dictionary may have over 50 different senses of the word play, each of these having a different meaning based on the context of the word's usage in a sentence, as follows:

We went to see the play Romeo and Juliet at the theater.

The coach devised a great play that put the visiting team on the defensive.

The children went out to play in the park.

In each sentence we associate a different meaning of the word "play" based on hints the rest of the sentence gives us.

People and computers, as they read words, must use a process called word-sense disambiguation[1][2] to find the correct meaning of a word. This process uses context to narrow the possible senses down to the probable ones. The context includes such things as the ideas conveyed by adjacent words and nearby phrases, the known or probable purpose and register of the conversation or document, and the orientation (time and place) implied or expressed. The disambiguation is thus context-sensitive.

A word sense may correspond to either a seme (the smallest unit of meaning) or a sememe (the next larger unit of meaning), and polysemy is the property of having multiple semes or sememes and thus multiple senses.

Related terms[edit]

Polysemy differs from homonymy, where two different words (lexemes) happen to have the same spelling and pronunciation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ N. Ide and J. Véronis Word Sense Disambiguation: The State of the Art, Computational Linguistics, 24, 1998, pp. 1-40.
  2. ^ R. Navigli. Word Sense Disambiguation: A Survey, ACM Computing Surveys, 41(2), 2009, pp. 1-69.

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