Exemplification is a mode of symbolization characterized by the relation between a sample and what it refers to.


Unlike ostension, which is the act of showing or pointing to a sample, exemplification is possession of a property plus reference to its label (Goodman, 1976). For example, if a colour sample has the property labelled 'green', then the colour sample exemplifies green. Basically, possession of a property amounts to being referred to by its label.


While the label 'green' refers to any green thing, only things that are used as samples, such as the green swatches in a paint shop's booklet, exemplify it. Furthermore, exemplification is selective: a sample does not exemplify all of its properties (size, shape, aesthetic value etc.) but only those for which it is a symbol.

A mode of reference

Reference is the relation between something "standing for" something else. Usually it goes in one direction, for example, from a word to what it designates. But it is also used in both directions, for example, when product samples stand for certain properties they possess. While the label 'green' refers to a certain property of a product sample, the sample refers to the same property by exemplifying it. Therefore, exemplification is a mode of reference.

Uses of exemplification

  • Product samples exemplify certain properties they possess.
  • As a part in ostensive definition, i.e. definition by exemplification of what is defined. For example, an artist can define a new style by showing works that exemplify it.
  • Defined exemplification is a pattern of essay development that uses specific instances (examples) to clarify a point, to add interest, or to persuade (Clouse, 2006).


  • Goodman, Nelson, 1976, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, pp 52-57.
  • Clouse, Barbara, 2006, Patterns for a Purpose: McGraw Hill Publishing Company, pg G-2

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