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I can describe the kind of reference work I'm looking for, although I can't give a precise name for it. It is similar to (though less comprehensive than) a thesaurus, but in addition to providing synonyms, it also explains the differences in nuance, registers, and modes of use.

The notes given in many of the Infokästen that are sprinkled throughout Duden's Deutsch als Fremdsprache : Standardwörterbuch are a good example of the kind of information I'm looking for. Here's one such Infokasten:

Ablauf/Verlauf
Da sowohl Ablauf als auch Verlauf einen zeitlichen Prozess bezeichnen, können beide Wörter oft gegeneinander ausgetauscht werden:

  • Die Polizei sorgte für einen reibungslosen Ablauf/Verlauf der Demonstration.

Vorzugsweise Ablauf wird verwendet, wenn ein konkreter, oft auch geregelter und organisierter Prozess beschrieben wird:

  • Aus aktuellem Anlass ändern wir den Ablauf des heutigen Programms.
  • Bitte stören Sie auf der Tagung nicht den geplanten Ablauf!

Dagegen wählt man bevorzugt Verlauf, wenn der Blick mehr auf das Ergebnis als auf die Abfolge gerichtet ist:

  • Mit diesem Verlauf des Spiels hatte keiner gerechnet.
  • Die Entwicklung nahm einen ganz anderen Verlauf als erwartet.

Für das Ende eines Prozesses/einer Frist selbst kann jedoch nur Ablauf stehen:

  • Nach Ablauf dieser Frist können keine Änderungen mehr vorgenommen werden.
  • Die Kosten erhöhen sich nach Ablauf von drei Monaten.

(Clearly such "usage notes" tend to occupy far more space than the synonyms themselves, and therefore a single-volume work of this kind would obviously have to limit itself to the most frequent terms. A regular thesaurus, in contrast, can afford to include a far more extensive collection of synonyms.)

Of course, the work cited above contains only 75 or so Infokästen, which is far too little. What I'm looking for would be a far more substantial collection of such micro-essays on synonyms, organized in the form of a thesaurus. (I've seen a few different ways to organize a thesaurus. They're all adequate, but my preference is a two-part arrangement in which one part presents the various synonym clusters, and the second one serves as an index linking each word to one or more of these clusters.)

Although the example I give above is entirely in German, I'd also be interested in a similar work in which the notes on German synonyms are given in English, Spanish, or French.

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You mean something like this but for German? –  Em1 Jan 12 '13 at 14:30
    
@Em1 No, not quite. What I'm looking for could be called an "annotated thesaurus". In contrast to a typical thesaurus, instead of listing all or most synonyms, it lists only the most common ones, but explains the subtle differences that may exist among them. –  kjo Jan 12 '13 at 15:37
    
try www.linguee.com it is a great page but feed on user participation so it has limits. Anyway, I love it –  Emanuel Jan 12 '13 at 18:23
    
If I understood you correctly, you need something like a Mariam-Webster's Collegiate dictionary that provides notes about words differences between some words with similar meanings under some of its entries, e.g. explain differences between design and plan or carefully and scrupulous, etc. Because for example and do not no of any other English dictionary that does that –  akhilless Jan 14 '13 at 12:24

1 Answer 1

You might want to look at Using German Synonyms by Martin Durell. It's ridiculously expensive for the hardcover, but a paperback is also available. (The hardcover "Look Inside" feature at Amazon shows more than the paperback preview, so the link above is to the hardcover edition).

Another option is Mastering German Vocabulary: A Practical Guide to Troublesome Words

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