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Semantics vs. Pragmatics — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on October 6, 2023
Semantics studies the meaning of words and sentences, while Pragmatics examines language use in context.
Semantics vs. Pragmatics — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Semantics and Pragmatics


Key Differences

Semantics is a branch of linguistics that delves into the meanings of words, phrases, and sentences. It seeks to understand how language conveys specific meanings, irrespective of context. On the other hand, Pragmatics is more concerned with how people use language in different situations and contexts. It delves into understanding implications, intentions, and how meaning changes depending on context.
While Semantics would analyze the inherent meaning of the word "bank" as a financial institution, Pragmatics would explore how the word could also mean the side of a river, depending on the context in which it's used.
The interplay of Semantics and Pragmatics is essential to grasp the richness and depth of language. They both illuminate how we understand and convey meaning, with Semantics focusing on the literal meaning and Pragmatics emphasizing context-driven interpretation.

Comparison Chart

Main Focus

Meaning of words and sentences.
Language use in context.


Inherent meaning.
Implications and intentions.

Context Dependency

Less reliant on context.
Heavily relies on context.


Definitions in a dictionary.
Understanding sarcasm or irony.


Decoding word meanings in literature.
Interpreting speakers' intentions in conversations.

Compare with Definitions


Exploration of signification in language.
Through Semantics, we understand how words signify objects or concepts.


Understanding of intentions in communication.
Pragmatics delves into why Can you open the window? is a request and not a question about ability.


Examination of language without contextual influence.
Semantics looks at how bank can mean a financial institution, irrespective of context.


Exploration of contextual influences on meaning.
Pragmatics considers how bank might mean the side of a river based on context.


The study of word meanings.
Semantics helps decipher the meaning of complex words.


The study of language use in context.
Pragmatics helps interpret indirect requests.


Analysis of language's denotative aspects.
Semantics deals with the precise meanings of words in a sentence.


Examination of language's connotative aspects.
Through Pragmatics, we discern sarcasm or irony.


Semantics (from Ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, "significant") is the study of meaning, reference, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and computer science.


Analysis of unstated meanings in conversations.
Pragmatics aids in understanding implications in dialogue.


The study or science of meaning in language.


In linguistics and related fields, pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses phenomena including implicature, speech acts, relevance and conversation.


The competence of a speaker with regard to the interpretation of the meaning of linguistic structures.


The study of language as it is used in a social context, including its effect on the interlocutors.


The study of relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent. Also called semasiology.


The branch of semiotics that deals with the relationship between signs, especially words and other elements of language, and their users.


The meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form
We're basically agreed.
Let's not quibble over semantics.


Plural of pragmatic


(linguistics) A branch of linguistics studying the meaning of words.
Semantics is a foundation of lexicography.


The study of the use of language in a social context.


The study of the relationship between words and their meanings.


The study of language use


The individual meanings of words, as opposed to the overall meaning of a passage.
The semantics of the terms used are debatable.
The semantics of a single preposition is a dissertation in itself.


(computer science) The meaning of computer language constructs, in contrast to their form or syntax.
File sharing and locking semantics


The study of the meanings of words and of the sense development of words; - formerly called semasiology.


A doctrine and philosophical approach to language and its relationship to thought and behavior, developed by Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), which holds that the capacity to express ideas and thereby improve one's interaction with others and one's environment is enhanced by training in the more critical use of words and other symbols; - also called general semantics.


The meanings of words as they are used to achieve an effect; especially, the multiple meanings of words or the multiplicity of words having the same meaning; - used in referring to the confusion that can be caused (intentionally or unintentionally) by multiple meanings; as, there's no real difference, it's only a matter of semantics.


The study of language meaning


Linguistics branch focusing on inherent meaning.
Semantics is crucial for dictionary definitions.

Common Curiosities

How does Pragmatics aid in everyday communication?

Pragmatics helps interpret intentions, implications, and unstated meanings in conversations.

Why is Semantics essential for dictionary makers?

Semantics is crucial because it helps in defining the precise meanings of words without contextual influences.

How does Pragmatics differ from Semantics?

Pragmatics examines how context affects language use, whereas Semantics deals with inherent meaning.

What does Semantics primarily study?

Semantics focuses on the inherent meanings of words, phrases, and sentences.

Do Semantics only concern words?

No, Semantics also delve into the meanings of phrases and sentences.

How do Pragmatics and Semantics interplay in language understanding?

While Semantics offers the base meaning, Pragmatics adjusts that meaning based on context and usage.

Why are Pragmatics essential for effective communication?

Pragmatics ensures that messages are interpreted correctly based on context, making communication smoother.

Can a word have different semantic and pragmatic meanings?

Yes, a word can have a fixed semantic meaning but various pragmatic interpretations based on context.

Is Semantics concerned with speakers' intentions?

No, Semantics focuses on word meanings, while intentions are a domain of Pragmatics.

Can Semantics change over time?

Yes, the semantic meanings of words can evolve or shift over time due to societal changes.

Does every word have a single semantic meaning?

No, many words have multiple semantic meanings, but their interpretation in Pragmatics will depend on context.

How does Pragmatics relate to culture?

Pragmatics is influenced by cultural norms and practices, which can dictate how language is used and interpreted in various contexts.

Are Pragmatics more complex than Semantics?

Both have complexities, but Pragmatics often involve more variables due to the importance of context, culture, and speaker intentions.

Can there be misunderstandings due to Semantics?

Yes, if a word's inherent meaning isn't known, it can lead to misinterpretations.

How do Pragmatics contribute to humor or sarcasm?

Pragmatics helps listeners interpret nuances, tones, and context, essential for understanding humor or sarcasm.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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