Hypernyms and hyponyms are semantic classes of words. The word semantic refers to the meanings of words.
Hypernyms are more general in meaning. The prefix hyper– means “over” or “high.” (Think of the word hypertension, or high blood sugar.) By contrast, hyponyms are more specific. The prefix hypo– means “under” or “below.”
Hyponyms are words that are related. Their meanings are specific instances of their hypernym. In other words, it’s a parent–child (or a category–item) relationship.
Examples of Hypernyms and Hyponyms
See below for a few examples of hypernyms and hyponyms:
- diamond, emerald, and ruby are hyponyms of the word gemstone
- poker, roulette, and craps are hyponyms of the word game
- cyan, navy, and ultramarine are hyponyms of the word blue (which, in turn, is a hyponym of the word color)
- fork, knife, and spoon are hyponyms of the word utensil
- Hyponyms don’t have to be nouns. Other parts of speech can be hyponyms, too. Take the words roast, parboil, and sear. They’re all hyponyms of the verb to cook.
- Not every group of hyponyms has a hypernym. For example, English doesn’t have a higher-level word that refers specifically to aunt and uncle. But Spanish does. The plural noun tíos can cover both aunts and uncles.
Want more info on hypernyms and hyponyms? Then see these resources:
- Victoria Fromkin and Robert Rodman, An Introduction to Language, Sixth Edition (Forth Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 168.
- Edward Finegan, Language: Its Structure and Use, Fifth Edition (Australia: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008), 181-183.
*Photo of diamond: English Wikipedia user CrucifiedChrist