AskDefine | Define word

The Collaborative Dictionary

Word \Word\, n. [AS. word; akin to OFries. & OS. word, D. woord, G. wort, Icel. or[eth], Sw. & Dan. ord, Goth. wa['u]rd, OPruss. wirds, Lith. vardas a name, L. verbum a word; or perhaps to Gr. "rh`twr an orator. Cf. Verb.] [1913 Webster]
The spoken sign of a conception or an idea; an articulate or vocal sound, or a combination of articulate and vocal sounds, uttered by the human voice, and by custom expressing an idea or ideas; a single component part of human speech or language; a constituent part of a sentence; a term; a vocable. "A glutton of words." --Piers Plowman. [1913 Webster] You cram these words into mine ears, against The stomach of my sense. --Shak. [1913 Webster] Amongst men who confound their ideas with words, there must be endless disputes. --Locke. [1913 Webster]
Hence, the written or printed character, or combination of characters, expressing such a term; as, the words on a page. [1913 Webster]
pl. Talk; discourse; speech; language. [1913 Webster] Why should calamity be full of words? --Shak. [1913 Webster] Be thy words severe; Sharp as he merits, but the sword forbear. --Dryden. [1913 Webster]
Account; tidings; message; communication; information; -- used only in the singular. [1913 Webster] I pray you . . . bring me word thither How the world goes. --Shak. [1913 Webster]
Signal; order; command; direction. [1913 Webster] Give the word through. --Shak. [1913 Webster]
Language considered as implying the faith or authority of the person who utters it; statement; affirmation; declaration; promise. [1913 Webster] Obey thy parents; keep thy word justly. --Shak. [1913 Webster] I know you brave, and take you at your word. --Dryden. [1913 Webster] I desire not the reader should take my word. --Dryden. [1913 Webster]
pl. Verbal contention; dispute. [1913 Webster] Some words there grew 'twixt Somerset and me. --Shak. [1913 Webster]
A brief remark or observation; an expression; a phrase, clause, or short sentence. [1913 Webster] All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. --Gal. v.
[1913 Webster] She said; but at the happy word "he lives," My father stooped, re-fathered, o'er my wound. --Tennyson. [1913 Webster] There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark. --Dickens. [1913 Webster] By word of mouth, orally; by actual speaking. --Boyle. Compound word. See under Compound, a. Good word, commendation; favorable account. "And gave the harmless fellow a good word." --Pope. In a word, briefly; to sum up. In word, in declaration; in profession. "Let us not love in word, . . . but in deed and in truth." --1 John iii.
Nuns of the Word Incarnate (R. C. Ch.), an order of nuns founded in France in 1625, and approved in
The order, which also exists in the United States, was instituted for the purpose of doing honor to the "Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God." The word, or The Word. (Theol.) (a) The gospel message; esp., the Scriptures, as a revelation of God. "Bold to speak the word without fear." --Phil. i.
(b) The second person in the Trinity before his manifestation in time by the incarnation; among those who reject a Trinity of persons, some one or all of the divine attributes personified. --John i.
To eat one's words, to retract what has been said. To have the words for, to speak for; to act as spokesman. [Obs.] "Our host hadde the wordes for us all." --Chaucer. Word blindness (Physiol.), inability to understand printed or written words or symbols, although the person affected may be able to see quite well, speak fluently, and write correctly. --Landois & Stirling. Word deafness (Physiol.), inability to understand spoken words, though the person affected may hear them and other sounds, and hence is not deaf. Word dumbness (Physiol.), inability to express ideas in verbal language, though the power of speech is unimpaired. Word for word, in the exact words; verbatim; literally; exactly; as, to repeat anything word for word. Word painting, the act of describing an object fully and vividly by words only, so as to present it clearly to the mind, as if in a picture. Word picture, an accurate and vivid description, which presents an object clearly to the mind, as if in a picture. Word square, a series of words so arranged that they can be read vertically and horizontally with like results. [1913 Webster] Note: H E A R T E M B E R A B U S E R E S I N T R E N T (A word square) Syn: See Term. [1913 Webster]
Word \Word\, v. i. To use words, as in discussion; to argue; to dispute. [R.] [1913 Webster]
Word \Word\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Worded; p. pr. & vb. n. Wording.] [1913 Webster]
To express in words; to phrase. [1913 Webster] The apology for the king is the same, but worded with greater deference to that great prince. --Addison. [1913 Webster]
To ply with words; also, to cause to be by the use of a word or words. [Obs.] --Howell. [1913 Webster]
To flatter with words; to cajole. [Obs.] --Shak. [1913 Webster] To word it, to bandy words; to dispute. [Obs.] "To word it with a shrew." --L'Estrange. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 a unit of language that native speakers can identify; "words are the blocks from which sentences are made"; "he hardly said ten words all morning"
2 a brief statement; "he didn't say a word about it"
3 new information about specific and timely events; "they awaited news of the outcome" [syn: news, intelligence, tidings]
4 the divine word of God; the second person in the Trinity (incarnate in Jesus) [syn: Son, Logos]
5 a promise; "he gave his word" [syn: parole, word of honor]
6 a secret word or phrase known only to a restricted group; "he forgot the password" [syn: password, watchword, parole, countersign]
7 an exchange of views on some topic; "we had a good discussion"; "we had a word or two about it" [syn: discussion, give-and-take]
8 the sacred writings of the Christian religions; "he went to carry the Word to the heathen" [syn: Bible, Christian Bible, Book, Good Book, Holy Scripture, Holy Writ, Scripture, Word of God]
9 a verbal command for action; "when I give the word, charge!"
10 a word is a string of bits stored in computer memory; "large computers use words up to 64 bits long" v : put into words or an expression; "He formulated his concerns to the board of trustees" [syn: give voice, formulate, phrase, articulate]

Moby Thesaurus

Bible oath, Parthian shot, account, acquaintance, adage, address, admission, advice, affidavit, affirmance, affirmation, allegation, altercation, ana, analects, announcement, annunciation, answer, aphorism, apostrophe, apothegm, articulate, assertion, asseveration, assurance, attest, attestation, averment, avouch, avouchment, avow, avowal, axiom, beef, behest, bickering, bidding, blue book, breathe, briefing, broadcast journalism, bulletin, buzz, byword, catchword, charge, chorus, collected sayings, come out with, command, commandment, comment, commitment, communicate, communication, communique, compurgation, conceive, conclusion, convey, couch, couch in terms, countersign, crack, creed, cry, current saying, data, datum, declaration, deliver, deposition, dictate, dictation, dictum, direct order, directive, directory, disclose, disclosure, dispatch, dispute, distich, embassy, embody in words, emit, engagement, enlightenment, enunciate, enunciation, epigram, evidence, exclamation, express, expression, extrajudicial oath, facts, factual information, faith, familiarization, fight, fling off, formularize, formulate, frame, gen, general information, give, give expression, give expression to, give out with, give tongue, give utterance, give voice, give words to, glosseme, gnome, golden saying, gossip, greeting, guarantee, guidebook, handout, hard information, hassle, hearsay, hest, icon, idiom, impart, imperative, incidental information, info, information, injunction, instruction, instrument in proof, intelligence, interjection, ipse dixit, ironclad oath, journalism, judicial oath, knowledge, legal evidence, let out, letter, lexeme, lexical form, light, linguistic act, lip, locution, loyalty oath, mandate, manifesto, maxim, mention, message, moral, morpheme, mot, motto, news, news agency, news medium, news service, newsiness, newsletter, newsmagazine, newspaper, newsworthiness, note, notice, notification, oath, oath of allegiance, oath of office, observation, offer, official oath, oracle, order, out with, paragraph, parol, parole, phonate, phonation, phrase, pithy saying, pleasure, pledge, plight, pneumatogram, position, position paper, positive declaration, pour forth, precept, predicate, predication, prescript, present, presentation, press association, proclamation, profession, promise, promotional material, pronounce, pronouncement, proof, proposition, protest, protestation, proverb, proverbial saying, proverbs, publication, publicity, put, put forth, put in words, question, radio, raise, reflection, release, remark, report, reportage, rhetorize, row, rumble, rumor, run-in, saw, say, say-so, saying, scuttlebutt, semasiological unit, sememe, sentence, sententious expression, sequence of phonemes, set forth, set out, set-to, sidelight, sign, signifiant, significant, sloka, solemn declaration, solemn oath, sound, speaking, special order, speech act, stance, stand, state, statement, stock saying, string, style, subjoinder, submit, sutra, sworn evidence, sworn statement, sworn testimony, symbol, talk, tattle, teaching, telegram, telegraph agency, television, tell, term, test oath, testimonial, testimonium, testimony, text, the dope, the fourth estate, the goods, the know, the press, the scoop, the spoken word, thought, throw off, tidings, token, tongue, transmission, troth, type, undertaking, utter, utterance, utterance string, verbalize, verse, vocable, vocalize, voice, vouch, vow, warrant, warranty, watchword, whisper, white book, white paper, will, wire service, wisdom, wisdom literature, wise saying, witness, witticism, word of command, word of honor, word of mouth, words of wisdom



From < lang=ang < *|wurða- < base *|werə-.



  1. A distinct unit of language (sounds in speech or written letters) with a particular meaning, composed of one or more morphemes, and also of one or more phonemes that determine its sound pattern.
    • , II.ii
      Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
      Hamlet: Words, words, words.
  2. A distinct unit of language which is approved by some authority.
    • 1896, Israel Zangwill, Without Prejudice, p21
      “Ain’t! How often am I to tell you ain’t ain’t a word?”
    • 1999, Linda Greenlaw, The Hungry Ocean, Hyperion, p11
      Fisherwoman isn’t even a word. It’s not in the dictionary.
  3. Something promised.
    I give you my word that I will be there on time.
  4. News; tidings.
    Have you had any word from John yet?
  5. A discussion.
    I want to have a word with you.
  6. A unit of text equivalent to five characters and one space.
  7. A numerical value with a bit width native to the machine.
  8. The written product of group elements and their inverses.
  9. A finite string which is not a command or operator.
  10. God.
  11. The Bible.

Usage notes

  • sense distinct unit of language In English and other space-delimited languages, it is customary to treat "word" as referring to any sequence of characters delimited by spaces. However, this is not applicable to languages such as Chinese and Japanese, which are normally written without spaces, or to languages such as Vietnamese, which are written with a space between each syllable.
unit of language
something promised
  • Albanian: sharje
  • Breton: ger , gerioù p
  • Czech: slovo
  • Dutch: erewoord
  • Finnish: sana
  • French: parole
  • German: Ehrenwort
  • Greek: λόγος
  • Hungarian: szó
  • Interlingua: parola
  • Italian: parola
  • Japanese: 言質
  • Korean: 말
  • Lithuanian: žodis
  • Malayalam: വാക്ക് (vaakku)
  • Norwegian: ord
  • Persian: (ghûl)
  • Portuguese: palavra
  • Russian: слово
  • Slovak: čestné slovo
  • Slovene: častna beseda, beseda
  • Swedish: ord
  • Telugu: మాట (māṭa)
computing sense
  • Finnish: sana
  • French: mot
  • Interlingua: parola
  • Italian: word
  • Japanese: 言語
  • Norwegian: ord
  • Persian: (vâže)
  • Portuguese: palavra
  • Russian: слово
  • Slovak: slovo
  • Swedish: ord
  • French: verbe
the word of God
  • Finnish: sana
  • French: parole
  • German: Wort
  • Greek: Λόγος
  • Interlingua: parola, verbo
  • Italian: parola, verbo
  • Japanese: 福音
  • Korean: 말씀
  • Persian: گفتار
  • Polish: słowo boże
  • Portuguese: verbo
  • Romanian: cuvânt
  • Slovak: slovo božie, božie slovo
  • Telugu: వాణి (vāṇi)


  1. To say or write (something) using particular words.
    I’m not sure how to word this letter to the council.


say or write using particular words
  • Dutch: verwoorden, onder woorden brengen
  • Greek: διατυπώνω, συντάσσω
  • Russian: формулировать
  • Spanish: redactar


  1. An abbreviated form of word up; a statement of the acknowledgment of fact with a hint of nonchalant approval.

Related terms





Old English


From *|wurða- < *|werdho- < base *|wer-; cognate with Old Frisian |word, Old Saxon |word (Dutch woord), Old High German wort (German Wort), Old Norse orð (Swedish ord), Gothic sc=Goth. The root is also the source of Latin verbum, Lithuanian vardas, and, more distantly, of Ancient Greek sc=polytonic and Old Slavonic |rotiti sę (Russian sc=Cyrl).


  • lang=ang|/word/
A word is a unit of language that carries meaning and consists of one or more morphemes which are linked more or less tightly together, and has a phonetical value. Typically a word will consist of a root or stem and zero or more affixes. Words can be combined to create phrases, clauses, and sentences. A word consisting of two or more stems joined together form a compound. A word combined with another word or part of a word form a portmanteau.


English word is directly from Old English word, and has cognates in all branches of Germanic (Old High German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd), deriving from Proto-Germanic *wurđa, continuing a virtual PIE . Cognates outside Germanic include Baltic (Old Prussian wīrds "word", and with different ablaut Lithuanian var̃das "name", Latvian vàrds "word, name") and Latin verbum. The PIE stem is also found in Greek ερθει (φθεγγεται "speaks, utters" Hes. ). The PIE root is "say, speak" (also found in Greek ειρω, ρητωρ).
The original meaning of word is "utterance, speech, verbal expression". Until Early Modern English, it could more specifically refer to a name or title.
The technical meaning of "an element of speech" first arises in discussion of grammar (particularly Latin grammar), as in the prologue to Wyclif's Bible (ca. 1400):
"This word autem, either vero, mai stonde for forsothe, either for but."


Depending on the language, words can be difficult to identify or delimit. Dictionaries take upon themselves the task of categorizing a language's lexicon into lemmas. These can be taken as an indication of what constitutes a "word" in the opinion of the authors.

Word boundaries

In spoken language, the distinction of individual words is usually given by rhythm or accent, but short words are often run together. See clitic for phonologically dependent words. Spoken French has some of the features of a polysynthetic language: il y est allé ("He went there") is pronounced /i.ljɛ.ta.le/. As the majority of the world's languages are not written, the scientific determination of word boundaries becomes important.
There are five ways to determine where the word boundaries of spoken language should be placed::A speaker is told to repeat a given sentence slowly, allowing for pauses. The speaker will tend to insert pauses at the word boundaries. However, this method is not foolproof: the speaker could easily break up polysyllabic words.:A speaker is told to say a sentence out loud, and then is told to say the sentence again with extra words added to it. Thus, I have lived in this village for ten years might become I and my family have lived in this little village for about ten or so years. These extra words will tend to be added in the word boundaries of the original sentence. However, some languages have infixes, which are put inside a word. Similarly, some have separable affixes; in the German sentence "Ich komme gut zu Hause an," the verb ankommen is separated.:This concept was proposed by Leonard Bloomfield. Words are thought of as the smallest meaningful unit of speech that can stand by themselves. This correlates phonemes (units of sound) to lexemes (units of meaning). However, some written words are not minimal free forms, as they make no sense by themselves (for example, the and of).:Some languages have particular rules of pronunciation that make it easy to spot where a word boundary should be. For example, in a language that regularly stresses the last syllable of a word, a word boundary is likely to fall after each stressed syllable. Another example can be seen in a language that has vowel harmony (like Turkish): the vowels within a given word share the same quality, so a word boundary is likely to occur whenever the vowel quality changes. However, not all languages have such convenient phonetic rules, and even those that do present the occasional exceptions.:Much like the above mentioned minimal free forms, this method breaks down a sentence into its smallest semantic units. However, language often contains words that have little semantic value (and often play a more grammatical role), or semantic units that are compound words. As Plag suggests, the idea of a lexical item being considered a word should also adjust to pragmatic criteria. The word "hello", for example, does not exist outside of the realm of greetings being difficult to assign a meaning out of it. This is a little more complex if we consider "how do you do?": is it a word, a phrase, or an idiom? In practice, linguists apply a mixture of all these methods to determine the word boundaries of any given sentence. Even with the careful application of these methods, the exact definition of a word is often still very elusive.
There are some words that seem very general but may truly have a technical definition, such as the word "soon," usually meaning within a week.


In languages with a literary tradition, there is interrelation between orthography and the question of what is considered a single word. Word separators (typically space marks) are common in modern orthography of languages using alphabetic scripts, but these are (excepting isolated precedents) a modern development (see also history of writing).
In English orthography, words may contain spaces if they are compounds or proper nouns such as ice cream or air raid shelter.
Vietnamese orthography, although using the Latin alphabet, delimits monosyllabic morphemes, not words. Conversely, synthetic languages often combine many lexical morphemes into single words, making it difficult to boil them down to the traditional sense of words found more easily in analytic languages; this is especially difficult for polysynthetic languages such as Inuktitut and Ubykh, where entire sentences may consist of single such words.
Logographic scripts use single signs (characters) to express a word. Most de facto existing scripts are however partly logographic, and combine logographic with phonetic signs. The most widespread logographic script in modern use is the Chinese script. While the Chinese script has some true logographs, the largest class of characters used in modern Chinese (some 90%) are so-called pictophonetic compounds (, ). Characters of this sort are composed of two parts: a pictograph, which suggests the general meaning of the character, and a phonetic part, which is derived from a character pronounced in the same way as the word the new character represents. In this sense, the character for most Chinese words consists of a determiner and a syllabogram, similar to the approach used by cuneiform script and Egyptian hieroglyphs.
There is a tendency informed by orthography to identify a single Chinese character as corresponding to a single word in the Chinese language, parallel to the tendency to identify the letters between two space marks as a single word in the English language. In both cases, this leads to the identification of compound members as individual words, while e.g. in German orthography, compound members are not separated by space marks and the tendency is thus to identify the entire compound as a single word. Compare e.g. English capital city with German Hauptstadt and Chinese 首都 (lit. chief metropolis): all three are equivalent compounds, in the English case consisting of "two words" separated by a space mark, in the German case written as a "single word" without space mark, and in the Chinese case consisting of two logographic characters.


see Inflection In synthetic languages, a single word stem (for example, love) may have a number of different forms (for example, loves, loving, and loved). However, these are not usually considered to be different words, but different forms of the same word. In these languages, words may be considered to be constructed from a number of morphemes. In Indo-European languages in particular, the morphemes distinguished are Thus, the Proto-Indo-European would be analysed as consisting of
  1. , the zero grade of the root
  2. a root-extension (diachronically a suffix), resulting in a complex root
  3. The thematic suffix
  4. the neuter gender nominative or accusative singular desinence .


Grammar classifies a language's lexicon into several groups of words. The basic bipartite division possible for virtually every natural language is that of nouns vs. verbs.
The classification into such classes is in the tradition of Dionysius Thrax, who distinguished eight categories: noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, preposition, adverb, conjunction, interjection.
In Indian grammatical tradition, Panini introduced a similar fundamental classification into a nominal (nāma, suP) and a verbal (ākhyāta, tiN) class, based on the set of desinences taken by the word.


  • Bauer, L. (1983) English Word Formation. Cambridge. CUP.
  • Brown, Keith R. (Ed.) (2005) Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd ed.). Elsevier. 14 vols.
  • Crystal, D. (1995) The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. Cambridge: CUP, 1995.
  • Plag, Ingo.(2003) Word formation in English. CUP

External links

word in Arabic: كلمة (لغة)
word in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Слова
word in Breton: Ger
word in Bulgarian: Дума
word in Catalan: Paraula
word in Czech: Slovo (lingvistika)
word in Danish: Ord
word in German: Wort
word in Estonian: Sõna
word in Spanish: Palabra
word in Esperanto: Vorto
word in Persian: واژه
word in French: Mot
word in Croatian: Riječ
word in Ido: Vorto
word in Indonesian: Kata
word in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Vocabulo
word in Icelandic: Orð
word in Italian: Parola
word in Hebrew: מלה
word in Lithuanian: Žodis
word in Hungarian: Szó (nyelvészet)
word in Macedonian: Збор
word in Malayalam: വാക്ക്
word in Dutch: Woord
word in Japanese: 語
word in Norwegian: Ord
word in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ord
word in Occitan (post 1500): Mot
word in Polish: Wyraz
word in Portuguese: Palavra
word in Romanian: Cuvînt
word in Russian: Слово (лингвистика)
word in Albanian: Fjala
word in Simple English: Word
word in Slovak: Slovo (lingvistika)
word in Slovenian: Beseda
word in Serbian: Реч
word in Finnish: Sana
word in Swedish: Ord
word in Tagalog: Salita
word in Thai: คำ
word in Turkish: Sözcük
word in Ukrainian: Слово
word in Yiddish: װאָרט
word in Chinese: 词语
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