Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Semantic similarity between sentences

  • 173 Accesses

  • 3 Citations


The present study investigated the effects of deep, lexical, and surface structure relationships between sentences on judgments of these sentences' semantic similarity. Ten sentence conditions, four paraphrases and six nonparaphrases, were derived from a base sentence. The four paraphrase types weretransformational (T), a passive form of the base,lexical (L), containing synonyms for base content words,formalexic (F), a combination ofT andL types, andparasyntactic (P), one of several alternative interpretations of the base. The six nonparaphrases consisted of three sets of two sentences each: the falsepermutation sentences retained the base lexicon, thefalse synonymous sentences contained synonyms, and theunrelated sentences' lexicon was completely unrelated to the base. One sentence in each nonparaphrase set retained the base surface form and the other, a passivization, did not. Using a modified paired comparisons task, the following rank order of conditions, in terms of preference, was obtained:T>L>F>P>false permutation>false synonymous>unrelated. It was concluded that deep structure similarity had potent effects but that a more complete description of the data required the postulation of additional factors such as “propositional structure” and “semantic structure.”

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Anisfeld, M. (1970). False recognition of adjective-noun phrases.J. Exp. Psychol. 86: 120–122.

  2. Anisfeld, M., and Knapp, M. (1968). Association, synonymity, and directionality in false recognition.J. Exp. Psychol.,77: 171–179.

  3. Bach, E., and Harms, R. (eds.)Universals in Linguistic Theory. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York.

  4. Begg, I. (1971). Recognition memory for sentence meaning and wording.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav.,10: 114–119.

  5. Bever, T. (1970). The integrated study of language behavior. In Morton, J. (ed.),Biological and Social Factors in Psycholinguistics, Univ. of Illinois Press, Urbana.

  6. Bregman, A., and Strasberg, R. (1968). Memory for the syntactic form of sentences.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 7: 396–403.

  7. Chafe, W. (1971). Directionality and paraphrase.Language 47: 1–26.

  8. Chomsky, N. (1965).Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.

  9. Chomsky, N. (1969). Deep structure, surface structure, and semantic interpretation. In Steinberg, D., and Jakobovits, L. (eds.),Semantics: an Interdisciplinary Reader in Philosophy, Linguistics, Anthropology, and Psychology. Cambridge Univ. Press, London.

  10. Clifton, C., and Odom, P. (1966). Similarity relations among certain English sentence constructions.Psychological Monographs 80 (5, Entire No. 613).

  11. Collins, A., and Quillian, M. (1969). Retrieval time from semantic memory.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 8: 240–247.

  12. Deese, J. (1965).The Structure of Associations in Language and Thought. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

  13. Fillenbaum, S. (1969). Words as feature complexes: False recognition of antonyms and synonyms.J. Exp. Psychol. 82: 400–402.

  14. Hamilton, H., and Deese, J. (1971). Comprehensibility and subject-verb relations in complex sentences.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 10: 163–170.

  15. Honeck, R. (1971). A study of paraphrases.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 10: 367–381.

  16. Katz, J., and Postal, P. (1964).An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Descriptions. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.

  17. Kreitler, S., and Kreitler, H. (1968). Dimensions of meaning and their measurement.Psychol. Rep. 23: 1307–1329.

  18. Lemmon, E. (1971). Sentences, statements, and propositions. In Rosenberg, J., and Travis, C. (eds.),Readings in the Philosophy of Language. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

  19. Martin, E., and Roberts, K. (1966). Grammatical factors in sentence retention.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 5: 211–218.

  20. Mawson, C. (1931).Roget's Thesaurus of the English Language in Dictionary Form. Garden City Publishing, New York.

  21. McCawley, J. (1971). Meaning and the description of languages. In Rosenberg, J., and Travis, C. (eds.),Readings in the Philosophy of Language. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

  22. Miller, G. (1969). A psychological method to investigate verbal concepts.J. Math. Psychol. 6: 169–191.

  23. Olson, D. (1970). Language and thought: Aspects of a cognitive theory of semantics.Psychol. Rev. 77: 257–273.

  24. Osgood, C. (1968). Toard a wedding of insufficiencies. In Dixon, T., and Horton, D. (eds.),Verbal Behavior and General Behavior Theory. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

  25. Perfetti, C. (1969). Lexical density and phrase structure depth as variables in sentence retention.J. Verb. Learn. Verb. Behav. 8: 719–724.

  26. Sachs, J. (1967). Recognition memory for syntactic and semantic aspects of connected discourse.Percep. Psychophys. 2: 437–442.

  27. Schaeffer, B., and Wallace, R. (1970). The comparison of word meaning.J. Exp. Psychol. 86: 144–152.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Honeck, R.P. Semantic similarity between sentences. J Psycholinguist Res 2, 137–151 (1973). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01067207

Download citation


  • Rank Order
  • Paired Comparison
  • Semantic Similarity
  • Alternative Interpretation
  • Deep Structure