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
  • I guess you need a book of synonyms as well as a mono-lingual German dictionary (preferably for non-native speakers) hopefully supplementing the definitions, which you may find in the answers to this question. – guidot Oct 27 at 21:29

Have you considered online resources?

It only partly fulfills your requirements, but https://wiktionary.org is an online dictionary that might be of interest to you.

It is editable by anyone, so it can be extended by its users, and by now, the German Wiktionary sports a growing number of over 700.000 entries.

In many cases it has English translations of the German lemma, but more importantly, it lists a word's different meanings with example sentences (and often their literary sources). It also offers alternative forms, synonyms, antonyms and derived terms.

  • I fail to see editable by anyone as a benefit and would suggest DWDS instead. – guidot Oct 27 at 21:31
  • @guidot Editable in the same way Wikipedia is. How else would you go about creating a dictionary with the proclaimed aim of supporting all languages? Its example sentences provide sources very similar to the way dwds does. If you look at an entry at wiktionary, you'll see they often cite dwds. Dwds doesn't provide any information in English. – Philipp Oct 27 at 22:04

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