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content word


content word

The italicized words in Hedberg's sentence are content words.


A word that conveys information in a text or speech act. Also known as a lexical word.

Content words--which include nouns, lexical verbs, adjectives, and adverbs--belong to open classes of words: that is, new members are readily added. Contrast with function word.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "All morphemes can be divided into the categories lexical [content] and grammatical [function]. A lexical morpheme has a meaning that can be understood fully in and of itself--{boy}, for example, as well as {run}, {green}, {quick}, {paper}, {large}, {throw}, and {now}. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are typical kinds of lexical morphemes. Grammatical morphemes, on the other hand--such as {of}, {and}, {the}, {ness}, {to}, {pre}, {a}, {but}, {in}, and {ly}--can be understood completely only when they occur with other words in a sentence."
    (Thomas E. Murray, The Structure of English. Allyn and Bacon, 1995)

  • "Most people with low self-esteem have earned it."
    (George Carlin)

  • "Liberal and conservative have lost their meaning in America. I represent the distracted center."
    (Jon Stewart)

  • "Trying is the first step towards failure."
    (Homer Simpson)

  • "Grammatical words [function words] tend to be short: they are normally of one syllable and many are represented in spelling by less than three graphemes ('I,' 'he,' 'do,' 'on,' 'or'). Content words are longer and, with the exception of 'ox' and American English's 'ax,' are spelt with a minimum of three graphemes. This criterion of length can also be extended to the production of the two sets of words in connected speech. Here grammatical words are often unstressed or generally de-emphasised in pronunciation."
    (Paul Simpson, Language Through Literature. Routledge, 1997)

  • Content Words in Speech
    "Typically, the prominent syllable in a tone unit will be a content word (e.g. a noun or verb) rather than a function word (e.g. a preposition or article), since content words carry more meaning than function words. Function words will only be stressed if prominence on them is contextually warranted."
    (Charles F. Meyer, Introducing English Linguistics. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010)
Also Known As: lexical word, lexical morpheme, substantive category, contentive

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