In the book Concepts, Ontologies, and Knowledge Representation, the author makes a distinction between syntagmatic and paradigmatic semantic relations. That's clear enough - but then he raises a third kind of semantic relation called attributes (see attachment).

Class attributes are assigned values that are attached to the concept and will therefore be the same for all instances of a concept.

  • instance attributes can be assigned different values for each instance (extension) of a concept.
  • Local attributes are same-name attributes attached to different concepts.
  • Global attributes can be applied to all concepts in a particular conceptual structure, for example, in an ontology.

I don't understand how to compare these three kinds of semantic relations. Attribute relations seem so unlike the paradigmatic/syntagmatic distinction. Furthermore, I also learned that semantic relations have an arity, i.e. the number of concepts a semantic relation can associate. But this doesn't connect to any of the aforementioned three semantic relations, or does it?

Any insight would be appreciated!


1 Answer 1


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Think of these relations as a system for choosing, like choosing what to wear:

  • Syntagmatic: Which things should I wear above my waist and which below? Blouses and skirts are in a syntagmatic relation to one another, because they occupy different slots in the structure, above and below waist on the human body.
  • Paradigmatic: Now I want to decide what to wear above, whether a blouse or a T-shirt. Blouses and T-shirts are in a paradigmatic relation to one another because they occupy the same slot in the structure, above waist.
  • Attributive: I've settled for a T-shirt. Now which colour should I wear today, red or blue? Red and blue are in attributive relation to one another, because they may distinguish elements of the same type. Note that an attribute is independent of syntagm or paradigm. A blouse goes above the waist and a skirt below (syntagmatic relation); both can have the attribute colour = blue. A blouse and a T-shirt go above the waist (paradigmatic relation); both can have the attribute colour = red.

The image above was extracted from this blog, which I really recommend.

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