When a dictionary entry for a word has many items, which of the following is more appropriate to use?

  • the word has many meanings or
  • the word has many senses

My impression is that the first is more common.

However, when talking about what is meant by such words, I have the impression it is more idiomatic to use like

  • The word is used in the first sense
  • The word is used in the sense ....

Am I correct about these? Or meaning/sense are interchangeable above?

Are there rules when to use meaning and when to use sense?

1 Answer 1


Your feelings about those words are correct. I'd just add one to the pile: "definition".

When referring specifically to a word like that in a dictionary, we say it has many definitions or many meanings.

When talking about a word, but not about its dictionary entry, we say it has many meanings.

When talking about a particular usage of a word, we say it is used in a particular sense.

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