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Learn OWL and RDFS


OWL References for Humans

This lesson provides an introduction to the most useful constructs in OWL. It’s not intended to be comprehensive, but it does contain quite a few of the constructs that you’re likely run into.

Note: many of the examples in this lesson came from the more technical OWL Primer.  We have repackaged them in the hopes of making them more accessible to those newer to OWL.

Today’s Lesson

  • Classes and Resources
  • Properties
  • Restrictions

Classes and Resources

One area in which OWL goes significantly beyond RDFS is that it allows you to construct some fairly complex, but useful, relationships among classes. Some of the most common building blocks for doing so are listed below.

Classes and Resources
Property Used to say that… Example
intersectionOf …any instance of the first class is also an instances of all classes in the specified list

:Mother    owl:intersectionOf

(  :Woman   :Parent  )

unionOf …any instance of the first class is an instance of at least one of the classes in the specified list

:Parent   owl:unionOf

(  :Mother   :Father  )

complementOf …the first class is equivalent to everything not in the second class

:Parent   owl:complementOf


disjointWith …the first class and second class have no members in common :Man    owl:disjointWith    :Woman
equivalentClass …the first class and the second class contain all the same members

:AdultFemaleHuman    owl:equivalentClass    :Woman

sameAs …the first resource refers to the exact same thing as the second resource

:JimFromWork    owl:sameAs    :MyNeighborJim

differentFrom …the first resource refers to something different from the second resource

:BobFromWork  owl:differentFrom    :MyNeighborBob


As with RDFS, properties in OWL are used to link things together. OWL provides a rich and complex vocabulary for saying things about these links.

Basic Property Types
Kind of Property Used to say… Example Explanation
DatatypeProperty …that this property links to simple data values ex:hasBirthday This property links to a date, which is a simple data value
ObjectProperty …that this property links to another resource ex:hasSpouse This property links to a person, which is another resource
Logical Relationships
Kind of Property Used to say… Example Explanation
TransitiveProperty …that if this property links A to B, and B to C, then it also links A to C. ex:tallerThan If Ann is taller than Bob, and Bob is taller than Chuck, then Ann is taller than Chuck
SymmetricProperty …that if the property relates A to B, then it always  relates B to A as well. ex:hasSpouse If Ann is Bob’s spouse, then Bob is Ann’s spouse too
AsymmetricProperty …that if the property relates A to B, then it never relates B to A. ex:tallerThan If Ann is taller than Bob, then Bob can’t be taller than Ann
ReflexiveProperty …that this property always links something to itself. ex:livesWith Everybody lives with themselves
IrreflexiveProperty …that this property never links something to itself. ex:hasSpouse Nobody is their own spouse
FunctionalProperty …that this property only ever links to at most one thing. ex:hasBirthday You only have one birthday
InverseFunctionalProperty …that the subject of this property is uniquely identified by the value of this property. ex:hasDLNumber I am the only person with my drivers license number
Properties Linking Properties
Property Used to say that… Example
inverseOf …the two properties are the inverse of each other. For example, if Ann’s child is Bob, then Bob’s parent is Ann.

:hasChild    owl:inverseOf    :hasParent

equivalentProperty …two properties are exactly the same

:hasBirthPlace   owl:equivalentProperty



In RDFS, you could impose constraints on properties simply by specifying the domain and range. For example, if you asserted the range of :hasBirthday is xsd:date, then all statements using :hasBirthday should have an xsd:date as their object.

OWL lets you do this too, but it also introduces the concepts of restrictions, enumerations, and dataranges which are much more powerful.

(Note: In the Turtle RDF syntax, these constructs are usually specified using the bracketed blank node syntax, which we’ll use below.)

Restrictions and Enumerations
Parameter Used to say… Example Explanation
…that the property can have a certain number of values (objects). :Automobile  owl:equivalentclass  [

rdf:type         owl:Restriction ;

owl:cardinality  “4”^^xsd:int ;

owl:onProperty   :hasWheel

] .

All automobiles have 4 wheels (e.g., as opposed to a bicycle).
oneOf …that all instances of a class come from the specified list :BobsChildren owl:equivalentClass  [

rdf:type   owl:Class ;

owl:oneOf  ( :Bill  :John  :Mary )

] .

The class ‘BobsChildren’ has the three items: Bill, John, and Mary
hasValue …that all objects of that property have the specified value :BobsChildren  owl:equivalentClass  [

rdf:type        owl:Restriction ;

owl:onProperty  :hasParent ;

owl:hasValue    :Bob

] .

Each instance of BobsChildren has ‘Bob’ as the object of its :hasParent property.
someValuesFrom …that at least one object of that property is a member of the specified class. :Parent  owl:equivalentClass  [

rdf:type            owl:Restriction ;

owl:onProperty      :hasChild ;

owl:someValuesFrom  :Person

] .

Any instance of the ‘Parent’ class has at least one child that is a Person
allValuesFrom …that all objects of that property are members of the specified class :Vegetarian owl:equivalentClass  [

rdf:type            owl:Restriction ;

owl:onProperty      :eats ;

owl:allValuesFrom  :NonMeat

] .

The class ‘Vegetarian’ is equivalent to the class of things that only eat non-meat.


That’s the end of our general overview of some basic OWL constructs. We hope this tutorial has been helpful.