What Does Semantics Mean?

Semantics in IT is a term for the ways that data and commands are presented.


Semantics is a linguistic concept separate from the concept of syntax, which is also often related to attributes of computer programming languages. The idea of semantics is that the linguistic representations or symbols support logical outcomes, as a set of words and phrases signify ideas to both humans and machines.

Techopedia Explains Semantics

In general, semantics involves using specific words and labels. For example, a semantic network uses words to represent elements of a network. These types of semantics are geared more toward human audiences than toward a machine interpretation.

In computer programming, a discussion of semantics may include the semantics of computer commands. Again, the semantic representation of words associated with controls, values and other corporate branding concepts, works on a logical basis. With that in mind, if a programmer uses words that don’t make sense to the computer, this may be characterized as a "semantic error." Programmers may talk about "semantic structure" for either commands or elements of code that represent objects.

Other core issues with semantics involve the difference between machine language, which is not easily interpreted by humans, and upper-level programming languages that use common human semantics. These must then be translated down to machine language, often to a binary representation. That task of interpretation is at the core of how computers and humans work together on project outcomes.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.