Definition of polysemy in US English:



  • The coexistence of many possible meanings for a word or phrase.

    • ‘Literariness was not merely the quality that distinguished poetics from pragmatics, it was the guarantee and promise of linguistic richness, of polysemy.’
    • ‘Valéry puts to work the regulated polysemy of the word ‘capital’.’
    • ‘All the words for actual (kinds of) snow have been removed, and I'm ignoring the extensive polysemy of snow and many of its derivatives.’
    • ‘For my part, therefore, I am inclined to see features of both monosemy and polysemy in a word's semantic structure.’
    • ‘In doing this, lexicographers generally take the view that homonymy relates to different words whose forms have converged while polysemy relates to one word whose meanings have diverged or radiated.’


Early 20th century: from poly- ‘many’ + Greek sēma ‘sign’.