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Signifier vs. Signified: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on February 2, 2024
The signifier is the form of a word or symbol, while the signified is the concept or meaning that the word or symbol represents.

Key Differences

The signifier in linguistics is the physical form of a word or symbol, such as its sound or written appearance. The signified is the mental concept that the signifier refers to or evokes.
In semiotics, the study of signs, the signifier is the tangible aspect of a sign (like the word "dog"), while the signified is the idea or concept it represents (the animal, dog).
The relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary and culturally determined, where the signifier does not naturally connect to the signified but is agreed upon within a language or culture.
The meaning of a signifier (the form) can change over time, altering what is signified (the concept). Conversely, the same concept (signified) can be represented by different signifiers in different languages or dialects.
In everyday communication, a signifier (such as a spoken word) conveys a message, and the signified is the meaning understood by the listener.

Comparison Chart


Physical form of a word or symbol
Concept or meaning represented

Role in Semiotics

Tangible aspect of a sign
Idea or concept conveyed


Arbitrary link to the signified
Dependent on cultural or linguistic context


Can change form while retaining meaning
Can be represented by different signifiers


Word "cat" (sound or written)
The animal cat (concept)

Signifier and Signified Definitions


The sound or appearance of a word.
In 'tree', the signifier is the spoken or written word itself.


The idea or concept a word represents.
The signified of 'sun' is the celestial body we see in the sky.


Can change over time or context.
Slang words are signifiers that evolve rapidly.


Remains constant even if the signifier changes.
The concept of love is a signified that remains constant across languages.


A symbol without inherent meaning.
Alphabets are signifiers forming meaningful words.


Varies with cultural interpretation.
In different cultures, a white dress signifies different concepts.


Varies across languages and cultures.
The signifier for water changes in different languages.


The meaning behind a symbol.
For 'rose', the signified is the flower known for its fragrance and beauty.


The tangible aspect of a sign in semiotics.
In a stop sign, the red color and octagonal shape are signifiers.


The conceptual part of a sign.
In traffic lights, the color red's signified is 'stop'.


One that signifies.


The concept that a signifier denotes.


(Linguistics) A linguistic unit or pattern, such as a succession of speech sounds, written symbols, or gestures, that conveys meaning; a linguistic sign. The signifier of the concept "tree" is, in English, the string of speech sounds (t), (r), and (ē); in German, (b), (ou), and (m).


The concept or idea evoked by a sign.


Something or someone that signifies, makes something more significant or important.


Simple past tense and past participle of signify


(cartomancy) A card representing a querent, question, or situation.


The meaning of a word or expression; the way in which a word or expression or situation can be interpreted;
The dictionary gave several senses for the word
In the best sense charity is really a duty
The signifier is linked to the signified


(linguistics) The sound of a spoken word or string of letters on a page that a person recognizes as a sign.


The phonological or orthographic sound or appearance of a word that can be used to describe or identify something;
The inflected forms of a word can be represented by a stem and a list of inflections to be attached


What's an example of a signified?

The concept of freedom that a flag may represent.

Can the signifier and signified be the same?

No, the signifier is the form, while the signified is the meaning.

How is the signifier used in language?

It's used as the tangible part of speech or writing.

What does signified mean?

Signified refers to the concept or meaning a word or symbol represents.

What is a signifier?

A signifier is the physical form of a word or symbol.

Are signifiers universal?

No, they vary across languages and cultures.

Can a signifier have multiple signifieds?

Yes, depending on context and interpretation.

How does context affect the signified?

Context can change the meaning or concept understood.

Can the signified change over time?

Yes, as cultural and linguistic contexts evolve.

Is the signifier always vocal or written?

It can also be non-verbal, like symbols or gestures.

Is the relationship between signifier and signified fixed?

No, it's arbitrary and culturally defined.

Can one concept have multiple signifiers?

Yes, across different languages and dialects.

How does semiotics study signifier and signified?

By analyzing the relationship between symbols and meanings.

Can a signified be completely objective?

Often, it's subject to subjective interpretation.

Are new signifiers constantly created?

Yes, especially with language evolution and cultural changes.

How important is the signifier in communication?

It's crucial as it conveys the intended meaning.

Can misunderstandings arise from signifier-signified relationships?

Yes, especially if the cultural context is not shared.

Are emojis signifiers?

Yes, they are modern signifiers in digital communication.

Does a signified exist without a signifier?

The concept can exist, but it needs a signifier for communication.

Can the same signifier have different signifieds in different cultures?

Yes, cultural contexts greatly influence meaning.
About Author
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.
Edited 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.

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