In this picture

of a riddle that abuses grammar.

The word 'yet' is being used as a noun, but 'yet' is a conjunction. Is there a term for this?

Transcript of the relevant part of this image, just in case it gets taken down:

What is a word made up of 4 letters, yet is made up of 3. Although is written with 8 letters, and then with 4. Rarely consists of 6, and never is written with 5.

  • Not an answer, since I can't find a name for it, but when using a word used as a word, and not in the normal sense, it should be highlighted with single quotes. See How do I refer to a word? and Talking About Words.
    – Davo
    Mar 20, 2017 at 18:18
  • Oh. I thought that was a style thing and differed between American English and British. The first comment on the accepted answer seems to agree. And a lot of these nitpicks (like splitting infinitives) tend to be hyper-corrections. I'd like to see a more authoritative source (which English, unlike French, doesn't have too much of) but I'll change it anyway for now.
    – Poik
    Mar 20, 2017 at 18:22
  • 3
    It's called the use–mention distinction, where orthography (brackets, "scare quotes", different font, etc.) is often used to unambiguously convey the much rarer "mention" form, rather than ordinary language "use". Your example makes no such use of clarifying orthography, which is why it looks clumsy and confusing. Mar 20, 2017 at 18:27
  • That appears to be the answer. So 'yet' is a signifier there? Also, Answers shouldn't be in comments. :P Thank you.
    – Poik
    Mar 20, 2017 at 18:32
  • @Poik: I'm half-inclined to think if that was all you were looking for, the question would be General Reference. Referring to your example, I'd be perfectly happy to say yet is a "mention" usage (and I've no strong opinion on whether to use bold, italics, or quotes for either of the two "marked" terms there). But I'm not all that keen on plain yet is a mention, even in contexts where the intended sense is obvious. Perhaps SE.linguistics could provide a more concise single-word term for it (I don't think signifier cuts it). Mar 20, 2017 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


The term for referring to a word in a sentence instead of actually using the word is "use-mention distinction." In standard English it is normal to offset the mentioned word in some way (here on ELU, and in many other places, we prefer italics, but quotes are common as well); so if you want to make the sentence proper you might write

What is a word made up of 4 letters, yet is made up of 3. Although is written with 8 letters, and then with 4. Rarely consists of 6, and never is written with 5.

  • 1
    So the answer to "What is it called when a word is used to refer to the word, not its meaning?" is mention.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 20, 2017 at 18:34
  • Quite. Even though I know it's actually just poor style, without some help from orthography, I keep thinking OP's example is some kind of riddle - because of the apparent contradictions, reminiscent of the more I dry, the wetter I get (A:towel). Mar 20, 2017 at 18:34
  • If I wanted to make it proper, there shouldn't be a comma splice in the first sentence. It is a riddle, hence the purposeful misuse of punctuation and lack of italics/quotes. I was more interested in the name. Thank you all.
    – Poik
    Mar 20, 2017 at 19:32
  • 2
    To be even more specific, when a word is mentioned rather than used without being put in quotes or italics to denote this, it results in what is called a "category error". Mar 20, 2017 at 22:44

The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) uses the rather odd phrase "word used as [a] word" to describe such instances:

7.58 Words and phrases used as words. When a word or term is not used functionally but is referred to as the word or term itself, it is either italicized or enclosed on quotation marks.

The Associated Press Stylebook (2002) uses the similar phrase "words as words":

words as words The meaning of this phrase, which appears occasionally in this book and similar manuals that deal with words, is best illustrated by an example: In this sentence, woman appears solely as a word rather than as the means of representing the concept normally associated with the word.

In mainstream U.S. publishing, "word used as [a] word" has become the standard way to refer to usage of this type.

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