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Semantic memory is the system that you use to store your knowledge of the world. It is a knowledge base that we all have and much of which we can access quickly and effortlessly. It includes our memory of the meanings of words?the kind of memory that lets us recall not only the names of the world's great capitals, but also social customs, the functions of things, and their colour and odour.

Semantic memory also includes our memory of the rules and concepts that let us construct a mental representation of the world without any immediate perceptions. Its content is thus abstract and relational and is associated with the meaning of verbal symbols.

Semantic memory is independent of the spatial/temporal context in which it was acquired. Since it is a form of reference memory that contains information accumulated repeatedly throughout our lifetimes, semantic memory is usually spared when people suffer from amnesia, but it can be affected by some forms of dementia (see sidebar).

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