How to Perform Sentence Segmentation or Sentence Tokenization using spaCy | NLP Series | Part 5

Sentence Segmentation or Sentence Tokenization is the process of identifying different sentences among group of words. Spacy library designed for Natural Language Processing, perform the sentence segmentation with much higher accuracy. However, lets first talk about, how we as a human identify the start and end of the sentence? Mostly with the help of the punctuation, right? And in most of the cases we say a sentence ends with a dot ‘.’ character. So with this basic idea, we would say that we can split the string based on dot and get the different sentences. Do you think this logic would be enough to get all sentence tokens?

What if there are some abbreviations within the sentences for example consider a sentence “U.K. has two dots in its abbreviation.” In this case our brain is trained in such a way that it would not consider dots present in between the abbreviation as the end of the sentence. However it keeps reading until it reaches the dot which actually ends the sentence. Now see in this case, our split logic will fail completely. This is where we need some model training by scratch in text corpus or use some pre-trained models and tweak them based on our specific need. Spacy provides different models for different languages. I will be explaining the concept with respect to English language model. For other language support and installation instructions please refer the documentation available at official site.

So, in this post we’ll learn how sentence segmentation works, and how to set user defined segmentation rules.

#Perform standard imports
import spacy
nlp = spacy.load('en_core_web_sm') # Load the English Model
string1 = "This is the first sentence. This is the second sentence. This is the third sentence."
doc = nlp(string1)
for sent in doc.sents:

Doc.sents is a generator

A generator object can not produce output/segmented untill it is called. For example if there is a list obj so you can iterate over it and print item one by one. Also you can print the output using indexing like list[0], list[1] etc without calling it explicitly means even without looping over it.

But this is not the case with generator objects. So the Doc is not segmented until doc.sents is called. This means that, where you could print the second Doc token (word token) with print(doc[1]), you can’t call the “second Doc sentence” with print(doc.sents[1]):

Lets try printing the second sentence in the same way and see what happens:


Now see the output, it is clearly telling that generator object is not subscriptable.

for sent in doc.sents:

However, you can also build a sentence collection by running doc.sents and saving the result to a list:

doc_sents = [sent for sent in doc.sents]

NOTE: list(doc.sents) also works. We show a list comprehension as it allows you to pass in conditionals.


sents are Spans having the start and end token pointers stored

At first glance it looks like each sent contains text from the original Doc object. In fact they’re just Spans with start and end token pointers. By assigning start and end token pointers, spaCy recognizes the sentence tokens.

Adding Rules | User defined Start and End of Sentence

spaCy’s built-in sentencizer relies on the dependency parse and end-of-sentence punctuation to determine segmentation rules. We can add rules of our own, but they have to be added before the creation of the Doc object, as that is where the parsing of segment start tokens happens:

#Start token assignment happens during nlp processing pipline in soacy.
doc2 = nlp(u'This is the First sentence. This is the start of the Second Sentence . This is the start of the third sentence.')
for token in doc2:
print(token.is_sent_start, ' '+token.text)

Notice we haven’t run doc2.sents, and yet token.is_sent_start was set to True on two tokens in the Doc. This means the sentence start and end token initialization happens during nlp pipeline itself.

Let’s add a semicolon to our existing segmentation rules. That is, whenever the sentencizer encounters a semicolon, the next token should start a new segment.

doc3 = nlp(u'"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." -Peter Drucker')
for sent in doc3.sents:
nlp = spacy.load('en_core_web_sm') #Reset the Model
def set_custom_Sentence_end_points(doc):
for token in doc[:-1]:
if token.text == ';':
doc[token.i+1].is_sent_start = True
return doc
nlp.add_pipe(set_custom_Sentence_end_points, before='parser')

The new rule has to run before the document is parsed.

#Re-run the Doc object creation:
doc4 = nlp(u'"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." -Peter Drucker')
for sent in doc4.sents:

Why not change the token directly?

Why not simply set the .is_sent_start value to True on existing tokens?

Changing the Rules

In some cases we want to replace spaCy’s default sentencizer with our own set of rules. In this section we’ll see how the default sentencizer breaks on periods. We’ll then replace this behavior with a sentencizer that breaks on line breaks.

nlp = spacy.load('en_core_web_sm') # reset to the original
mystring = u"This is a sentence. This is another.\n\nThis is a \nthird sentence."
doc = nlp(mystring)
for sent in doc.sents:
print([token.text for token in sent])
from spacy.pipeline import SentenceSegmenter
def split_on_newlines(doc):
start = 0
seen_newline = False
for word in doc:
if seen_newline:
yield doc[start:word.i]
start = word.i
seen_newline = False
elif word.text.startswith('\n'): # handles multiple occurrences
seen_newline = True
yield doc[start:] # handles the last group of tokens
sbd = SentenceSegmenter(nlp.vocab, strategy=split_on_newlines)

While the function split_on_newlines can be named anything we want, it’s important to use the name sbd for the SentenceSegmenter.

doc = nlp(mystring)
for sent in doc.sents:
print([token.text for token in sent])

Here we see that periods no longer affect segmentation, only line breaks do. This would be appropriate when working with a long list of tweets, for instance.

This is all about Sentence Segmentation using spaCy. Hope you enjoyed the post.

Thank You!

Credit: Jose Portila Udemy Video


  1. hi!,I like your writing very a lot! percentage we keep in touch extra approximately your article on AOL? I need a specialist in this space to solve my problem. Maybe that is you! Looking forward to look you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.