Rethinking the Relationship Between LLMs and Graphs

Hagen Hübel
3 min readApr 7, 2024

Large language models (LLMs), such as those built on the transformative transformer architecture, have revolutionized our understanding and generation of natural language. Central to this revolution is the attention mechanism, a feature that allows LLMs to weigh the importance of different words in a sentence or tokens in a sequence. This post aims to clarify the misconception that LLMs inherently require data to be structured as a graph to grasp the relationships between words or concepts.

Understanding Data Through Tokens, Not Graphs

LLMs transform words into numerical representations called tokens, which are then processed through layers of the model to generate or understand language. This token-based processing is fundamentally different from graph-based data structures, which explicitly map out relationships between entities as nodes and edges. While graphs treat relationships as first-class citizens, LLMs infer relationships through patterns among tokens across vast datasets. This pattern recognition enables LLMs to contextualize and generate language without the need for data to be explicitly structured in any particular format, including graphs.

calculation flow through a single attention head (Source: Wikipedia)

What is the Attention Mechanism?

Let us briefly repeat what the attention mechanism actually is.

The attention mechanism is a breakthrough in the field of natural language processing (NLP) that has significantly improved the ability of models to understand and generate human-like text. It was introduced as a core component of the transformer architecture, which forms the backbone of most modern LLMs. At its essence, attention allows a model to dynamically focus on different parts of the input data when performing a task, much like how human attention works when we focus on different aspects of a conversation or a scene to understand context or nuances.

The Role of Attention Mechanisms

The attention mechanism does not map or store relationships in a structured format like a graph. Instead, it dynamically assigns importance to different parts of the input data as it processes it, allowing the model to focus on relevant information when generating or interpreting language. This process is context-dependent, meaning that the “attention” paid to each token can change based on the surrounding tokens, allowing for a nuanced understanding of language that adapts to the immediate context. This flexible, context-driven approach to processing language enables LLMs to operate effectively without needing data to be presented as a graph.

Generating Language Beyond Relationships

The ability of LLMs to generate coherent and contextually relevant text does not stem from an explicit understanding of the relationships between entities, as modeled in a graph, but from the learned patterns in the data they were trained on. This training involves analyzing huge corpora of text, enabling the models to predict the next most likely token in a sequence. The generation process, therefore, is based on statistical likelihoods and patterns rather than on traversing relationships between entities in a graph.


The misconception that LLMs require data in a graph stems from a misunderstanding of how these models process and understand language. While the representation of relationships is crucial in both graphs and LLMs, the methods by which they handle these relationships differ significantly. LLMs, through their sophisticated architecture and mechanisms like attention, are adept at inferring and utilizing relationships within language without the need for data to be explicitly structured in a graph. This understanding underscores the flexibility and power of LLMs in processing natural language, highlighting their capacity to adapt to and generate text based on the intricate patterns of language they learn during their training.