A word is heterosemous if it has two or more semantically related meanings, each of which is associated with a different type of morphosyntactic category. An example is the English word peel which functions as a noun in the sentence I threw the orange peel in the bin, but as a verb in Would you peel the orange for me?. Heterosemy can be seen as a special case of polysemy, with the difference that in polysemy, the related meanings of a form is associated with the same lexeme. For example, the word hard has the related meanings "solid" (as in a hard surface) and "difficult" (as in a hard question), but since the word is used as an adjective in both cases, it is straightforwardly classified as an instance of polysemy. On the other hand, the two uses of peel are associated with two different lexemes, one being a noun and the other a verb. Linguists have been unwilling to apply the label polysemy to such cases since polysemy is traditionally considered to be a relation between different uses of the same lexeme,[1] and thus not applicable to words belonging to different categories.

Heterosemy is a concept in linguistics.

The term heterosemy was first introduced by Gunnar Persson,[2] but is usually associated with the work of Frantisek Lichtenberk.[3]


  1. Lyons (1975, p. 561)
  2. Persson (1986)
  3. Lichtenberk (1991)


Lyons, John (1975). Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Persson, Gunnar (1986). "Homonymy, polysemy and heterosemy: The types of lexical ambiguity in English.". In Karl Hyldgaard-Jensen and Arne Zettersten (ed.). Symposium on Lexicography III: Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Lexicography, Copenhagen, 14–16 May. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Lichtenberk, Frantisek (1991). "Semantic Change and Heterosemy in Grammaticalization". Language. 67 (3): 475–509. doi:10.1353/lan.1991.0009.

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