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Lexem ( ancient Greek λέξις léxis , German 'word' ) is a technical term used in linguistics , especially semantics and lexicology . It designates a linguistic unit of meaning that disregards the concrete form ( morphology ) and the syntactic function. The expression is ambiguous. The exact meaning depends on the underlying theory and the context.


Lexemes provide an order of the vocabulary of a language. Lexemes are a semantic concept for ordering declensions , conjugations and other inflections and their derivatives. Lexemes as "carriers of conceptual meaning" are "related to certain objects or phenomena of extra-linguistic reality".

There are various approaches that narrow or broadly define the term lexeme.

  • Syntactic words that share essential features such as basic meaning and part of speech are combined to form a lexeme. The various inflections of a verb belonging to the same lexeme: So, sing , sing , sing instances of a lexeme; singing and singing are two lexemes. In this sense, the term encompasses the inflectional paradigm of grammatical words .
  • The mentalistic approach, according to which a lexeme is an independent unit of the vocabulary in the mental lexicon ( vocabulary element or lexical unit ), is largely compatible with this .
  • In a broader, etymologically oriented understanding, either only the root of the word , e.g. B. [ sing ], or the entire “ derivative paradigm ” (including the word forms sing , singer ) is called a lexeme.

Lexemes interact semasiologically with one another, cf. Homonymy , polysemy , multisemy .

Definitions and procedures

A lexeme is an abstract unit of meaning in a language. In order to identify this unit, one must first isolate it from other meaningful units - even within individual words. Since most lexemes occur in different words, lists are usually created in which the lexeme occurs. The commonalities of the words in a list then make it possible to derive the individual lexeme. The lexeme is therefore an abstract, common basic meaning. A lexeme is concretized (also: realized , updated ) in the respective word forms.

Lexeme in the strict sense

In the narrower sense, a lexeme is the unit of meaning of a word paradigm.

  • (I) sing e , (you) sing st , (he) sing t , (we) sing en , (you) sing t , (they) sing en : 4 different word forms , 6 syntactic words, 1 lexeme
  • write en , wrote st , wrote en etc. have a common lexeme, which is available here in different concretizations

Inflection and syntax of the word forms play no role in the lexeme. The part of speech is relevant, however, in this narrow definition and lexemunterscheidend (Wortartdependenz):

  • sing and singers concretise two different lexemes ("sing", "singers")

A lexeme in this narrower sense is also called a semantic word , lexical word , lexicon word , lexical unit , lexical element or system word .

Lexeme in the broader sense

Occasionally, cross-word type meaning units are called lexemes. One then speaks of a lexeme association .

  • The Lexem (the Lexemverband) SINGEN is concretized in the verbs singen and vorsingen , in the nouns singer and song as well as in the adjective sangbar
  • The lexeme (the lexeme association) FLIEGEN is realized among other things in the words fly , fly or flight

With an even broader understanding, lexemes can also be meaningful word components, multi-part expressions and phrases.

  • Word components: The following lexemes can be used in the expression inaccessible : UN, BE, GEH, BAR
  • Multi-part expression, multi-word expression: put into effect ; half and half ; Black Friday
  • Phrase: sit on someone's neck

Differentiation from other terms


Word is often given as a synonym for lexeme and it is said that the semantics of lexeme is used instead of the word. With the term lexeme, however, semantics emancipates itself from the vague and semantically external word concept.

The concept of the lexeme can break through the concept of the word both “upwards” and “downwards”.

Probably more for lexicographical reasons, the focus is on the possibility that entire groups of words ( phrases ) can form a single lexeme if "they form an insoluble semantic unit" (example: bite the grass ; step on someone's tie (in idiomatic Meaning)).

In addition, word components can also be used as lexemes "if they have an independent meaning or function in the construction of word forms" (example: 'un', 'be', 'geh', 'bar' in the adjective inaccessible ).

Word form

The lexeme as an abstract semantic unit of a language system must be distinguished from its concrete realizations occurring in speech and writing, which are variable for grammatical or syntactic reasons (cf. word form , grammatical word, syntactic word).


If the smallest meaningful linguistic unit is called a morpheme , a lexeme is a lexical morpheme as opposed to a (only) grammatical morpheme (grammeme) . A morpheme can express a semantic meaning or a grammatical function. A lexeme is just a semantic unit of meaning. In classical semantic terminology, a lexeme consists of at least one lexical morpheme and any number of grammatical derivative morphemes, but abstracted from the possible grammatical inflectional morphemes.


In the special terminology of André Martinet and his students, the lexeme is a "lexical (.) Unit (..) formed by a single monem", a lexical monem as opposed to the morpheme (then in the narrower sense) as a grammatical monem .


The lemma is the entry or the individual keyword in a dictionary or lexicon. It is the lexicographical citation form (name) of a lexeme, which is usually formed according to certain conventions, e.g. B. in German for nouns the use of the nominative singular.


When the term lexeme is used meaningfully, it is not bound by word boundaries. A “lexeme in a broader sense” can therefore be a word, part of a word or a phrase .

Whole phrases are particularly suitable as lexemes "if they have an idiomatic (non-transparent) meaning."

idiomatic meaning
"Go to the ceiling"

Sem and Semem

Sem is (sometimes) called the smallest unit of meaning in semantic component analysis. According to this terminology, a lexeme consists of one or more semes. The delimitation of the term semem depends on what one understands by a semem. The same applies to the concept of the semanteme .


Simplex (basic word)

A simple lexeme is called simplex (also: basic word; single word lexeme ). The simplex is neither derived nor compound and can serve as a starting point for further word formations .

"Go" is simplex of go , go off , starting and offense


A paralexeme (Greek para 'at', lexis 'word'), also: multi-word lexeme , forms the opposite of the simplex. In contrast to the simplex, a paralexeme is the result of a combination or compound ( compound ) of several words (see also: word formation ).

dt. the god-be-with-us , french arc-en-ciel 'rainbow'

Phrase lexem

The word group lexeme is a paralexeme, which is also composed of at least two lexical units, but which together form an entry in the lexicon. (See also: Phraseologism ) Word group lexemes are "semantically indissoluble, lexicalized word groups".

Phrase lexemes
use , repair , common practice , et cetera (etc).


Archilexeme refers to a lexeme "whose content is identical to that of a whole word field " ( Coseriu ) and is therefore part of the content of all lexemes belonging to the word field. So it is a generic term (hyperonym) of several lexemes.

An archilexeme is “the lexical realization of an archiseme ” that can consist of one or more semes .

"The archilexeme often represents the lexemes subordinate to it in texts and usually functions in the definition or (lexicographically) explanation of meaning as the genus proximum (hyperonym)". The content of a member of the word field results from archilexem plus differential meaning.

The archilexeme as a generic term for the field members of a word field is in a hyponymic relationship to these , i.e. That is, they are hyponyms from him or, in other words: "Archilexeme and lexeme are related to one another in inclusion."

An archilexem is not always implemented lexically.

Technical Lexeme

In the field of compiler construction , lexemes are sequences of lexical atoms. Lexemes are therefore syntactic atoms or symbols.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Lexem  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Dtv-Brockhaus . 1992.
  2. a b c d Ulrich: Basic Linguistic Concepts . 5th edition. 2002.
  3. ^ Hadumod Bußmann: Lexicon of Linguistics . 3. Edition. 2002.
  4. Left, among other things: Study book linguistics . P. 63
  5. a b luck: Metzler-Lexikon language . 3. Edition. Metzler, 2005.
  6. After Brandt, Dietrich, Schön: Linguistics . 2nd Edition. 2006, p. 136 .
  7. a b c d e f Schwarze, Wunderlich: Handbuch der Lexikologie . 1985, (9), pp. 7 .
  8. ^ Kühn: Lexicology . 1994, p. 1 .
  9. David Crystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language . 1993, p. 104 .
  10. Paul Puppier: lexicon . In: André Martinet (Ed.): Linguistics . 1973, p. 36 .
  11. Veronika Haderlein: The lexeme term . In: Stefan Langer, Daniel Schnorbusch (Ed.): Semantics in the Lexicon . Narr, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8233-6099-X , p. 17, 21 ( books.google.de ).
  12. a b c quoted from Lewandowski: Linguistic Dictionary . 4th edition. 1984.
  13. ^ Roebuck: Archilexem . In: Metzler-Lexikon language . 3. Edition. 2005.
  14. a b fur: linguistics . 1996, p. 195 .
  15. ^ Prechtl: Abstraction . In: Metzler-Lexikon language . 3. Edition. 2005.