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Lemma vs. Lexeme: What's the Difference?

By Aimie Carlson & Janet White || Updated on May 20, 2024
A lemma is the canonical form of a word found in dictionaries, while a lexeme is a unit of meaning encompassing all its forms. A lemma is a single word entry, whereas a lexeme includes all variations and inflections of that word.

Key Differences

A lemma represents the base or dictionary form of a word. For example, in English, "run" is the lemma for the words "runs," "ran," and "running." A lexeme, on the other hand, refers to the entire set of forms that a single word can take. It encompasses all grammatical variations of a word. For instance, "run" as a lexeme includes "runs," "ran," "running," and any other derived forms.
Lemmas are used in lexical databases and indexing to standardize word entries, ensuring that users can find information about any word form under a single, recognizable term. They serve as a bridge between different forms of a word and their meanings. Lexemes play a crucial role in linguistic analysis and computational linguistics, where understanding the relationship between different word forms is essential. By analyzing lexemes, linguists can study how words function and change in different contexts.
While lemmas are practical for dictionary entries and language learning, providing a clear, concise reference point for word definitions, lexemes offer a broader perspective on language structure and usage. They allow for the analysis of how words morphologically and semantically interact within a language.
Lemmas and lexemes both contribute to the study and understanding of language, but they operate at different levels of abstraction. Lemmas focus on individual word entries, while lexemes encompass the full range of a word's morphological variants.

Comparison Chart


Canonical form of a word
Set of all forms of a word


Dictionaries, lexical databases
Linguistic analysis, computational linguistics


"Run" for "runs," "ran," "running"
Includes "run," "runs," "ran," "running"


Single word entry
Entire set of word forms


Standardizes word entries
Analyzes word forms and meanings

Lemma and Lexeme Definitions


Serves as a reference point for different word forms.
Search engines often use lemmas to index words.


Includes all grammatical variants.
The lexeme sing includes sings, sang, and singing.


Helps in language learning and word lookup.
Students look up the lemma to understand all forms of a verb.


Used in computational linguistics for language processing.
Lexemes are crucial for natural language understanding systems.


The base form of a word found in dictionaries.
Go is the lemma for goes, went, and going.


An abstract unit encompassing all forms of a word.
The lexeme write includes writes, wrote, and writing.


Used for listing word definitions and entries.
The dictionary entry for see is its lemma.


Refers to the whole set of inflected word forms.
Speak as a lexeme covers speaks, spoke, and speaking.


A subsidiary proposition assumed to be valid and used to demonstrate a principal proposition.


Important for linguistic and morphological analysis.
Researchers study lexemes to understand word formation.


A theme, argument, or subject indicated in a title.


The fundamental unit of the lexicon of a language. Find, finds, found, and finding are forms of the English lexeme find.


A word or phrase treated in a glossary or similar listing.


(linguistics) A lexical item corresponding to the set of all words (or of all multi-word expressions) that are semantically related through inflection of a particular shared basic form.


The lower of the two bracts that enclose each floret in a grass spikelet.


(strictly) The abstract minimum unit of language or meaning that underlies such a set.


(mathematics) A proposition proved or accepted for immediate use in the proof of some other proposition.


(loosely) The set itself; a lexemic family.


The canonical form of an inflected word; i.e., the form usually found as the headword in a dictionary, such as the nominative singular of a noun, the bare infinitive of a verb, etc.


(loosely) The word-form chosen to represent such a set or family.


(psycholinguistics) The theoretical abstract conceptual form of a word, representing a specific meaning, before the creation of a specific phonological form as the sounds of a lexeme, which may find representation in a specific written form as a dictionary or lexicographic word.


(computing) An individual instance of a continuous character sequence without spaces, used in lexical analysis (see token).


(botany) The outer shell of a fruit or similar body.


A minimal unit (as a word or stem) in the lexicon of a language; `go' and `went' and `gone' and `going' are all members of the English lexeme `go'


(botany) One of the specialized bracts around the floret in grasses.


A preliminary or auxiliary proposition demonstrated or accepted for immediate use in the demonstration of some other proposition, as in mathematics or logic.


A word that is included in a glossary or list of headwords; a headword.


A subsidiary proposition that is assumed to be true in order to prove another proposition


The lower and stouter of the two glumes immediately enclosing the floret in most Gramineae


The head of an annotation or gloss


Typically a single word.
Eat is the lemma for eats, ate, and eating.


What is a lemma?

A lemma is the canonical form of a word used in dictionaries and lexical databases.

What does a lexeme include?

A lexeme includes all forms and variations of a word, such as different tenses and grammatical inflections.

How is a lemma used in dictionaries?

Lemmas are used in dictionaries to list and define words in their base form.

Why are lexemes important in linguistics?

Lexemes are important because they help in understanding how words function and change in different contexts.

What is the role of a lexeme in computational linguistics?

Lexemes are used to analyze and process natural language by understanding word forms and their meanings.

Are lemmas used in search engines?

Yes, search engines use lemmas to index and retrieve different forms of a word.

Can you give an example of a lemma?

Yes, "run" is a lemma for "runs," "ran," and "running."

How do lexemes aid in morphological analysis?

Lexemes help linguists study the structure and formation of words by analyzing all their forms.

How do lemmas help in language learning?

Lemmas provide a clear, single reference point for students to understand all forms of a word.

What does the lexeme "run" include?

The lexeme "run" includes "runs," "ran," "running," and other derived forms.

Do lemmas change over time?

Lemmas themselves don't change, but new lemmas can be added as language evolves.

Is a lemma always a single word?

Typically, yes. A lemma is usually the base form of a single word.

What is an example of a lexeme with multiple forms?

The lexeme "fly" includes "flies," "flew," and "flying."

What is the relationship between lemmas and lexemes?

Lemmas are the base forms found within the broader category of lexemes.

Do lexemes cover irregular word forms?

Yes, lexemes include all irregular and regular forms of a word.

Can a lemma be different in various languages?

Yes, the lemma form can differ depending on the language's grammatical rules.

How are lemmas chosen for dictionaries?

Lemmas are chosen based on the base or most common form of a word.

Why are lexemes broader than lemmas?

Lexemes encompass all variations of a word, providing a more comprehensive view of its use.

Are lexemes useful in natural language processing?

Yes, they are crucial for understanding and processing language in computational systems.

How do lexemes handle compound words?

Lexemes can include compound words and their variations as part of the broader word set.
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
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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