Can Language Models Solve Graph Problems in Natural Language?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Heng Wang, Shangbin Feng, Tianxing He, Zhaoxuan Tan, Xiaochuang Han, Yulia Tsvetkov


Large language models (LLMs) are increasingly adopted for a variety of tasks with implicit graphical structures, such as planning in robotics, multi-hop question answering or knowledge probing, structured commonsense reasoning, and more. While LLMs have advanced the state-of-the-art on these tasks with structure implications, whether LLMs could explicitly process textual descriptions of graphs and structures, map them to grounded conceptual spaces, and perform structured operations remains underexplored. To this end, we propose NLGraph (Natural Language Graph), a comprehensive benchmark of graph-based problem solving designed in natural language. NLGraph contains 29,370 problems, covering eight graph reasoning tasks with varying complexity from simple tasks such as connectivity and shortest path up to complex problems such as maximum flow and simulating graph neural networks. We evaluate LLMs (GPT-3/4) with various prompting approaches on the NLGraph benchmark and find that 1) language models do demonstrate preliminary graph reasoning abilities, 2) the benefit of advanced prompting and in-context learning diminishes on more complex graph problems, while 3) LLMs are also (un)surprisingly brittle in the face of spurious correlations in graph and problem settings. We then propose Build-a-Graph Prompting and Algorithmic Prompting, two instruction-based approaches to enhance LLMs in solving natural language graph problems. Build-a-Graph and Algorithmic prompting improve the performance of LLMs on NLGraph by 3.07% to 16.85% across multiple tasks and settings, while how to solve the most complicated graph reasoning tasks in our setup with language models remains an open research question.