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I always find it difficult to discuss the meaning of a word because I don't really have a definite meaning of word in my head.

Cook refers to the verb (to cook) but it can also refer to the noun (a cook). Would you say cook is one word with multiple meanings or that the verb and the noun are separate words? Is a word simply the arrangement of the letters?

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Guess what? Dictionary makers take different positions on this. There are clear cases of both, and an enormous body of cases that fall between them. It's your language; you decide. As long as the right sounds come out, nobody cares whether you think bear and bare are the same word, just like nobody cares whether you think the verb bear has some relationship with the noun bear. Most people think that pulley and pull are related, for instance. – John Lawler Nov 19 '13 at 0:38

Where a word has the same form for both the verb and the noun, a dictionary will normally give separate entries for each, or, at least, differentiate between them in a single entry.

Verbs and nouns themselves usually have different forms, but these are not entered separately in a dictionary. You don’t look up the plural noun cooks. You look up the singular cook. You don’t look up the past tense of the verb cooked. You look up the basic form cook.

The form of a word you look up in a dictionary is called a lexeme (also known as a lemma). The word as it occurs in a text, or the word that a word processing program counts, is called an orthographic word (or a token).

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To a first approximation, dictionary listings are normally classified by

(A) word (different homonyms, such as bear1 (to carry etc) and bear2 (the animal)

(B) different intercategorial polysemes, such as


noun ...

verb ...

(C) different polysemes (senses)



  1. A piled-up mass, as of snow or clouds. See Synonyms at heap.

  2. A steep natural incline.

  3. An artificial embankment. ... [AHDEL]

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