In NLP while computing word to vector we try to maximize log(P(o|c)). Where P(o|c) is probability that o is outside word, given that c is center word.

Uo is word vector for outside word
Vc is word vector for center word
T is number of words in vocabulary

Above equation is softmax. And dot product of Uo and Vc acts as score, which should be higher the better. If words o and c are closer then their dot product should be high, but that is not the case with dot product. Because of following:
Consider vectors
A=[1, 1, 1], B=[2, 2, 2], C=[100, 100, 100]
A.B = 1 * 2 + 1 * 2 + 1 * 2 = 6
A.C = 1 * 100 + 1 * 100 + 1 * 100 = 300

Vectors A and B are closer compared to A and C, however dot product A.C >A.B
So Dot product is acting as distance and not as similarity measure. Then why is it used in softmax.
Please help me make my understanding better

  • $\begingroup$ it is possible the metric is a variation of cosine similarity (which is a normalised dot product, very common in NLP), you should provide the source of the reference you mention $\endgroup$
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 15, 2021 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Reference: Stanford's course on NLP (Time = 12:22) youtu.be/… $\endgroup$
    – Vivek Dani
    Jan 15, 2021 at 18:12

3 Answers 3


The reference points to the word2vec library (source code).

It does not use normalised vectors during training (although it indeed uses the cosine similarity metric for semantic comparisons on already trained vectors).

The reasons for using only dot product instead of cosine similarity during training can be due to:

  1. Dot product is a variation of cosine similarity.
  2. Length captures some semantic information in the sense that length can correlate to frequency of occurance in a given context, so using dot product only captures this information as well (although for strict similarity testing cosine metric is still used)
  3. When vectors are normalised the two metrics coincide.
  4. Efficiency (doing less computations)


  1. Why does the word2vec objective use the inner product (inside the softmax), but the nearest neighbors phase of it uses cosine? It seems like a mismatch.
  2. Should I normalize word2vec's word vectors before using them?
  3. Measuring Word Significance using Distributed Representations of Words
  4. word2vec Parameter Learning Explained
  • $\begingroup$ Reference: Stanford's course on NLP CS224N Lecture-2 on youtube (Time = 12:22) youtu.be/… $\endgroup$
    – Vivek Dani
    Jan 15, 2021 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ see my updated answer and references therein $\endgroup$
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 16, 2021 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ Point (3) above is relatively more convincing, but i guess they are not normalizing to unit vector length. $\endgroup$
    – Vivek Dani
    Jan 23, 2021 at 11:21

The dot product is the magnitude of the projection of one vector $v$ to $w$, which is not a very good similarity measure, however:

$$ v \cdot w = \lVert v\rVert\lVert w\rVert Cos(\theta) $$

Being $\theta$ the angle between the 2 vectors.

$$ v \cdot w = \sum_{i=1}^n v_i \cdot w_i $$

Being: $\lVert v\rVert = \sqrt{v \cdot v} $
With very simple math we can obtain:

$$ \frac{v}{\lVert v\rVert} \cdot \frac{w}{\lVert w\rVert} = Cos(\theta) $$ As

$$ -1 \le Cos(\theta) \le 1 $$

In case the vectors are divided by their norm (normalization) we can say " the higher the dot prod the more similar"

  • $\begingroup$ if magnitude of vectors is 1, i.e. if vectors are normalized, then it makes sense as it'll become cosine similarity. However I doubt if vectors are normalized for magnitude to be 1 i.e. |v|=1 $\endgroup$
    – Vivek Dani
    Jan 16, 2021 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ Small correction |v|^2 = v.v :) $\endgroup$
    – Vivek Dani
    Jan 16, 2021 at 14:32

Vectors Uo and Vc are more or less similar in magnitude. And magnitude is very small. Dot product normalized by length of vectors is cosine similarity.


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