Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Lexical Ambiguity

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English

Before explaining the term lexical ambiguity, let's define the word 'lexical'. 'Lexis' means 'words'. Lexical is the adjective form of lexis. So 'Lexical ambiguity' means 'word ambiguity'.

What is lexical ambiguity?

Lexical ambiguity happens when a word with two or more meanings is used in a way which causes more than one possible interpretation. This often happens when the speaker/author doesn't have the same background information as the listener/reader (ie. Not enough contextual information). For example:

Give me the bat!

The bat can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. A baseball bat or a cricket bat (used for sports).

  2. A flying, nocturnal animal.

Without context, it isn't clear whether the speaker is referring to the first or second of these meanings. This can cause ambiguity.

What are some examples of lexical ambiguity?

Ambiguous words can arise from different parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, or a combination of these. Here are some examples of lexical ambiguity:

Noun-noun:

Metal - 'a substance' or 'a music genre'

Fan - 'a machine' or 'an admirer'

Lexical Ambiguity, Metal Fan Example, StudySmarterLexical Ambiguity noun-noun example, pixaby.com

Verb-noun:

Scrub - 'to clean' or 'special clothes worn by surgeons' or 'exfoliator'

Noun phrase:

Funny man - 'amusing man' or 'strange man'

What are the different types of lexical ambiguity?

Lexical ambiguity can be classified into two types: polysemy and homonymy. Both cases involve an ambiguous meaning. The differences lie in the word form and the relationship of the multiple meanings.

Lexical Ambiguity, Polysemy vs Homonymy, StudySmarterPolysemy and Homonymy, StudySmarter Originals

Polysemy

Polysemy describes a single word with many related meanings. The multiple definitions are listed under one entry in a dictionary, eg, as a noun or verb (word form 1 has meaning 1 and meaning 2).

Some examples of polysemic words include:

Bar (noun).

  • Let's go to the new bar to have some drinks! = a place to buy and drink (alcoholic) drinks - noun.
  • There is a new sandwich bar next to my place = a place in which a particular kind of food is the main thing that is served.
  • Who left a bar of chocolate on the table? = a unit (amount) for chocolate or soap.
  • He installed some bars on the windows = a long straight piece of metal or wood.

Get (verb).

  • Did you get the invitation? = receive.
  • She went to the shop to get some eggs = obtain/buy.
  • What time does your father usually get home? = reach/arrive at a place.

Light (adjective).

  • Do you always travel light? = not weighing a lot.
  • Thanks to the new windows, this room is now so light and airy = lit by the natural light of day.
  • The light green dress is better on you = pale colours.

Homonymy, homophone and homograph

Homonymy refers to words that are pronounced the same or spelt the same (or both), but their meanings aren't related to each other. The different words are listed under separate entries in dictionaries, eg, as a noun and verb (word form 1 has meaning 1; word form 2 has meaning 2).

Some examples of homonyms are:

Bar (noun & verb).

  • Let's go to the new bar to have some drinks! = a place to buy and drink (alcoholic) drinks.
  • The new law bars smoking in public places = to prevent.

Light (adjective & noun).

  • Do you always travel light? = not weighing a lot.
  • Could you turn on the light, please? = a lamp.

Cool (adjective & noun).

  • "How was the concert?" "It was so cool!" = awesome.
  • Take a deep breath. You need to keep your cool! = to stay calm.

There are two more specific terms that only concern either spelling or pronunciation. These are called homographs and homophones.

A homophone is a word that has different meanings and spellings but is pronounced the same. For example, a while - awhile, bee - be, cell - sell, cord - chord, beet - beat.

A homograph is a word that has different meanings and pronunciations but is spelt the same. For example, to live - live (live show), to lead - a lead (metal), a bass (a fish) - a bass (bass guitar).

Lexical Ambiguity, Homograph and Homophone, StudySmarterThe differences in homonyms, StudySmarter Originals

What is structural ambiguity?

Structural ambiguity occurs when the structure of a sentence causes multiple interpretations. It is also known as syntactic ambiguity. For example, the sentences/phrase below can cause some ambiguities:

He bought some blue books and pens.

  • Interpretation 1: both the books and pens did he bought are blue, or;
  • Interpretation 2: only the books are blue.

Students who mess around occasionally apologize.

  • Interpretation 1: the students (who mess around occasionally) apologize, or;
  • Interpretation 2: the students (who mess around) occasionally apologize.

A modern English textbook

  • Interpretation 1: a textbook about modern English, or;
  • Interpretation 2: an English textbook that is modern.

Lexical vs. structural ambiguity - what's the difference?

Lexical and Structural Ambiguity differ in what causes the multiple interpretations.

Lexical Ambiguity refers to an ambiguity that is produced by the multiple meanings of a word. The listener/reader isn't sure what the speaker/writer means at the word level.

Structural ambiguity refers to an ambiguity that is caused by the structure of a sentence.

That being said, in both cases, clarity and accuracy depend on how the information is transmitted, received, and processed. If the speakers/writers have the same reference or background information as the listeners/readers, ambiguities can be avoided. If both parties have little in common, the chance of experiencing ambiguities is higher.

Lexical Ambiguity - Key takeaways

  • Lexical Ambiguity happens when the multiple meanings of a word cause several interpretations.
  • Some examples of Lexical Ambiguity include (1) metal - 'a substance' or 'a music genre'; (2) scrub 'to clean' or 'special clothes worn by surgeons' or 'exfoliator'; (3) funny man - 'amusing man' or 'strange man'.
  • Lexical Ambiguity can be classified into two types: Polysemy which refers to a word with more than one meaning, and Homonymy which involves words that are pronounced or spelt the same, or both, yet their meanings are not related to each other.
  • Structural ambiguity occurs when the structure of a sentence causes multiple interpretations. It is also known as Syntactic Ambiguity.
  • Lexical ambiguity is caused by the multiple meanings of a word, while structural ambiguity is caused by the structure of a sentence.

Lexical Ambiguity

Lexical ambiguity is an ambiguity that is caused by the multiple meanings of a word.

An example of lexical ambiguity is metal - 'a substance' or 'a music genre'.

The types of lexical ambiguity are polysemy and homonymy.

Structural ambiguity is an ambiguity that is caused by the structure of a sentence.

Lexical and structural ambiguity differ in terms of what causes the various interpretations. Lexical ambiguity is caused by the multiple meanings of a word, whereas structural ambiguity is caused by the structure of a sentence.

Final Lexical Ambiguity Quiz

Question

What is Lexical Ambiguity?

Show answer

Answer

Lexical Ambiguity is an ambiguity that is caused by the multiple meanings of a word.

Show question

Question

What are the two types of Lexical Ambiguity?


Show answer

Answer

The two types of Lexical Ambiguity are Homonymy and Polysemy.

Show question

Question

What does Polysemy mean?


Show answer

Answer

Polysemy defines a word that has many related meanings, eg rose - 'a flower' and 'the past form of rise'.

Show question

Question

Are the words dish in these sentences examples of Polysemy?

  • To cook this recipe we need an ovenproof dish.

  • This restaurant only serves vegetarian dishes.


Show answer

Answer

Yes, they are polysemies. The first dish refers to 'a type of plate', the second means 'a type of food'. They differ in meanings but are listed under one dictionary entry.

Show question

Question

Are the words park in these sentences polysemies?

  • It's forbidden to park here.

  • Let's have a picnic in the park.


Show answer

Answer

No, they are not polysemies. The first park is a verb and the second is a noun. Although they have different meanings, they are listed under separate dictionary entries. Thus, park is a homonym.

Show question

Question

What does homonymy mean? 


Show answer

Answer

Homonymy refers to words that are pronounced the same or spelled the same or both, but their meanings aren't related to each other.

Show question

Question

True or false - Homophone is the broader term of homograph and homonymy.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or false - Homograph is about words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Are the words live in these sentences a pair of homonyms, homographs, or homophones?

  • We used to live in Paris.

  • This is a live broadcast.


Show answer

Answer

 The words live are a pair of homographs. 'To live' and 'live broadcast' have different meanings and pronunciations but are spelled the same.

Show question

Question

Are the words beet and beat in these sentences a pair of homonyms, homographs, or homophones?

  • I don't like beet and broccoli.

  • She beat me at table tennis.

Show answer

Answer

The word beet and beat are a pair of homophones because they have different meanings and spellings but are pronounced the same.

Show question

Question

Are the words tender in these sentences a pair of homonyms, homographs, or homophones? 

  • Children need tender loving care from their parents.

  • I lost the tender to the rival company.


Show answer

Answer

The word tender is a pair of homonyms. The first and second tender have different meanings but are spelled and pronounced the same.

Show question

Question

What is Structural Ambiguity?


Show answer

Answer

Structural Ambiguity is an ambiguity that is caused by the structure of a sentence.

Show question

Question

Which kind of ambiguity can this sentence cause if said without enough reference, lexical or structural ambiguity: 'I went to the bank'?



Show answer

Answer

The sentence can cause Lexical Ambiguity because it isn't clear what the bank refers to: the 'financial institution' or 'a river bank'.

Show question

Question

Which kind of ambiguity can this sentence cause if said without enough reference, lexical or structural ambiguity: 'He ate the spicy noodle and tofu'?


Show answer

Answer

The sentence can cause structural ambiguity. The structure of the sentence can lead to two interpretations: (1) 'both the noodle and tofu are spicy' and (2) 'only the noodle is spicy'.

Show question

Question

Which kind of ambiguity can this sentence cause if said without enough reference, lexical or structural ambiguity: 'The mouse is under the bed'?


Show answer

Answer

The sentence can cause lexical ambiguity because it isn't clear what the mouse refers to: 'the animal mouse' or 'a computer device'.

Show question

Question

True or false - Homonymy refers to 'words with different meanings that are neither pronounced nor spelt the same'?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What is a homograph?


Show answer

Answer

 A homograph is a word with different meanings but the same spelling.

Show question

Question

What is a homophone?


Show answer

Answer

A homophone is a word with different meanings but the same pronunciation.

Show question

Question

True or false - Homograph is the broader term for homophone and homonymy.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Is the word rock a homonym, homograph, or homophone?


Show answer

Answer

Homonym

Show question

Question

Are flower and flour a pair of homonyms, homographs, or homophones?


Show answer

Answer

Homophones

Show question

Question

Are the words plain and plane a pair of homographs or homophones?


Show answer

Answer

Homophones

Show question

Question

 Are the words bow in these sentences homophones? 

  • She aimed her bow slowly.
  • He bowed down begging for some money.

Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

Are the words bear in these sentences homographs?

  • Most polar bears live in the North Pole.
  • I'll bear the consequences of my decision.


Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

Are the words been and bean in these sentences homophones?

  • I've never been to Spain.
  • These coffee beans were roasted for hours using a special technique.


Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

 Are the words entrance in these sentences homographs?

  • The thief ran through the back entrance.
  • He has entranced millions of people with his beautiful voice.


Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Why is it likely that homonyms cause ambiguity?


Show answer

Answer

A homonym is likely to cause ambiguity because if homonyms are used without specific context, the listeners/readers can't be sure which meaning the speakers/authors intend.

Show question

Question

True or false - Polysemy refers to words with several related meanings and listed under several dictionary entries.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Are the words foot in these sentences examples of polysemy?

  • My left foot is numb.
  • The children climbed a 10-foot tree.

Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

True or false - Serve is an example of both polysemy and homonymy?


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is polysemy?

Show answer

Answer

Polysemy refers to a single word with more than one related meaning. The multiple meanings are listed under one dictionary entry.

Show question

Question

True or false - the multiple meanings of polysemy are listed under several dictionary entries, eg a noun and a verb.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What is the opposite of polysemy?


Show answer

Answer

Monosemy.

Show question

Question

True or false - Monosemy is a word that has one meaning only.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or false - All non-polysemous words are monosemous.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Is get an example of polysemy or monosemy?


Show answer

Answer

Polysemy

Show question

Question

Is tank an example of polysemy or monosemy?


Show answer

Answer

Polysemy

Show question

Question

Is oxygen an example of polysemy or monosemy?


Show answer

Answer

Monosemy

Show question

Question

True or false - Homonymy defines words with multiple meanings that are written and/or pronounced the same.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

 Is may an example of polysemy or homonymy or both?


Show answer

Answer

Homonymy

Show question

Question

Is drink an example of polysemy or homonymy or both?

Show answer

Answer

Both

Show question

Question

Why is date both an example of polysemy and homonymy?


Show answer

Answer

Date is both polysemy and homonymy because (1) it has two word forms (homonymy): noun and verb. (2) Date has more than one meaning within a single word form (as a verb or noun). Thus, date is also polysemy.

Show question

Question

True or false - Hyponym refers to super- and subordinate relationships between words.



Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What distinguishes polysemy from hyponymy?


Show answer

Answer

Unlike hyponymy, polysemy doesn't explain the hierarchical relationship between words but defines the multiple meanings of a single word.

Show question

Question

True or false - Dogs, labrador, poodle, and husky illustrate a polysemous relationship.


Show answer

Answer

 False

Show question

Question

Polysemy concerns what?

Show answer

Answer

A single word with many related meanings

Show question

Question

True or false?


A homophone is a word that has different meanings and spellings but is pronounced the same.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


A ________ is a word that has different meanings and pronunciations but is spelt the same.

Show answer

Answer

homograph

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Structural ambiguity occurs when the ________ of a sentence causes multiple interpretations. 

Show answer

Answer

structure

Show question

Question

Structural ambiguity is also known as what?

Show answer

Answer

Syntactic ambiguity

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Lexical Ambiguity quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.