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Indexical vs. Indexically: What's the Difference?

By Aimie Carlson & Harlon Moss || Updated on May 22, 2024
Indexical refers to a word or phrase whose meaning depends on context, while indexically is the adverbial form, describing an action or manner that involves such context-dependent references.

Key Differences

Indexical is an adjective that describes a word or phrase whose meaning can change based on the context. Examples include words like "here," "now," and "I," which require situational information to understand fully. For instance, "I am here now" has different meanings depending on who says it, where they are, and when they say it. Indexically, on the other hand, is the adverb form of indexical. It describes how something is done in a manner that involves or relies on such context-dependent references. For example, "The word 'now' is used indexically in the sentence 'I need it now,'" indicating that the word "now" depends on the time of utterance.
Indexical words are crucial in language because they anchor statements to specific contexts, providing clarity and relevance to communication. Without understanding the context, the meaning of indexical terms remains ambiguous. Indexically modifies verbs or clauses, highlighting that the action or statement is dependent on contextual clues. It emphasizes how the context shapes the interpretation of certain expressions. For instance, "She spoke indexically about her experiences" means her descriptions were context-dependent.
Indexical terms are often used in linguistics and philosophy to analyze how language and context interact. They illustrate how meaning is not fixed but can shift depending on various situational factors. Indexically is less common but important for discussing the manner in which language functions. It focuses on the process and mechanism of how context influences understanding. For example, "They communicated indexically through gestures," underscores the reliance on situational context for interpretation.

Comparison Chart

Part of Speech



Context-dependent words/phrases
In a manner involving context-dependent references

Usage Context

Describing words/phrases
Describing actions/statements

Example Sentence

"Words like 'this' and 'that' are indexical."
"He used the term 'soon' indexically."

Field of Use

Linguistics, philosophy
Linguistics, communication

Indexical and Indexically Definitions


Relating to words or phrases whose meaning varies with context.
The term 'you' is indexical, as its meaning changes based on who is speaking.


Describing actions or statements that rely on context.
He spoke indexically, making it clear that the details depended on the time and place.


Dependent on a specific context for interpretation.
Deictic expressions like 'here' and 'now' are indexical.


Relating to the contextual use of language.
The instructions were given indexically, requiring the listener to know the setting.


Used in linguistics to analyze context-based language.
Indexical terms are central to the study of pragmatics.


In a manner that involves context-dependent references.
She used the word 'here' indexically to indicate her current location.


Indicative of context-bound references in communication.
The phrase 'this book' is indexical, referring to a specific book in context.


Modifying verbs to show context dependence.
The announcement was made indexically, relevant only to the immediate audience.


Pertaining to language elements that require situational information.
Pronouns are a common example of indexical terms.


Emphasizing the role of context in understanding language.
They communicated indexically, with gestures that made sense only within the shared environment.


Of or having the function of an index.


In an indexical way.


(Linguistics) Deictic.


In the manner of an index.


A deictic word or element.


Of, pertaining to, or like, an index; having the form of an index.


Having or imparting a meaning, or signifying a referent, that changes according to context.


An indexical term.


Of, pertaining to, or like, an index; having the form of an index.


Of or relating to or serving as an index


What does indexical mean?

Indexical refers to words or phrases whose meaning depends on the context in which they are used.

How is indexical used in a sentence?

e.g., "Words like 'this' and 'that' are indexical."

Can you give an example of an indexical word?

Yes, "I" is an indexical word because its meaning changes based on who is speaking.

How is indexically used in a sentence?

e.g., "He used the term 'soon' indexically."

What does indexically mean?

Indexically is an adverb describing actions or statements done in a manner that involves context-dependent references.

What is the difference between indexical and indexically?

Indexical is an adjective describing context-dependent words or phrases, while indexically is an adverb describing the manner of using such terms.

What fields study indexical terms?

Linguistics and philosophy are the primary fields that study indexical terms.

Why are indexical terms important?

Indexical terms are crucial because they anchor statements to specific contexts, making communication clear and relevant.

Can indexical terms be ambiguous?

Yes, without context, indexical terms can be ambiguous.

How do indexical terms relate to deictic expressions?

Deictic expressions are a type of indexical term that specifically point to time, place, or person in context.

Are all pronouns indexical?

Many pronouns are indexical because their reference changes based on the speaker and context.

Is 'today' an indexical term?

Yes, 'today' is an indexical term as its meaning depends on the specific day it is used.

What is an example of using a term indexically?

e.g., "The teacher said, 'Now, please open your books,' using 'now' indexically to mean the present moment."

Can indexical terms change meaning?

Yes, indexical terms can change meaning based on different contexts.

What does it mean to communicate indexically?

To communicate indexically means to use language or gestures that require context to be understood.

How does indexically modify a verb?

Indexically modifies a verb by indicating that the action involves context-dependent references, e.g., "They explained it indexically."

Is 'here' an indexical term?

Yes, 'here' is an indexical term because its meaning depends on the location of the speaker.

Can an entire sentence be indexical?

Yes, an entire sentence can be indexical if its meaning relies heavily on context.

How do indexical terms affect understanding?

Indexical terms require contextual information for accurate understanding, affecting clarity and relevance.

What is the role of context in indexical terms?

Context provides the necessary information to interpret the meaning of indexical terms accurately.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Co-written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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