• Bats and rats are mammals.
  • 1 and 2 are positive integers.
  • Oaks and maples are trees.
  • Carrots and cake are food.

I seek a word to describe this, the process of finding a concept that encompasses several given concepts. Is there such a word?

  • 1
    Generalization? – user1635 Nov 1 '14 at 7:41
  • 1
    Classify, label, categorize, group. You have classified bats and rats as mammals. You have labeled carrots and cakes as food. – Shah Nov 1 '14 at 7:47

Your question relates to the concepts of hyponymy and hypernymy, which describe the specific-to-general relationships that your examples illustrate. We can think of branching trees of examples or subordinate ideas, with general or superordinate concepts at the top and more specific concepts branching out below.

Hyponymy / hypernymy demonstrates "type of" relationships, aka to the computer scientist as "is-a relationships."

In your first example, bats and rats are hyponyms of the hypernym "mammal." In turn, mammal, along with marsupial and reptile, are hyponyms of the hypernym "animal." You could take "bat" as a hypernym and branch down with the hyponyms megabat and microbat. And so on.

The same relationships apply to your other examples as well.

One important use of hypernyms is in noun definitions, as in: an X is a Y that... or X is a Y of..., in which X is a hyponym and Y is a hypernym of X.

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One possible term is level of abstraction. Each level you move up has less specific detail and more general characteristics of the group or groups.

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  • The question appears to ask for a verb, in which case "abstracting". – tobyink Nov 1 '14 at 16:10

To build on Spehro and Rusty's answers [and a couple of the comments], it all boils down to classification. You create a taxonomy of classes, with one base class. All other classes extend the base class, or one of its descendants, in a tree. The root of the tree, the base class, is the most general.


Moving up or down a level can be described differently; it depends on what the tree abstracts. You could say to generalise (move towards the root) or specialise (move away from it). It depends on the context.

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