sem·​eme ˈse-ˌmēm How to pronounce sememe (audio)
: the meaning of a morpheme
: a class of related semes
sememic adjective

Word History


Greek sêma "distinguishing mark, sign, signal" + -eme — more at semantic

Note: The etymology assumes that the word was initiated in English, following its use by Leonard bloomfield in "A Set of Postulates for the Science of Language" (Language, vol. 2, no. 3 [September, 1926], p. 157) and in the same author's Language (1933). The term was used earlier in Swedish, however, by the linguist Adolf Noreen as semem, and at least one example can be found of English usage most likely following Noreen (see Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, s.v.). Noreen's use is discussed in detail by Serhii Vakulenko in "The Notion of Sememe in the Work of Adolf Noreen," Bulletin of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas, vol. 44, issue 1 (2005), pp. 19-35.

First Known Use

1913, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sememe was in 1913

Dictionary Entries Near sememe

Cite this Entry

“Sememe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!