semantic unit of a language lexicon such as a word or multi-word expression (e.g. "steam iron"), as a set of inflected forms and not one particular inflected form, with a meaning that cannot be understood from the meanings of separate components

Lexeme is a term in linguistics. They are units of meaning, independent of any inflectional endings, or whether it is one word or several. "Come in" is a lexeme; so is "raining cats and dogs". The largest English dictionaries have about half a million lexemes. "The true figure is undoubtedly a great deal higher".[1]

In the English language, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme..

A similar concept is the lemma (or citation form). It is the form of a lexeme which is chosen to represent the lexeme, for example, RUN instead of the other forms. Lemmas are used in dictionaries as the headwords. Other forms of a lexeme are usually listed later in the entry. So all headwords in a dictionary are lexemes.

A lexicon is made of lexemes.


  1. Crystal, David (1995). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge. p. 119.