Despite a vast literature examining semantic impairment in Alzheimer's disease (AD), consensus regarding the nature of the deficit remains elusive. We re-considered this issue in the context of a framework that assumes semantic cognition can break down in two ways: (1) core semantic representations can degrade or (2) cognitive control mechanisms can become impaired . We hypothesised and confirmed that the nature of semantic impairment in AD changes with disease severity. Patients at mild or severe stages of the disorder exhibited impairment across various semantic tasks but the nature of those deficits differed qualitatively for the two groups. Commensurate with early dysfunction of the cognitive control, temporoparietal-frontal-cingulate network, characteristics of deregulated semantic cognition were exhibited by the mild AD cases. In contrast, the severe AD group reproduced features of additional degradation of core semantic representations. These results suggest that spread of pathology into lateral anterior temporal lobes in later stage AD produces degradation of semantic representations, exacerbating the already deregulated system. Moreover, the dual nature of severe patients' impairment was highlighted by disproportionately poor performance on tasks placing high demand on both conceptual knowledge and control processes-e.g., category fluency. © 2012-IOS Press and the authors. All rights reserved.