Nyms: Hyponyms and Hypernyms

Tutorial Directory

When striving to name a concept with great precision, it helps to understand synonyms, hypernyms and hyponyms. Knowing how to apply these nyms will sharpen your search skills and enhance your keyword formation. The root "nym" comes from the Greek onoma, a name. We use the term nym to identify many classes of words. This tutorial examines two specific nyms: hypernyms, and hyponyms.

We are all familiar with synonyms: words that mean the same thing. The first step in creating a list of keywords is to write down all of the synonyms that describe the topic of your search. An online or traditional thesaurus may help in creating a keyword list. Another smart strategy is to scan the results of your first search for strong keywords. Synonyms (or any keyword) act as either hyponyms or hypernyms.

For more about synonyms, see the Micro Tutorial: What Are Synonyms? How Can Using Synonyms Help Your Search?)


A hyponym is a word that describes things more specifically. Proper nouns are good examples of hyponyms. Niagara Falls is a hyponym for waterfall. Ford is a hyponym for car. Ruby is a hyponym for gemstone. Just as hypomeans under, hyponyms are words that go deeper, representing unique meanings. Keywords that are hyponyms retrieve fewer and more precise results. For this reason, hyponyms narrow or limit a search.


fast car

Hypernyms are words that refer to broad categories or general concepts. Parks and aircraft are hypernyms for more precise terms like Yellowstone and Boeing 747. If a search doensn't produce enough results, a hypernym will retrieve more results. Nyms may be placed on a sliding scale from general to specific. If a search for a fast car produces too many results, move to the left. Otherwise, move to the right to see more possibilities in the search results. Of course, going all the way to the right to 'transportation' will include so many results that fast-moving cars may be hard to find.

dragster performance car car vehicle transportation

English is an intricate language with many subtleties. A fluent searcher has an extensive vocabulary and is able to think of words in terms of a continuum from general to precise. Words have meanings that are difficult for computers to assess what is meant (this is especially true when it comes to less common nymns). A careful application of nyms can guide a search to find just what you are looking for.

For more information about other lesser known nyms see the Micro Tutorial: Lesser Known Nyms

Authored by Dennis O'Connor 2003-2004 | Revised by Carl Heine 2015