Hyperonyms – What they are, function, uses and examples

We explain what hyperonyms are, their function in language, and what hyponyms are. Also, examples of hyperonyms and their hyponyms.

Hyperonyms name categories of elements without entering into particularities.

What are hyperonyms?

It is known in linguistics as hyperonyms or hyperonymous words to those terms that are capable of encompassing others from the point of view of their meanings, that is, they are more general and therefore belong to a larger lexical category. Those terms, on the other hand, more specific and belonging to a lesser category, are known as hyponyms.

A hyperonym, therefore, establishes a relationship of hyperonymy with respect to its hyponyms, at the same time that the latter establish a relationship of hyponymy with respect to the first. They cannot exist without each other. The difference between one and the other has to do with the degree of semantic specialization, that is, with the precise and determined of their meanings.

Thus, a hyperonym, being a more general term (for example: “dog”), has a set of semantic features or be more minimum to define its category (for example: “animal”, “quadruped”, “domestic”, “capable of barking”).

Instead, hyponyms are more specific terms (for example: “chihuahua”), so they have in addition to those same semantic features, other additional ones (for example: “small size”, “hairless”, “high-pitched”) and that differentiate them, in addition, from other hyponyms that are in the same category (for example: “komondor”) and that have their own features (for example: “large”, “very woolly”, “gravely barking”).

See also: Semantics

Function of hyperonyms

Hyperonyms and hyponyms, from a linguistic point of view, serve to establish word hierarchies, when organizing semantic clouds or groupings of terms with similar meanings.

But in general, we use hyperonyms in colloquial speech to be able to name things more efficiently, since we should not learn the proper and specific name of everything, but we can handle ourselves on a broader level, of general categories. So, following the previous example, we may not know what a dog’s breed is called, but we know that we can refer to it as “dog” and they will understand us.

Examples of hyperonyms and hyponyms

Here are some examples of hyperonyms and their corresponding hyponyms:

dogPoodle, Chihuahua, Komondor, Doberman, Sharpei, etc.
carsports, convertible, cargo, coupe, racing, etc.
planetEarth, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, etc.
planttree, bush, fern, grass, palm tree, cactus, etc.
jobmechanic, welder, driver, salesman, doctor, etc.
weaponpistol, revolver, spear, knife, bazooka, bow, etc.
AsianChinese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, etc.
mealpizza, hamburger, pasta, salad, steak, chorizo, etc.