Is there a linguistic term for words which are semantically meaningless in English? For example, suppose we have the sentence:

Although he already has a car, he bought a new one.

Here, although would be a semantically meaningless word (doesn't really contain any information at all).

Also, are there any books/papers with a lexicon of such words?


As some people in the comments pointed out although is not meaningless: it informs you that the speaker did not expect the subject to buy a new car.

What I am trying to say is that I am looking for some class of words that contain so little information that if you drop them in a sentence, the sentence will not lose its meaning (or at least the amount of losing information is almost zero).

For example, the phrase he already has a car informs us that the subject has a car, and the phrase he bought a new one informs us that the subject bought a new one.

The word although contains almost no information and if we drop it, the sentence will barely lose meaning. But if we drop any other word (except for the determiners "a"), the sentence will lose meaning.

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    Although you think although is semantically meaningless, in reality it is not. Dec 8, 2016 at 10:20
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    The term is function word, but in that sentence although is not meaningless: it informs you that the speaker did not expect the subject to buy a new car. In fact, such "implicit negative contexts" can license grammar which would otherwise be impossible. I explored this in an old answer, if you are interacted.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 8, 2016 at 10:22
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    I think you should tell us what your definition of "semantically meaningless" or "information" is. It seems to contain a very useful information. Consider replacing it with "while" or "because" or other conjunctions. The meaning will be completely different or nonsensical.
    – user140086
    Dec 8, 2016 at 10:26
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    What's the difference between "semantically" meaningless and just plain meaningless? Does "semantically" add any information to your title?
    – bof
    Dec 8, 2016 at 10:39
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    @DanBron the definitely has semantic value. But it doesn't have 'encyclopedic' content, to borrow the terminology of Distributed Morphology. There are some morphemes which really don't have any semantic value, such as the interfix -i- in humaniform (though not everyone considers them to be morphemes.) Dec 8, 2016 at 11:11

5 Answers 5


Specifically answering your request for a lexicon of such words, this webpage includes a link to download multiple lists of function words.

"Although" appears in its list of English conjunctions. The class of function words are defined by this source as including Auxiliary Verbs, Conjunctions, Determiners, Prepositions, Pronouns, and Quantifiers. The OP may choose to disregard some of these sub-categories as not applicable to your purpose.


People who study that branch of linguistics known as relevance theory describe words like although as 'procedural items'. Words like although are said to not have any conceptual content. Rather they work by constraining the inferential processes of the listener. The word although can be thought of as cutting off further implicatures that would otherwise follow from the following clause.

So we can describe such words as a) not having any conceptual content and b) being procedural items.

Many function words in English can be thought of as having no conceptual meaning.

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    Other terms would be pragmatic meaning or that they encode information structure. Dec 8, 2016 at 11:37

As commented by various users above, the word although is not meaningless. It has a grammatical function and specific meaning that expresses a contrast.

The word although contains almost no information and if we drop it, the sentence will barely lose meaning.

Even though the sentence might barely lose meaning, the sentence becomes ungrammatical because there is no conjunction/coordinator to connect the two clauses. There should be one in order for the sentence to be grammatical.

Such words as although, when, if, etc. are called subordinating conjunction:

a conjunction introducing a subordinate clause, as when in They were glad when I finished.

It uses subordinating because it introduces a subordinate clause which is not the main clause and depends on the main clause.


Since you asked for a lexicon (or collection) of such words, I'll offer the closest broad category which comes to mind, though the words themselves are not "semantically meaningless". I thought of the term "stop words" from computer science. (See Wikipedia as a starting point.) However, I suspect words chosen for this purpose (textual analysis) are based upon frequency and not linguistic function. You can Google for "stop word lists" and pick what seems the most credible collection, or the one which best suits your purpose.

Wikipedia cites the Stack Overflow blog among its sources:

One of our major performance optimizations for the "related questions" query is removing the top 10,000 most common English dictionary words (as determined by Google search) before submitting the query to the SQL Server 2008 full text engine. It’s shocking how little is left of most posts once you remove the top 10k English dictionary words. This helps limit and narrow the returned results, which makes the query dramatically faster.

The online Wolfram Programming Lab has a DeleteStopWords function I've used when creating word-clouds from long texts. However, I haven't figured out how to display Wolfram's list of stop words.

  • Stop words are indeed based on frequency, and as such, this answer doesn't provide what OP is looking for (I won't DV though, as you're being helpful and clearly put effort in).
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 8, 2016 at 13:45
  • I offered this answer thinking that the OP's purpose in examining this class of words could be more important than the terminology he used. I probably should have asked for more explanation of that purpose in a comment. Since the OP gave an example which itself doesn't match the "semantically meaningless" definition, I wondered if he is just looking for a class of words to which "although" might belong. Then evaluate what are the common features of those words. The filler/function words he's seeking are probably a subset of a high-quality stop words list. Thanks for your recognition. Dec 8, 2016 at 15:50
  • However, I do recognize where my answer missed the mark. He gave an explicit criteria: "I am looking for some class of words that contain so little information that if you drop them in a sentence, the sentence will not lose its meaning." Many stop words do not fit that requirement. Dec 8, 2016 at 15:56
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    Right, that was my thinking when I made my comment. Stop words add no information in forming textual searches, or, put another way, they can be dropped from a textual search with no or minimal loss of information. But that's not true of the actual texts themselves.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 8, 2016 at 15:57

This Wikipedia article on Speech disfluency says:

A speech disfluency, also spelled speech dysfluency, is any of various breaks, irregularities (within the English language, similar speech dysfluency occurs in different forms in other languages), or non-lexical vocables that occurs within the flow of otherwise fluent speech. These include false starts, i.e. words and sentences that are cut off mid-utterance, phrases that are restarted or repeated and repeated syllables, fillers i.e. grunts or non-lexical utterances such as "huh", "uh", "erm", "um", "well" and "like", and repaired utterances, i.e. instances of speakers correcting their own slips of the tongue or mispronunciations (before anyone else gets a chance to).

One could argue that speech disfluency is not entirely meaningless. For example, contrast these sentences:

Kathy and her... um... friend went home to her place.

The filler here may indicate that the speaker is uncomfortable with declaring the friend's social relationship with Kathy.

Kathy and her friend went home to her... um... place.

The filler here may indicate that the speaker is hesitating to reveal where they ended up.

  • This is a weird answer. One, it doesn't answer the question. Two, it brings up speech disfluency, a disorder which causes speakers to lose control of their speech, and then immediately goes on to discuss ways in which fillers may be used intentionally.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 8, 2016 at 14:15

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