Seven Types of Meaning in Semantics with Examples


Meaning is very closely related to the human capacity to think logically and to understand. If a reader goes through any word, he/she needs to understand the meaning of this particular word and understand the meaning correctly; the reader should have grammatical, syntactic, morphological, and semantic knowledge.


Semantics deals with meaning without any reference to the context of the situation. According to Geoffrey Leech, there are at least seven types of meaning in semantics. They are as follows:

  1. Conceptual Meaning
  2. Connotative Meaning
  3. Social Meaning
  4. Affective Meaning
  5. Reflected Meaning
  6. Collocative Meaning
  7. Thematic Meaning

Conceptual meaning

In semantics, conceptual meaning is the literal or core sense of a word. This type of meaning is also known as logical, cognitive, or denotative content. It refers to the dictionary meaning, which indicates the concepts. Conceptual meaning aims to provide an appropriate semantic representation of a sentence. It is the base for all the other types of meaning.

If a person wants to relate one particular meaning of any word with another particular meaning, he/ she needs to know the concept of the word. For example, the meaning of the word ‘Woman’ can be specified as-

  • Is a human
  • Not a male
  • Is an adult

Connotative Meaning

Connotation points to a meaning that uses a particular word beyond its conceptual meaning. That means when a word has more than one meaning, it is called connotative meaning.

These meanings may vary from society to society, culture to culture, or person to person. They include not only physical characteristics but also psychological and social properties.

This type of meaning is open-ended. For example, some people say women are soft-hearted, submissive, while others say they are frauds, cheaters, etc. They define women with their psychological perspectives.

It is also unstable. For example, in the past, women were attributed as frail, cowardly, irrational, inconsistent. They are now treated as strong-willed, hard workers, etc. In the future, they will probably be treated differently.

Social Meaning

It is a type of meaning based on the aspects of society. When people from a particular society define language in their way, that is called social meaning. This meaning is based on dialect. The dialect of London differs from the dialect of the USA in regards to pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Time: The language of the sixteenth century differs from the nineteenth century.

Province: The language of English literature like simile, metaphor, irony etc. differs from the language of science and law.

The conceptual meaning and the social meaning of any piece of language would be different. The words ‘domicile’, ‘residence,’ ‘abode,’ ‘home’ all refer to the same thing, but each word belongs to a particular situation of use.

  • Domicile (very formal situation)
  • Residence (formal situation)
  • Abode (poetic situation)
  • Home (general situation)

Affective Meaning

It refers to the speaker’s feelings, emotions, attitude towards the ongoing context: the pitch level, intonation, and tone of the speaker changes based on the situation.
For example, if we talk with a motherless child, we will be very emotional, and we will talk in a very soft manner. In the same way, when we become angry, our voices become louder.

Reflected Meaning

In semantics, reflected meaning is an event whereby a particular word or phrase is correlated with multiple sense or meaning. It is a kind of irony.

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company.

For example, by using the word gay, the poet tries to mean something joyful. However, this word usually refers to homosexuality.

Collocative Meaning

A collocation is a familiar grouping of words, especially words that habitually appear together and convey meaning by association. In collocative meaning, a particular word goes with another particular word.
Pretty and handsome share familiar ground in the meaning ‘good-looking,’ but these words are different at their appropriate use case.

In details-

  • Pretty is appropriate for – girl, woman
  • Handsome is appropriate for – boy, man

Thematic Meaning

Thematic meaning is a preference between alternative grammatical structures like active-passive, simple to complex, complex-compound, etc. That means the meaning of a sentence will be the same, but the structure will differ from each other. It deals with how the speaker portrays the message through word choice, the order of words used, and emphasis.

For example-

  • He is so week that he cannot work. (This is a complex sentence).
  • He is too week to walk. (This is a simple sentence).

Here the structures of the sentences are different, but the meaning is the same.

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