Why is a verb like an inanimate object? Grammatical category and semantic category deficits

Helen Bird*, David Howard, Sue Franklin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

203 Citations (Scopus)


Semantic category effects, such as difficulties in naming animate things relative to inanimate objects, have been explained in terms of the relative weightings of perceptual and functional features within the semantic representations of these concepts. We argue that grammatical category deficits, such as difficulties in naming nouns relative to verbs, can be explained within the same framework. We hypothesize that verb concepts are richer in functional than sensory features and present a model of the semantic representations of animate nouns, inanimate nouns, and verbs. The model demonstrates that sensory feature damage results in a deficit for naming living things but spares verb naming, and functional feature damage results in a deficit for naming inanimate objects and verbs. We then report the assessment results of two patient groups. In accordance with the model's predictions, the 'verb spared' patients were consistently worse at naming living things than inanimate objects, and their definitions of both living and nonliving items were lacking in sensory information. We conclude that damage to sensory features in semantic representations causes difficulties in naming concrete nouns relative to action verbs, and within the grammatical category of nouns, animate items will be more severely affected. Imageability was shown to be a strong predictor of naming performance in the 'verb deficit' patients, and when this variable was controlled no class effect remained. Production of definitions revealed no differential damage to sensory or functional features, and no consistent effect of animacy in naming was shown. While the model suggests that verb deficits might occur in patients for whom functional features are damaged relative to sensory features, we conclude that the 'verb deficit' shown in our patients (and potentially in many previously reported cases) was an artifact of the lower imageability of verbs in confrontation naming tasks. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-309
Number of pages64
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Animacy
  • Anomia
  • Aphasia
  • Category
  • Features
  • Fu nctional
  • Imageability
  • Nouns
  • Semantics
  • Sensory
  • Verbs


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