Definition of polysemy in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈpɒlɪsiːmi/
Pronunciation: /pəˈlɪsɪmi/


[mass noun] Linguistics
The coexistence of many possible meanings for a word or phrase.
Example sentences
  • For my part, therefore, I am inclined to see features of both monosemy and polysemy in a word's semantic structure.
  • In doing this, lexicographers generally take the view that homonymy relates to different words whose forms have converged while polysemy relates to one word whose meanings have diverged or radiated.
  • Valéry puts to work the regulated polysemy of the word ‘capital’.



Pronunciation: /pɒlɪˈsiːmɪk/
Example sentences
  • These pairs often display regular polysemic relations, i.e. they constitute systematic sense combinations that are valid for more than one word.
  • The rich polysemic nature of Kanak languages, some intricately entwined with Polynesian vocabularies, testify to these congruences of aquatic and terrestrial meaning.
  • This obscurity might be the reverse of their fruitfully polysemic character: only dead terms can be univocally defined!


Pronunciation: /pɒliˈsiːməs/
Pronunciation: /pəˈlɪsɪməs/
Example sentences
  • There should be a way of saying that there is one polysemous lexeme with limitations on how you can use its singular.
  • They may, however, be put off by homographs and polysemous words, such as the various uses of bank and crane.
  • It might be unclear, in any given case, whether a word should be regarded as polysemous or monosemous.


Early 20th century: from poly- 'many' + Greek sēma 'sign'.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: poly|semy

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.