I will describe the ideal version of what I'm looking for, knowing that this ideal probably does not exist. Nevertheless, the description would at least give a clear target to aim for, and I hope it will elicit an adequate approximation.

The ideal work I'm after would be a sort of "augmented thesaurus" that would not only list groups of German synonyms (like any thesaurus would) but would also discuss the ways in which the synonyms differ (shades of meaning, register, regional differences, collocations, etc.), and where they can and cannot be interchanged. Furthermore, this ideal work of reference I seek would be addressed to speakers of English, and thus would, whenever possible, give translations to English that illuminate the differences between the German synonyms.

I realize that the last feature I listed is the least likely one. Far more likely is that I will find such an "augmented thesaurus" only in German, and addressed to speakers of German.

I realize also that such a work would obviously have to list fewer and/or smaller sets of synonyms than a simple thesaurus of the same size would (to make room for the discussion of the differences). This is, of course, unavoidable.

The closest I have found to this sort of work is K. B. Beaton's A Practical Dictionary of German Usage, but this work is organized according to synonyms in English, and provides guidance on how best to translate them to German. This is indeed excellent at what it does, but it is not quite what I'm looking for.

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    You might want to risk a glance at Dornseiff: Der deutsche Wortschatz nach Sachgruppen. This book does not try to be a simple thesaurus listing exact synonyms, but instead sorts vocabulary by topic and also lists "close friends" with (at least some) explanation. Definitively have a look inside before you buy - The book is not exactly cheap. You will also need a good dictionary along with it. – tofro May 28 at 20:03

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