AskDefine | Define intension

Dictionary Definition

intension n : what you must know in order to determine the reference of an expression [syn: connotation]

User Contributed Dictionary



Latin intensio, intension-, from intensus .


  1. intensity or the act of becoming intense .
  2. In the context of "logic|semantics": Any property or quality connoted by a word, phrase or other symbol, contrasted to actual instances in the real world to which the term applies.

Usage notes

Not to be confused with intention.

Derived terms

Related terms


Extensive Definition

Not to be confused with the homophone intention; or the related concept of intentionality. For the song "Intension" by Tool, see 10,000 Days.
In linguistics, logic, philosophy, and other fields, an intension is any property or quality connoted by a word, phrase or other symbol. In the case of a word, it is often implied by its definition. The term may also refer to the complete set of meanings or properties that are implied by a concept, although the term comprehension is technically more correct for this.
Intension is generally discussed with regard to extension (or denotation). Intension refers to the set of all possible things a word or phrase could describe, extension to the set of all actual things the word describes. For example, the intension of a car is the all-inclusive concept of a car, including, for example, mile-long cars made of chocolate that may not actually exist. But the extension of 'car' is all actual instances of cars (past, present, and future), which will amount to millions or billions of cars, but probably does not include any mile-long cars made of chocolate.
The meaning of a word can be thought of as the bond between the idea or thing the word refers to and the word itself. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure contrasts three concepts:
Intension is analogous to the signified, extension to the referent. The intension thus links the signifier to the sign's extension. Without intension of some sort, words can have no meaning.
In philosophical arguments about dualism versus monism, it is noted that thoughts have intensionality and physical objects do not (S.E. Palmer, 1999)
Intension and intensionality (the state of having intension) should not be confused with intention and intentionality, which are pronounced the same and occasionally arise in the same philosophical context. Where this happens, the letter 's' or 't' is sometimes italicized to emphasize the distinction.

See also


  • Ferdinand De Saussure: Course in General Linguistics. Open Court Classics, July 1986. ISBN 0-812-69023-0
    • S. E. Palmer, Vision Science: From Photons to Phenomenology, 1999. MIT Press, ISBN 78-0262161831
intension in German: Intension
intension in French: Intension
intension in Finnish: Intensionaalinen
intension in Swedish: Intension
intension in Chinese: 内涵
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