Research on category-specific naming deficits and on noun and verb naming has raised questions about how organization of knowledge in the brain impacts word retrieval. The semantic attribute hypothesis posits that lexical access is mediated by brain systems that process the most definitive attributes of specific concepts. For example, it has been suggested that the most definitive attribute of living things is their visual form, whereas the most definitive attribute of non-living things is their function. The competing grammatical role hypothesis posits that access to a word depends on the grammatical role it plays in a sentence. Since nouns and verbs have different roles, it is assumed that the brain uses different systems to process them. These two hypotheses were tested in experimental subjects who had undergone left anterior temporal lobectomy (LATL) or right anterior temporal lobectomy (RATL) by assessing confrontation naming of living things, tools/implements, non-human actions, and human actions. The names of living things and implements are nouns and the names of actions are verbs. Within each grammatical class, items were characterized either predominantly by visual attributes (living things and non-human actions) or by attributes related to human activity (implements and human actions). Our results support the semantic attribute hypothesis. Patients with LATL were worse at naming tools/implements and human actions than RATL patients. Dysfunction in or removal of the left anterior temporal lobe disrupts fronto-temporal connections from the uncinate fasciculus. These connections may mediate activation of action-related information (i.e. movement plan and/or motor use) that facilitates the retrieval of names for tools/implements and human actions. Copyright © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.