I'd like to ask whether someone has ever tried to classify verbs (and other parts of speech) in a relatively small number of semantic groups /not necessarily disjoint/ and if yes, what groups they have come up with?

Some (non-exhaustive) examples of groups:

The verbs say, talk, tell, speak, whisper, converse, hint, communicate, negotiate, message, call, ask, inform, etc all refer to some exchange of information; the verbs do, work out, make, create, build, form, shape, establish, found, think out, compose, etc express the action of creating/doing something; go, move, displace, come, arrive, run, walk, drive, ride, jump, fly, flit, etc express movement/displacement; be (be, sind, wess), exist, represent, serve as, possess, have, will, shall, become, able, appear, belong to, etc express some state of existence or belonging; and so on...

  • 1
    Well, for starts, there's Beth Levin's English Verb Classes and Alternations, which classifies verbs by what syntactic rules they govern, and that turns out to classify them semantically, too. Here's the list of verbs, by category; note that a verb can belong to several categories. This only covers cyclic governed alternation rules, however; there are other kinds of rules that can be used to classify verbs. For instance, Equi and Raising are both cyclic governed rules.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 22:40
  • And then there's the pragmatic/semantic classification of complement-taking predicates.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 2:41
  • Seems to me that you are looking for a thesaurus.
    – prash
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 4:08
  • Not a normal thesaurus, but perhaps an ontological thesaurus. Of course, it would have to be limited to one language, because every language has its own ontologies. Or an historical thesaurus, like Buck's A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 17:34
  • Yes, the thesaurus is kind of what I am interested in, however, not in the sense I need to know the synonyms of a particular word, rather than the semantic classes themselves that cover a category of words (in this case - verbs). (PS I try to program a more effective and faster search algorithm for a dictionary.)
    – Newbie
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 9:30

1 Answer 1


To add to the lists John Lawler offered, here is another one, adapted by Wilson (1999:48) from Sutton and Walsh's (1979) fieldwork guide for Australia. This one would be a bit more general, with less classes:

  • (intransitive) state
  • change of state
  • motion
  • communication
  • emotion
  • bodily functions
  • impact and violence
  • holding and transfer
  • environmental, meteorological, celestial

Interestingly, this list does not include verbs of creation that you've (rightfully) mentioned in the question.

  • Thank you for the list. I think the creation verbs are included in the change of state or impact, so this is not a problem.
    – Newbie
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 10:43
  • 1
    In fact, if one considers creation verbs, then they should automatically consider as a separate group destruction verbs, which complicates the classification. Therefore, the proposed classification is better ;)
    – Newbie
    Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 11:56
  • "they should automatically consider as a separate group destruction verbs" -- good point! Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 13:53

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