We explain what symbols are and what their characteristics are. Also, the types of symbols that exist and what they represent.

What are symbols?

Symbols are iconic representations that represent ideas or concepts . A symbol is a sign.

Many times the symbols turn out to be abstract and it is necessary to elaborate a thought that is framed in a certain society and at a specific moment for its understanding. For example, the cross for Christians is a symbol that recalls the death of Jesus Christ. However this cross could represent something else for people born in another contain before the death of Jesus Christ .

Symbols generally express ideas or concepts that are of great importance or significance for a particular place. In fact, cultures use symbols to express and convey something of their own culture .

All society uses symbols since these are complex elaborations of thought . Semiotics is the science that studies the different signs that are created in a society.

Characteristics of symbols :

  1. Abstract


At its birth the symbol may not be abstract . However once it is culturally accepted it can become completely abstract and independent of the icon or object it represents.

  1. Context

Every symbol, to be understood, needs a specific context . In other words, a symbol will be representative of something for a given culture in a given context.

  1. Prior knowledge

It is important to remember that a symbol evokes in the minds of the recipients a whole body of previously apprehended and incorporated knowledge . Thus, in the example of the Christian cross, it reminds Catholics of the moment of the crucifixion of Christ. This may only be representative to recipients if they know the story in advance.

  1. Type of symbols

Type of symbols

There are different types of symbols:

  • Trade symbols. Those that express a specific brand but, due to the same independence of the symbol, are not accompanied by the same brand. An example of this type of symbol is the Nike pipe.
  • Religious symbols. The cross for Christians.
  • Political symbols. The swastika represents the Nazi symbol since it implies the knowledge of said symbol for the person who observes it. However, the Nazi symbol (the swastika) in an inverted form has another name (the sauastika) and represents an octopus that is synonymous with life . In this second example the symbol would be religious and not political.
  • Cultural or national symbols. It can be the coat of arms or the flag of a certain country.

  1. It is global and undivided

A symbol, once constituted as a representative of an idea or concept, cannot be divided. In other words, it cannot express only a part of such an idea or concept, but rather encompasses and synthesizes the idea it represents.

  1. Specify an object (icon)

Specify an object (icon)

As much as a symbol becomes more or less abstract and independent of the object it represents, it undoubtedly requires an object or thing that is tangible and that serves for its representation.

  1. Psychic and emotional footprint (index)

The symbol is the result of a psychic and emotional imprint shared by members of the same community . In other words, the symbol generates an individual footprint but this is shared by the same community . In this sense, the symbol is not only representative at the intellectual level for a certain community but also contains a certain emotional imprint on it.

  1. Is autonomous

The symbol is completely independent of the initial iconic idea that may have served to shape it. On the other hand, the symbol is not governed by logic.

  1. It is collective

It is collective

As previously expressed, a symbol has a certain meaning for a society at a certain time . With the modification of events for that society, the symbol can modify its conception but it will always be global for the entire society.

  1. It is representable

Every symbol must be representable, that is, it must be able to be expressed graphically since a symbol first and foremost is an icon (that is, a thing or object), loaded with an imprint that has left a psychic and emotional mark on a given society and which, therefore, has become a symbol for it.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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