So I'm doing an assignment on the semantics of the word 'over'. Everyone in our semantics class was asked by the lecturer to pick a piece of paper out of a hat, he then said that we were required to write a 2500 word essay on the semantics of the word we had received. As such everyone in the class has received different words and no ones sources would benefit each other as there might be little to no relevance in the semantic or syntactic determination of eithers word.

I was hoping someone on this site might be able to point me in the right direction of where I could find decent sources to aid me in this assignment. Any relevant material would be greatly appreciated.

PS: I have started the essay and at the moment I am mainly discussing the lexical ambiguity of 'over' and how that depending on what part of speech it falls under, determines its semantic e.g. noun, preposition, adverb etc... although I'd prefer to have some reference material that would further better my essay

  • I'd start with the OED for an overview of historical development. MED could be helpful, too. Jan 20, 2016 at 19:51
  • I had a look at a previous year students assignment and he doesn't go into the etymology of the word he was given, so I think we are only supposed to go about explaining the semantic of the word in terms of its modern semantic, thanks very much tho, if it comes down to it I may look into its etymology to see how the meaning of the word has developed over time
    – roughosing
    Jan 20, 2016 at 20:01
  • 1
    Not so much the eytmology, but the history of how the meaning in English was extended from purely spatial to more figurative uses, and how conversions (i.e. to non-prepositional uses) branched off at various times. Jan 20, 2016 at 20:05
  • Ah i see, thanks very much, if I'm struggling for word count I might include some of that, but any more help on where i could look (syntax books even, or semantic books that might have dealt with over) would be a great help, but I understand that its not your everyday sort of thing that people would know off the top of their head
    – roughosing
    Jan 20, 2016 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


Claudia Brugman, The Story of Over. Very comprehensive, but unfortunately hard to get.

Over is extremely ambiguous lexically, and it doesn't point at any one simple "meaning".

  • The gate is over the hill.
  • The helicopter is over the hill.
  • The cop pulled the driver over.
  • The cop pulled the chair over.
  • The cop pushed the chair over.
  • Thank you so much, this is exactly what I was looking for. I know I'm about 1000 words in so far and all I've discussed is the possible meanings for 'over' using examples such as you have above, I'll see if my college library might have a copy or if there's a pdf anywhere to be found that'd be swell!
    – roughosing
    Jan 22, 2016 at 15:42

'Over' is a preposition meaning that the thing (or event) is above the referent. It can be used adverbially, as in 'go over the bridge', and it can have idiomatic nuance, as in 'look over the paper' (which means to look at the paper, while your head is over it), or 'turn the paper over' (which means to lift the paper and place its obverse side above the place where the paper was). It is 'overloaded' (loaded with more than one use) for non-spacial uses: In math, it means that a number is greater than another, (although it still has a spacial meaning with writing one number above another in a fraction). With time, 'over' (without a referent) means 'ended'. In betting, the noun 'over' means [the thing that is] greater than (a math usage again).

  • 1
    the lexical ambiguity is in the fact that if i ask you to define 'over', it has multiple possible definitions pertaining to its context in a sentence. in the two following sentences, "The film is over" and "The next Town is over the hill", the word 'over' has two completely different meanings, thus it is lexically ambiguous, is it not? the definition for lexical ambiguity is stated as "The lexical ambiguity of a word or phrase pertains to its having more than one meaning in the language to which the word belongs. "Meaning" here refers to whatever should be captured by a good dictionary."
    – roughosing
    Jan 20, 2016 at 17:41
  • My mistake: 'over' (sans referent) can mean 'ended'. Anyone know why?
    – amI
    Jan 20, 2016 at 19:33
  • It is also part of the phrase "left over", and can sometimes be used on its own in that sense ("Four and a little bit over").
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 20, 2016 at 19:35
  • it's no problem, althought that is why i thought it was lexically ambiguous, although if you fellows had any insight into what materials would aid me in this assignment I would be very grateful
    – roughosing
    Jan 20, 2016 at 19:41

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