When one makes a choice, he is faced with some alternatives: "go by car" or "go by bus"; "prefer sightseeing" or "go shopping", "buy a house" or "rent a flat", etc. These alternatives share the same hypernym (car and bus are means of transportation; sightseeing and shopping are activities; etc) and they have the tendency to exclude each other, but how would you call their semantic relation?

Is there anything in the literature as "alternative semantic relation" or "adversarial semantic relation"?

Edit: I may have found my answer, the term what I'm looking for might be "co-hypernym" https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/9244/is-there-a-term-ending-in-nym-that-signifies-terms-that-all-have-the-same-hy?rq=1

  • What do you mean: "adversarial semantic relation"? If it means choices exclude each other, then what is the difference between it and "alternative semantic relation"?
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 8:06
  • @TangHo I'm wondering if such a concept actually exists in the literature, and if it does, what it might be called?
    – vivasra
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 22:58
  • go by [method of transportation] is merely an idiomatic way of expressing how one moves from one place to another. There is nothing "adversarial" about it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 0:00
  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because This Linguistics question isn't about learning English
    – James K
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 6:45

2 Answers 2


I would say the relationship between "go by car" (choice A) and "go by bus" (choice B) is "mutually exclusive"

Example of mutually exclusive choices:

You want to buy apple or orange first? (cannot be both at the same time. -- 'apple first' exclude 'orange first' )

Example of non-mutually exclusive choices:

Do you want to buy apple or orange? (you can buy both at the same time -- 'buy apple' doesn't exclude 'buy orange')

Another example: Fighting the pandemic doesn't exclude saving the economy (you can do both at the same time)

  • [buy apple first or orange=not very idiomatic; buy apples first or oranges]
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 0:01

I believe this function is called a disjunction, either inclusive or exclusive as in your example, where you have to choose between two disjuncts excluding each other (the either/or case).

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