::UPDATED:: Dictionaries will often present a single word, and then inflected/derived relational forms (such as "house", and then provide listings for "houses", "housed" and "housing").

I'm looking for the equivelent of a "head word" for synonyms (much like dictionaries provide for collective variants/inflections of a lemma).

So the questions are;
a) Does such a thing exist?
b) If so, what is it called?
c) If so, are there any examples and/or resources for such?

Example1: [word] > [word-lemma] > [collective-lemma]
Example2: "Domiciles" > "domicile" > "home"
Example3: "sprinted" > "sprint" > "run".

There, I hope that is clearer :D

::IGNORE:: //The below is apparently unclear/confusing - please respond to the above version//

Is there a word/term/phrase that means the designated word to represent a collection of related words?

Dictionaries use a "head" or "root" word for variants (House: >Houses, >Housing, >Housed) - is there such a thing for Synonyms and Word Families?

I've Googled and I've searched here (and Yahoo Answers etc.). I'm not sure if there is such a term.

If there is, can someone please tell me the name? Further, can someone point to a source (such as a thesaurus) that uses it?

If there is no such term/reference - what would you suggest as a way to implement it? Should I simply go for the shortest word in the group (with the same/similar part of speech/morphological attributes (mood/gender etc.)? Is there a better way?

Thank you.

  • Try Prototype. And you may also find WordNet and FrameNet of use.
    – jlawler
    Mar 4, 2014 at 18:18
  • Thank you @jlawler - that seems pretty close (Prototype theory). Unfortunately, I don't see any resources to reference such categorisation/labeling. I use WN, and I don't think it has a singular reference/group-head feature in the data (at lest, not that I've found?). I don't use FN, so no idea if that has such a feature/data? Mar 4, 2014 at 19:00
  • I think if you give some more info regarding what you're TryingToImplement, that might help. It seems to me you're trying to create a synonym ring aka synset and ForSomeUnknownReason you think you need a CanonicalRepresentativeWord to represent the set. Mar 4, 2014 at 22:14
  • FYI, as I software developer, I'm wondering if your implementation really needs a CanonicalRepresentativeWord since you seem to think "any standard method" will do. It seems to be just a functional aspect of the implementation that you have in mind. I'm just trying to second-guess some of your needs in order to help. :) Mar 4, 2014 at 22:24
  • Basically, yes, I want a canonical form to refer to. Rather than simply reduce a word to a lemma (of form), I want to reduce it to a lemma-lemma (of both form and group). Mar 4, 2014 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


Juri Apresjan, a famous Russian lexicographer, uses the term "synonymic series," whose dominant is "a lexeme which has the most general meaning in the given series." For further details see Apresjan 2000, Systematic Lexicography.

For example, the dominant of the synonymic series "strong, stout, sturdy, stalwart, tough, tenacious" is strong.

Incidentally, the level and scope of lexicographic research in Novyj objasnitel'nyj slovar' sinonimov russkogo iazyka (Apresjan et al. 2004, 2nd edition), compiled by Apresjan's research group, is unprecedented. Unfortunately, no dictionary of synonyms published in English, German, or French comes even closer to the comprehensiveness and detailedness of Apresjan et al. 2004.

  • Oh, thank you Very much! That's the type of thing I'm looking for. (If I add that to the concept of Prototype Theory, I have a "whole", and the right words :D). // 'whose dominant is "a lexeme which has the most general meaning in the given series."' - that's the key part. Now all I have to do is fathom a way to try and identify dominants from each collection. Mar 5, 2014 at 9:57
  • Sorry I cannot vote it up (lack enough Rep.) - but I'll flag it as the answer, as it seems the closest to what I'm after, and was incredibly pain-free! Mar 5, 2014 at 10:19

The word you are looking for is "lemma", also called "headword".

  • As far as I can see, "lemma" and "head-words" are used to point to a "root word", one without inflection. Thus dictionaries may list a Head/Lemma and then reference variants (such as "house" > houses, housing, housed). I see no such thing in thesauri :( Mar 4, 2014 at 18:54
  • 1
    A lemma is not the same as a root. In Latin dictionaries (for example) the lemma of a verb is the first person singular present indicative active, an inflected form. A root is not a word, but an abstraction.
    – fdb
    Mar 4, 2014 at 18:58
  • Okay, so I may be using the wrong words (I'm not a Linguist, I'm asking a Linguistic question). So, ignorance aside ... // Is there an established method of selecting a single word out of a group of synonyms and/or related/associated words? If yes, then is there a name for that method and/or to describe/label that word? // Example : a collection of Synonyms (A) (B) (C) and (D). (D) is selected to represent the collective because it is (XYZ reasons). (D) is called an "NNN" as it is the representative. // (Hope that makes sense). // If none of that exist, how could I create it? Mar 4, 2014 at 19:34
  • 1
    @theclueless1: You need to put some more work into your question. Include multiple examples. One problem is you keep talking about "synonyms" but then go on just to specify lists of differing inflected forms instead. Which are you interested in? Or are you really interested in some overarching term that covers both and more? Mar 4, 2014 at 19:37
  • @fdb I am no expert. Would Latin "ferre, tuli, latum" be a good example of the distinction between root and lemma. They all lemmatize to "fero". As for their roots, they are said to be related.
    – babou
    Mar 4, 2014 at 22:12

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