An R package for creating and exploring word2vec and other word embedding models
Latest commit 4ca3aeb Jan 10, 2017 @bmschmidt committed on GitHub Merge pull request #25 from bmschmidt/dev
Dev including read by item name

Word Vectors

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An R package for building and exploring word embedding models.


This package does three major things:

  1. Trains word2vec models using an extended Jian Li's word2vec code; reads and writes the binary word2vec format so that you can import pre-trained models such as Google's; and provides tools for reading only part of a model so you can explore a model in memory-limited situations.
  2. Creates a new VectorSpaceModel class in R that gives a better syntax for exploring a word2vec or GloVe model than native matrix methods. For example, instead of writing model[rownames(model)=="king",], you can write model[["king"]].
  3. Implements several basic matrix operations that are useful in exploring word embedding models including cosine similarity, nearest neighbor, and vector projection with some caching that makes them much faster than the simplest implementations.

Quick start

For a step-by-step interactive demo that includes installation and training a model on 77 historical cookbooks from Michigan State University, jump to the quick-start guide.


This includes an altered version of Tomas Mikolov's original C code for word2vec; those wrappers were origally written by Jian Li, and I've only tweaked them a little. Several other users have improved that code since I posted it here.

Right now, it does not (I don't think) install under Windows 8. Help appreciated on that thread. OS X, Windows 7, Windows 10, and Linux install perfectly well, with one or two exceptions.

It's not extremely fast, but once the data is loaded in most operations happen in suitable time for exploratory data analysis (under a second on my laptop.)

Creating text vectors.

One portion of this is an expanded version of the code from Jian Li's word2vec package with a few additional parameters enabled as the function train_word2vec.

The input must still be in a single file and pre-tokenized, but it uses the existing word2vec C code. For online data processing, I like the gensim python implementation, but I don't plan to link that to R.

In RStudio I've noticed that this appears to hang, but if you check processors it actually still runs. Try it on smaller portions first, and then let it take time: the training function can take hours for tens of thousands of books.

VectorSpaceModel object

The package loads in the word2vec binary format with the format read.vectors into a new object called a "VectorSpaceModel" object. It's a light superclass of the standard R matrix object. Anything you can do with matrices, you can do with VectorSpaceModel objects.

It has a few convenience functions as well.

Faster Access to text vectors

The rownames of a VectorSpaceModel object are presumed to be tokens in a vector space model and therefore semantically useful. The classic word2vec demonstration is that vector('king') - vector('man') + vector('woman') =~ vector('queen'). With a standard matrix, the vector on the right-hand side of the equation would be described as

vector_set[rownames(vector_set)=="king",] - vector_set[rownames(vector_set)=="man",] + vector_set[rownames(vector_set)=="woman",]

In this package, you can simply access it by using the double brace operators:

vector_set[["king"]] - vector_set[["man"]] + vector_set[["woman"]]

Since frequently an average of two vectors provides a better indication, multiple words can be collapsed into a single vector by specifying multiple labels. For example, this may provide a slightly better gender vector:

vector_set[["king"]] - vector_set[[c("man","men")]] + vector_set[[c("woman","women")]]

Sometimes you want to subset without averaging. You can do this with the argument average==FALSE to the subset.

cosineSimilarity(vector_set[[c("man","men","king"),average=F]], vector_set[[c("woman","women","queen"),average=F]]

A few native functions defined on the VectorSpaceModel object.

The native show method just prints the dimensions; the native print method does some crazy reductions with the T-SNE package (installation required for functionality) because T-SNE is a nice way to reduce down the size of vectors.

Useful matrix operations

One challenge of vector-space models of texts is that it takes some basic matrix multiplication functions to make them dance around in an entertaining way.

This package bundles the ones I think are the most useful. Each takes a VectorSpaceModel as its first argument. Sometimes, it's appropriate for the VSM to be your entire data set; other times, it's sensible to limit it to just one or a few vectors. Where appropriate, the functions can also take vectors or matrices as inputs.

  • cosineSimilarity(VSM_1,VSM_2) calculates the cosine similarity of every vector in on vector space model to every vector in another. This is n^2 complexity. With a vocabulary size of 20,000 or so, it can be reasonable to compare an entire set to itself; or you can compare a larger set to a smaller one to search for particular terms of interest.
  • cosineDistance(VSM_1,VSM_2) is the inverse of cosineSimilarity. It's not really a distance metric, but can be used as one for clustering and the like.
  • nearest_to(VSM,vector,n) wraps a particularly common use case for cosineSimilarity, of finding the top n terms in a VectorSpaceModel closest to term m
  • project(VSM,vector) takes a VectorSpaceModel and returns the portion parallel to the vector vector.
  • reject(VSM,vector) is the inverse of project; it takes a VectorSpaceModel and returns the portion orthogonal to the vector vector. This makes it possible, for example, to collapse a vector space by removing certain distinctions of meaning.
  • magnitudes calculated the magnitude of each element in a VSM. This is useful in.

All of these functions place the VSM object as the first argument. This makes it easy to chain together operations using the magrittr package. For example, beginning with a single vector set one could find the nearest words in a set to a version of the vector for "bank" that has been decomposed to remove any semantic similarity to the banking sector.

not_that_kind_of_bank = chronam_vectors[["bank"]] %>%
      reject(chronam_vectors[["cashier"]]) %>% 
      reject(chronam_vectors[["depositors"]]) %>%   
chronam_vectors %>% nearest_to(not_that_kind_of_bank)

Quick start

Install the wordVectors package.

One of the major hurdles to running word2vec for ordinary people is that it requires compiling a C program. For many people, it may be easier to install it in R.

  1. If you haven't already, install R and then install RStudio.
  2. Open R, and get a command-line prompt (the thing with a > on the left hand side.) This is where you'll be copy-pasting commands.
  3. Install (if you don't already have it) the package devtools by pasting the following

  4. Install the latest version of this package from Github by pasting in the following.


    Windows users may need to install "Rtools" as well: if so, a message to this effect should appear in red on the screen. This may cycle through a very large number of warnings: so long as it says "warning" and not "error", you're probably OK.

Testing the setup

We'll test the setup by running a complete VSM. First, download and extract a zip file of cookbooks from the MSU library by pasting the following lines.

if (!file.exists("")) {

Then load the wordVectors package you have already installed.


Next, we build a single text file consisting of all the cookbooks converted to lowercase with punctuation removed.

Note: this prep_word2vec function is extremely inefficient compared to text parsing functions written in python or sed or pretty much any language you can think of. I'm only including it for Windows compatibility of examples and non-programmers. If you know how to create a file with punctuation already stripped or separated any other way, I strongly recommend doing it that way. But if you're working with a few hundred documents, this will get the job done, slowly. On the cookbooks, it should take a couple minutes. (For reference: in a console, perl -pe 's/[^A-Za-z_0-9 \n]/ /g;' cookbooks/* > cookbooks.txt will do the same thing in a couple seconds. Seriously, I have no idea how to write fast R text-parsing code.)


Now we train the model. This can take quite a while. In RStudio I've noticed that this appears to hang, but if you check processors it actually still runs. Try it on smaller portions first, and then let it take time: the training function can take hours for tens of thousands of books.

The 'threads' parameter is the number of processors to use on your computer.

model = train_word2vec("cookbooks.txt",output="cookbook_vectors.bin",threads = 3,vectors = 100,window=12)
  • NOTE: If at any point you want to read in a previously trained model, you can do so by typing model = read.vectors("cookbook_vectors.bin")

Now we have a model in memory, trained on about 10 million words from 77 cookbooks. What can it tell us about food?

Well, you can run some basic operations to find the nearest elements:


With that list, you can expand out further to search for multiple words:


Now we have a pretty expansive list of potential fish-related words from old cookbooks. This may be useful for something in real life.

Or we can just arrange them somehow. If you have the tsne package installed, (type install.packages("tsne") to download it), you can plot these words in a reduced dimensional space. In this case, it doesn't look like much of anything.

some_fish = nearest_to(model,model[[c("fish","salmon","trout","shad","flounder","carp","roe","eels")]],50)

But this set actually gives a fairly nicely clustered set of results if you plot the top words in the whole thing.


There's a lot of other stuff you can do besides just measuring nearness: you can do analogies, projection, and more complicated plots. But for that you should read my blog posts on this.