This can refer to at least three things:

  1. A textual representation of a _
  2. A sonic representation of _
  3. _ , the superconcept containing 1 & 2.

What are specific...words for each of these concepts?

  • 3
    What is wrong with word? It seems to fit all three blanks in the question...
    – yoozer8
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 20:49
  • 1
    Written word vs spoken word vs word.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 21:49
  • 1
    Let me point one deficiency of your examples: if we imagine that there are two distinct terms A and B that fit under __ for 1 and 2, respectively, you have still failed to describe the difference between them (because it is completely acceptable that A=B, and still that its textual and sonic representations are a different sense of the term word).
    – Unreason
    Commented Dec 6, 2011 at 17:02

4 Answers 4


A word as it appears on the page is an orthographic word. Each separate occurrence of an orthographic word is a token. So, in the sentence ‘The cat sat on the mat’ there are six tokens. If we don’t want to count ‘the’ twice, we say there are five types. Words that share the same basic meaning are lexemes. They are the words we look up in a dictionary. Thus, walks, walking and walked are three orthographic words, but they represent only one lexeme. The smallest unit of meaning is a morpheme. Walk is a morpheme all on its own, but walks, walking and walked are each made up of two morphemes, walk and the inflectional endings -s, -ing and -ed.

There is no special term for a spoken word. Phoneme, however, describes the smallest unit of sound that can indicate a change in meaning. In the word pit there are three phonemes, /p/, /ɪ/ and /t/. We can change each of these in turn and produce three different words, ‘bit’, ‘pat’ and ‘pin’.

There is no term other than word to describe both written and spoken manifestations of the smallest unit of grammar that can stand on its own as a complete utterance.

  • Utterance is listed as "a word or phrase that someone speaks" in macmillan, with a tag linguistics; though it does extend to phrases. +1
    – Unreason
    Commented Dec 6, 2011 at 17:06
  • @Unreason: The characteristic of an utterance is its lack of grammatical structure and that is indeed more typical of spoken than of written language. I should perhaps have said that I have borrowed the wording in my last paragraph from David Crystal’s ‘Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language’. Commented Dec 6, 2011 at 17:24

Is the distinction you are looking for:

oral: spoken

verbal: subsumes oral and includes written text

[Note: my source here is Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words. I am aware that a few experts have pointed out errors in DTW much as Bryson pointed out the numerous errors in the experts' published work.

  • No, I am specifically referring to the representations of a concept, within the context of linguistics I guess. Those two terms describe properties of the words I'm looking for but are not those words themselves. The specific words would be the oral representation, the textual representation, and the verbal superconcept. Commented Dec 6, 2011 at 1:26

Written word vs spoken word (or utterance) vs meaning


Perhaps you're thinking of "morpheme," the written expression of a lexeme, and "phoneme," it's audible form.

Technically, both morphemes and phonemes refer to subdivided, irreducible lexical units, however in the extended sense they can be used to refer to words in general, per your question.

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