[ pol-ee-see-mee, puh-lis-uh-mee ]
/ ˈpɒl iˌsi mi, pəˈlɪs ə mi /


a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation.

Origin of polysemy

1895–1900; < New Latin polysēmia, equivalent to Late Latin polysēm(us) with many significations (< Greek polýsēmos, equivalent to poly- poly- + sêm(a) sign + -os adj. suffix) + -ia -y3
Related formspol·y·se·mous, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for polysemy


/ (ˌpɒlɪˈsiːmɪ, pəˈlɪsəmɪ) /


the existence of several meanings in a single wordCompare monosemy
Derived Formspolysemous, adjective

Word Origin for polysemy

C20: from New Latin polysēmia, from Greek polusēmos having many meanings, from poly- + sēma a sign
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for polysemy



1900, from French polysémie (1897), from Medieval Latin polysemus, from Greek polysemos "of many senses," from poly- (see poly-) + sema "sign" (see semantic). Related: Polysemic.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper