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Frege introduced the distinction between sense (German: Sinn) and reference (German: Bedeutung). The reference of an expression is the entity or set of entities which that expression denotes. The sense of an expression relates to properties of the (mental) representation of the expression. For example, the reference of the president of the USA is George Bush in December 1992, but Bill Clinton in February 1993. The sense of the phrase, however, is the same in both cases. Reference and sense are often equated with extension and intension.

"We will say that the relationship which which holds between words and things..." (Lyons 1968:404)


Referential NPs are assumed to be referential due to their reference. This reference is usually conceived of as a function which associates the NP with some entity or entities in a mental domain of interpretation. The reference of an NP is indicated by a referential index (e.g. Johni ).

See also


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Gamut, L.T.F. 1991. Logic, language, and meaning, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Lyons, John. 1968. Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.