Welcome to Natural Language Processing in Python (Part 4)

If you have not seen Part 3 of this tutorial, please refer to the following link:

  1. NLP in Python Part 3 (Blog Post):

  2. NLP in Python Part 3 (YouTube Video):

The companion video to this post on NLP can be viewed here:

The primary goal of this post will be to:

  1. Give an overview of WordNet and illustrate how NLTK can be used to interface with this resource.

  2. Consider various metrics for determining how similar two different words are to each other.

Table of Contents of this tutorial:

NLTK and WordNet

In this tutorial, we shall briefly go over the WordNet resource. NLTK provides direct access to this resource, and we shall import that here:

from nltk.corpus import wordnet as wn

According to Wikipedia

“WordNet is a lexical database for the English language. It groups English words into sets of synonyms called synsets, which provide short definitions and usage examples and records a number of relations among these synonym sets or their members.”

WordNet is quite an extensive resource for NLP, and the fact that NLTK provides direct access to this resources is convenient. If you want to find more information on WordNet, here is the official WordNet site.

One primary use for WordNet is to determine the similarity between words. Take for example the following two sentences:

  1. “I learned natural language processing by resources found on the internet.”

  2. “I learned natural language processing by resources found on the net.”

Both sentence 1. and 2. are the same, with the exception of the last word. The words “internet” and “net” are synoynms, different words that have the same meaning, so the meaning of each sentence is the same irrespective of whether “internet” or “net” is used at the end.

We can use the wordnet module to determine the synsets (synonym sets) of the word “internet”:



The entry internet.n.01 is a synset for the word internet. Each synonym in the set is referred to as a lemma. We can print out the list of such synsets and their corresponding lemmas. (Specifically, the pairing of a synset with a word is called a lemma):


    ['internet', 'net', 'cyberspace']

According to WordNet, the word “internet” is a synonym of the word “net” and the word “cyberspace”.

For each synset, we can print out the definition as well as an example of usage in a sentence for the given word:

# Definition of synset:
    a computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer 
    networks that use the TCP/IP network protocols to facilitate data 
    transmission and exchange
# Example usage of synset:


As we can see, not all synsets have valid examples as we obtain the empty list. However, for a word like “car” we can take a look at the synsets:


    [Synset('car.n.01'), Synset('car.n.02'), Synset('car.n.03'), Synset('car.n.04'), Synset('cable_car.n.01')]

And then, for a given synset, we can view the example sentence provided. For this case of the word “car”, this example is:

# Example usage of synset for "car":
    ['he needs a car to get to work']

One may obtain the lemmas for a given synset as follows:

    [Lemma('internet.n.01.internet'), Lemma('internet.n.01.net'), Lemma('internet.n.01.cyberspace')]

For a given lemma, we can also get the synsets corresponding to that lemma.


A Few More NLP Terms:

Let us define two specic NLP terms that we will make use of later.

Hyponym: “a word of more specific meaning than a general or superordinate term applicable to it. For example, spoon is a hyponym of cutlery.”

Let us explore this concept with the term “cat”:

First obtain the synsets for the term “cat”:


    [Synset('cat.n.01'), Synset('guy.n.01'), Synset('cat.n.03'), Synset('kat.n.01'), Synset('cat-o'-nine-tails.n.01'), Synset('caterpillar.n.02'), Synset('big_cat.n.01'), Synset('computerized_tomography.n.01'), Synset('cat.v.01'), Synset('vomit.v.01')]

There are a few different synsets for this word. Let us take a look at what the definition of the synset cat.n.01 is:


    feline mammal usually having thick soft fur and no ability to roar: domestic cats; wildcats

It looks like that definition refers to the feline variety of the term cat. Note that the second synset is guy.n.01, as in someone who is a “cool cat”. Let us stick with the feline variety.

Let us determine the hyponyms of the term “cat”, and store that into a variable types_of_cats.

cat = wn.synset('cat.n.01')
types_of_cats = cat.hyponyms()

Now, let us loop through the hyponyms and see the lemmas for each synset:

for synset in types_of_cats:
    for lemma in synset.lemmas():


Note that terms like domestic_cat and house_cat are more specific terms with respect to the term “cat”, that is, they are hyponyms of the word “cat”.

Hypernym: “a word with a broad meaning that more specific words fall under; a superordinate. For example, color is a hypernym of red.”

A hyponym drills down to more specificity, while a hypernym goes upward toward more generality.

Example: Cat <- hypernym house_cat <- hyponym

Let us print out the hypernyms for the word “cat”.

    [Synset('cat.n.01'), Synset('domestic_animal.n.01')]

One way in which one may ascribe similarity between two different words is to assign a score based on the distance in terms of hypernyms and hyponyms. That is, how many levels up or down is a given word from the other we are attempting to compare it to.

Let us take the terms we have learned thus far along with what WordNet provides to us to define some metric as to how two words are related to one another.

There are a few ways in which to calculate the similarities between words.

The path_similarity function returns a score denoting how similar two words are in terms of the distance between hypernyms/hyponyms.

Let us calculate this metric of similarity between words “car” and “automobile”.

First, define the synsets for these terms:

car = wn.synset('car.n.01')
automobile = wn.synset('automobile.n.01')

Now, call the path_similarity function. This function returns a score between 0 and 1, where 0 is no similarity between the hypernym/hyponym tree and a distance of 1 is the node which houses both of the words in terms of hypernyms/hyponyms is identical.



We see that “car” and “automobile” have the highest similarity possible, with a score of 1.0.

This makes sense, since if we print out the synsets of “car”, we see that one of the synonyms is indeed “automobile”.

Let us now take a look at the term “car” and “boat”:

boat = wn.synset('boat.n.01')


We see a lower number here. This again makes sense, since the traversal with respect to hypernyms/hyponyms from car to boat is certainly at least below 1.0.

There are actually many more ways in which to define distances between words.

  1. Wu-Palmer Similarity

  2. Resnik Similarity

  3. Jiang-Conrath Similarity

  4. Lin Similarity

These methods of similarity are all based on different metrics of what one uses to define similarity between two different words. Going over each of these methods in detail would go beyond the scope of this tutorial, but let us look at the Wu-Palmer similarity metric.

The numerics obtained from this method may appear to be more intuitively pleasing than the path_similarity method.

Let us attempt to use this metric in the same way that we did for the path_similarity function.



Okay, again for “car” and “automobile” we see a value of 1.0, that is the highest value of similarity correlation under this metric.

Let us now attempt this metric with “car” and “boat”:



This higher value is a bit more intuitively correct, as a boat and car are both modes of transport, yet they are also different enough to warrant a lower value (as one travels on land and the other by sea). Let us continue with something even more seemingly unrelated to a car, a cat.

cat = wn.synset('cat.n.01')


We see an even lower number here, as one may expect between the terms “car” and “cat” under this metric of word similarity.


That wraps up this tutorial on natural language processing in Python.

Part 5 of Natural Language Processing in Python

Table of Contents of this tutorial: