Content Word

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A content word is a word whose referent is (largely) specified outside of the natural language grammar.



  • (Wikipedia, 2011)
    • In linguistics, when we examine morphemes, words fall into one of two different classes: open class and closed class. An open class is a word class that accepts the addition of new items, through processes such as compounding, derivation, inflection, coining, borrowing, etc.
    • Words in open class (content/lexical words) carry the primary communicative force of an utterance, are variable in form (inflected) and their distribution is not definable by the grammar. Typical open class words are nouns, verbs, adjectives.[1], adverbs.[2] However, this varies between languages; for example, in Japanese, pronouns are open class, while verbs are a closed class - with a few exceptions, such as サボる (saboru, "to ditch class") and ぐぐる (guguru, "to google") new "verbs" are formed by appending する (suru, "to do") to a noun.
    • Open-class words are not considered part of the core language and as such they can be changed, replaced or dropped from the common which can encompass many thousands of them. For living languages, this change is noticeable within an individual lifespan, and usually faster. Closed-class words, on the other hand, are always relatively few and resistant to change. They are unproductively and are generally invariable in form (except demonstratives, modals and some pronouns).


  • (WordNet, 2009) ⇒
    • a word to which an independent meaning can be assigned
  • (Wikipedia, 2009) ⇒
    • Lexical items are single words or words that are grouped in a language's lexicon. Examples are "cat", "traffic light", "take care of", "by-the-way", and "don't count your chickens before they hatch". Lexical items are those which can be generally understood to convey a single meaning, much as a lexeme, but are not limited to single words. Lexical items are like semes in that they are "natural units" translating between languages, or in learning a new language. In this last sense, it is sometimes said that language consists of grammaticalized lexis, and not lexicalized grammar.
    • The entire store of lexical items in a language is called its lexis.
    • Lexical items composed of more than one word are also sometimes called gambits, lexical phrases, lexical units, lexicalized stems or speech formulae. The term polyword listemes is also sometimes used. Common types of lexical chunks include[1]:
      • Words, e.g., "cat", "tree".
      • Phrasal verbs, such as "put off" or "get out".
      • Polywords, e.g., "by the way", "inside out".
      • Collocations, e.g., "motor vehicle", "absolutely convinced".
      • Institutionalized utterances, e.g., "I'll get it", "We'll see", "That'll do", "If I were you", "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
      • Idioms, e.g., "break a leg", "was one whale of a", "a bitter pill to swallow".
      • Sentence frames and heads, e.g., "That is not you think", "The problem was".
      • Text frames, e.g., “In this paper we explore...; Firstly...; Secondly...; Finally ...".
    • An associated concept is that of noun-modifier semantic relations, wherein certain word pairings have a standard interpretation. For example, the phrase "cold virus" is generally understood to refer to the virus causes a cold, rather than a virus that is cold.


  • (Crystal, 2008) ⇒ David Crystal. (2008). “A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 6th edition." Blackwell Publishing.
    • QUOTE: lexis (n.) A term used in LINGUISTIC to refer to the vocabulary of a LANGUAGE … A UNIT of vocabulary is generally referred to as a lexical item, or LEXEME. A complete inventory of the lexical items of a language constitutes that language's dictionary, or LEXICON … 'in the lexicon' as a set of lexical entries. … … Lexis may be seen in contrast with GRAMMAR, as in the distinction between 'grammatical WORDS' and lexical words: the former refers to words whose sole function is to signal grammatical relationships (a role which is claimed for such words as of, to and the in English); the latter refers to words which have lexical meaning, i.e. they have semantic CONTENT. Examples include lexical verbs (versus auxiliary verbs) and lexical noun phrases (versus non-lexical NPs, such as PRO). A similar contrast distinguishes lexical morphology from derivational MORPHOLOGY.


  • (Carter, 1998) ⇒ Ronald Carter. (1998). “Vocabulary: Applied Linguistic Perspectives. Second edition. Routledge.
    • QUOTE: One distinction which the above discussion clearly necessitates is that between grammatical words and lexical words. The former comprises a small and finite class of words which includes pronouns (I, you, me), articles (the, a), auxiliary verbs (must, could, shall), prepositions (in, on, with, by) and conjunctions (and, but). “Grammatical words like this are also variously known as functional words, 'functors', 'empty words'. “Lexical words, on the other hand - which are also variously known as 'full words' or 'content words' - include nouns (man, cat), adjectives (large, beautiful), verbs (find, wish) and adverbs (brightly, luckily). They carry a higher information content and, as we have seen, are syntactically structure by the grammatical words. … Also, while there are a finite number of grammatical words, there is a potentially unlimited number of lexical words. .. But grammatical words remain generally more immutable. This gives some obvious ground, therefore, for linguists to be able to refer to lexical words as an open class of words while grammatical words constitute a closed class. … Finally, we should note that the term word has occurred again. Here it is used informally but also because lexical 'word' and grammatical 'word' are key terms and are extensively employed in the literature. But they are reproduced here with an awareness of the theoretical importance of the notion of lexeme. In fact, the distinction drawn above between lexemes and word-forms enables an important theoretical point to be made concerning grammatical and lexical 'words': there is a regular co-occurrence between a grammatical words and its lexeme; but lexical words take on many different forms. For example, different lexical word-forms 'sing', 'sang', 'signs', 'singing', 'sung', are realized by a single lexeme SING. But a grammatical word will normally have a single word-form realized by a lexeme.