I'm building a web site where I have a list of topics, and I need to denote the relation between them. e.g.:

Topic: Italian.
Ancestors: Languages -> European
Predecessors: Verbs, Nouns...

Another example may be:

Topic: Internet Explorer.
Ancestors: Software -> Browsers
Predecessors: Menus, Add-Ons, keyboard-shortcuts...

And so on.

The problem is that I'm not sure "Ancestors" and "predecessors" are suitable.

Other options I had in mind are subtopics/supertopics, and children/parents.

What do you think? Which way articulates the meaning best?

  • Predecessor would mean "that has been followed or replaced by another".
    – apaderno
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:03
  • Thanks a lot for the comment and the edit kiamlaluno. We use these terms in computer science to denote a relation I thought was similar, but maybe I got it wrong..
    – Oren A
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:06

5 Answers 5


How about category and subcategory?

  • +1 Agreed; I can't see anyone struggling with this terminology.
    – CJM
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:06
  • My only nitpick with this answer is that the way the examples are written, it should be category and subcategor_ies_.
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:49

The precise words for what you mean are: hyponym (to be more specific) and hypernym (to be less specific).

The typical example is: horse is a hyponym of animal.

About your language example, I would say that Italian (as a language) is a hyponym of European language, which in turn is a hyponym of language. But the relationship between Italian and verb or noun is a different one. I would say that Italian contains words (and words is a hypernym of verbs and nouns).

  • Thanks. I'm not sure about the user-friendliness of these terms though..
    – Oren A
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:03
  • You can say that spoon is an hyponym of cutlery, when cutlery is used to mean "knives, forks, and spoons used for eating or serving food." You cannot say Italian is the hyponym of European language, as Italian has a more restrictive meaning than European language. (Italian is one of the languages spoken in Europe.)
    – apaderno
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:31
  • Good words, but perhaps too obscure for the desired purpose.
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 14:50
  • 1
    These words are not really that obscure. Linguists use them all the time. Any English major will know them. Heck, I got taught them in 6th grade. More to the point, these terms are certainly the most accurate on this page.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 18:08

What about hierarchies?

In OLAP terminology one can have multiple overlapping hierarchies with different relationships. This is quite flexible and comfortable approach, I daresay concept


You can consider using the pairs superset/subset or branches/leaves.



Italian is an instance of a language.

IE and FireFox are instances of internet browsers.

Technical stuff follows:

There is a distinction between subset and member (or instance) but sometimes they overlap. For a set (a collection of things) one can have a subset (a subcollection). A given set can have many members -inside- it. A subset is of the same kind as the superset. A member can be any kind. A subset of size exactly 1 is usually thought of as a member or instance (because it sounds weird informally to call a subset of size 1 'a subset', i.e. "Italian is a subset of Romance languages", though technically correct sounds goofy when you think of Italian as a single language (linguistically one can think of Italian as the set of only partially mutually intelligible dialects spoken by people on the Italian peninsula).

So if you start with the set of all languages, you can then have the subset of European languages, and a subset of that the Romance languages and then the subset (or better, the instance) Italian.

The subset relation forms a hierarchy (formally a partial order) described by 'is-a'. A circle is an ellipse is a curve.

A hypernym is the word for the concept that is a parent/ancestor/predecessor/superset/superclass of the hyponym.

A hyponym is the word for the concept that is a child/descendant/successor/subset/subclass of the hyponym.

As to member, because membership is not usually thought of as a transitive relation, it doesn't really have all these successor/predecessor terms.

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