Is it possible to consider a POS category of a word as semantic aspect?

Assume we have unknown word. But when we know part-of-speech it can give us a hint about semantic meaning. Is that right?

  • 7
    Only a hint. A classic for Ling101 is to show that the usual semantic criteria do not correspond to the parts of speech. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 9:19
  • This would depend on your theoretical framework. I don't see how there could be a single objective definitive answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 12:46
  • 2
    what do you mean by "semantic aspect"?
    – MGN
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


The definition of parts of speech is an uneasy mixture of semantic and formal properties. So nouns and verbs can be identified largely semantically with some important reference to formal properties whereas things like prepositions are defined purely formally. That's why they are not a very good foundational category.

Of course, you cannot just say something like 'nouns' are things and 'verbs' are actions, but it's actually not a bad place to start. They also have different formal properties (more in some languages than others) but when you try to look at a language to see which formal properties map to which part of speech, you start with the semantics.

So if I have a pattern like 'X(N) Verbed a Y(N) with a Z(N)', I can make certain assumptions about the meanings of the blanks knowing what part of speech they are as well as how they are typically used in a pattern like this.

Hope this helps. It would be useful if you could clarify a bit more what you're trying to achieve by your question.


Syntax (form) determines semantics (meaning), and not the other way around! So if you know what part of speech your expression belongs to then you know in principle what sort of interpretation to give it. But an ambiguous word ('bank', 'trade', 'love') may be of one and the same category syntactically, yet have more than one interpretation (i.e. be true of different kinds of things). That is why semantic disambiguation of excludes lexical disambiguation.

  • What is the missing word after 'of' in the last sentence? Do you mean syntactic (instead of lexical) disambiguation? -- Lexical disambiguation uses both semantic context and syntactic context.
    – amI
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 22:05

Sometimes, in some cases.

If I may hearken back to an introductory lecture on Language Theory and Processing: According to the principle of compositionally (as first coined by Gottlob Frege) the meaning of a sentence is a function of the meaning of its parts. So, structural relations (syntax) give rise to semantics. Here specifically meaning compositional semantics.

Of course, it is very important to note that this once popular theory seems to get tied-up with predicate logic and rather dated theories on computational linguistics and AI language processing, and Generative Grammar as well.

  • "The meaning of a sentence is a function of the meaning of its parts" - and they way they are combined! This is important, because otherwise, you wouldn't be able to derive a difference between John loves Mary and Mary loves John - actually, it is this part which implies your next sentence that it is the structure that gives rise to the semantics of the complex expression, an not only the meanings of its individual parts. Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 15:35
  • Hence 'structural relations (syntax)'. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 12:04
  • Yes, but that didn't follow from your (partial) definition because that one only inlcuded the meanings of the individual parts, this was my point ;) Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 15:05

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