Nouns can quite easily be represented in semantic hierarchies...

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...with "hyponyms" serving as specific instances of "hypernyms."

Q: Does anyone know of similar representations of verbs?

Some notes:

  • I'm looking for systematic representations of semantic relationships

  • I'm not looking for categorization of verbs by behaviour (for this, we can turn to books like English Verb Classes and Alternations by Beth Levin, which does argue that verb behaviour is determined to a great extent by meaning but does not arrange verbs hierarchically)

  • I'm not looking for WordNet, which groups words into "synsets" but does not represent verbs hierarchically

As an example: "get" can have the meaning of "come into possession of"; branching down from that meaning, we can identify "obtain" and "acquire," which mean "come into possession of by unidentified methods;" below "obtain/acquire," we might divide into "find" (come into possession of by chance), "receive" (come into possession of passively), and "procure" (come into possession of actively); below "procure" we might have "buy/purchase," "steal," "trade for," and so on.

Thanks in advance! And if the crowd feels that this question would find a better home in the Linguistics Stack Exchange, please let me know.

ADDED: I understand that in computer science hyponymy is expressed as an "is-a" relationship. How do computer scientists express the relationship among commands or actions?

  • 3
    It would be very helpful (not to mention civil) for downvoters to provide some rationale.
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 19, 2014 at 20:17
  • I've tried sketching this out on my own in the past, and it's always fallen apart because of 1) ambiguities between classes (is "magenta" a "red" or a "blue"? Is "violet" a "purple" or a "flower"? does "to have" go under "to be" or "to do"?) 2) Even when you consider multiple meanings as separate words, a category's unifying concept might not have a single word to describe it, or if there is one, it's more abstruse than I'm comfortable with. 3) Sometimes there are orthogonal conceptual streams, e.g., look/see, listen/hear, touch/feel, sniff/smell.
    – Spencer
    Jun 12, 2017 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


Hierarchies are useful when they arise naturally and have metaphoric hooks.
But hierarchies require an Up/Down dimension, and that's not present in some perceptual fields.

Verbs use taxonomies, of various sorts, since there are various sorts of verbs.

Here's an example of a taxonomy of English Verbs of Unaided Human Locomotion, an unfinished web project I set up as an example for the students in my lexical semantics class.

And here's another example, a taxonomy of English Verbs of Cutting, with the various subclasses and dimensions of distinction (most of which are not hierarchical) laid out.

Those are for actions, which are complex, but observable.
There are also taxonomies for verbs of perception, emotion, and thought,
which are complex but unobservable.

For instance, many verbs subcategorize according to Stative/Inchoative/Causative dimensions.
Or Presupposed/Entailed/Asserted/Denied dimensions.
Or any of a range of other possibilities.

  • Thanks John Lawler! Your English Verbs of Unaided Human Locomotion is particularly interesting. I'm curious about your statement "hierarchies are useful when they arise naturally and have metaphoric hooks." Two things: 1) if hierarchies are systems of representation, how do they arise naturally? Would organisms have suggested their own taxonomies if Linnaeus hadn't beat them to it? 2) by "metaphoric hook," do you mean a "tree-like" structure?
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 19, 2014 at 18:58
  • Not necessarily tree-like. Slime-mold-like is probly a better metaphor. Concentric classes can generate natural hierarchies, matryoshka-like -- though one must still determine which direction is Up -- but mostly they're spinoffs from other clines or binary dimensions with some other metaphoric source for the vertical dimension (More, Good, Alive/Active, Rich/Powerful, etc). Nov 19, 2014 at 19:04
  • @Rusty: You could say organisms suggest their own taxonomies through their DNA, in much the same way some "semantic taxonomies" may be suggested by etymology. But I don't really think semantic categories (or words corresponding to those categories) necessarily have a a potentially useful underlying hierarchical structure. Just as you couldn't meaningfully create a single hierarchical structure containing all the information on the Internet (How many categories would you have at the top level, for example? And what would be "good" top-level categories?). Nov 19, 2014 at 19:08
  • @FumbleFingers: I certainly don't presuppose feasibility here. And no, they don't necessarily have an underlying structure. But some semantic categories do, i.e. hypernomy and hyponymy of nouns. I'm curious: does the example I provided ("get" et al.) not suggest that we may, in fact, be able to represent verbs in this way?
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 19, 2014 at 19:11
  • The basic level categories are mostly projections of human body parts and their uses. Properties of entities (i.e, noun-like thingies) and general properties, from Frawley. Nov 19, 2014 at 19:12

How about the following?


Walk, run, cycle, drive, ride.


Ride a horse, Ride a motorcycle, Ride on a bus.

  • Thanks WS2. However, I'm looking for something more catholic and systematic, rather than a couple more examples. And the "ride" example doesn't divide "ride" into more specific verbs.
    – Rusty Tuba
    Nov 19, 2014 at 18:39

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