Is there a linguistic or academical name for those verbs which express a general action compared to those which express a specific action?


  • do, make (general) vs. perform, build (specific)
  • have (general) vs. carry (specific)
  • get (general) vs. achieve, obtain (specific)
  • use (general) vs. apply (specific)
  • say (general) vs. whisper, explain, confess (specific)

I found this, but boring verbs vs. specifical verbs does not sound very academical to me...

  • 3
    General vs. specific is hyponymy. Say is a hypernym of whisper, for example. However, as is always the case with all these -nyms — hypernyms, hyponyms, synonyms, antonyms... —, they only really exist in context. For example, carry is not necessarily more specific than have. "I have a Colt in my left pocket" is way more specific than "I carry a concealed weapon". And do has so many meanings that it's a hypernym, a hyponym, and an antonym of itself. Likewise with get. So I'm not really sure what you're after.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 30, 2012 at 13:27
  • I recently ran across the term light verb, which appears to answer your need. I didn't see anything in the literature to suggest that it's particularly useful to me, so I'm not in a position to advance this as an Answer; but it's apparently of some importance to linguists, particularly computational linguists. Dec 1, 2012 at 12:52

1 Answer 1


The main division is between lexical verbs, primary verbs and modal verbs. Do and have are primary verbs, that is, they can function both as auxiliary and main verbs. All the others in your list are lexical verbs. Lexical verbs can be sub-divided into several further categories, but I know of no system that specifically divides verbs in the way you suggest.

However, for words nouns and verbs a structure of hyponymy is sometimes present. This is a hierarchy in which one general word covers several specific ones. A poodle is a kind of dog, which is a kind of animal, which is a kind of creature. In your list, it might be possible to say that explain was a hyponym of say, but I don’t think the system holds up particularly well for the examples you have given.

  • Well, I listed a group of verbs which, to me, seemed to exemplify what I meant in the question. I never meant them to be the most important part of my question. I was just wondering if there are names for these verbs better than general action verbs and specifical action verbs, which are the names I gave in the title of the question. I suppose I could use these names, then. Nov 30, 2012 at 14:22

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