I once learned a term meaning a similar word that cannot stand for it in every context, i.e. a synonym that doesn't work in every instance the original word can (not a hypernym). What is this term?

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    Well many argue that full synonyms don't exist, so the term could just be synonym ;)
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 21 '14 at 23:54
  • How about hyponym? Aug 22 '14 at 3:03
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    I agree with curiousdannii, it looks like you're talking about synonyms.
    – Alenanno
    Aug 22 '14 at 9:49
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    Hypnomy isn't just overlap in a subset, the entire semantic range of the hyponym is included within the semantic range of the hypernym, so it seems to me it's one possible answer to your question. The only other possible answer I can think of (given your question's wording) is 'partial synonym', a term whose semantic range overlaps partially with that of another term. Of course it's often said that there are no perfect synonyms, in which case all synonyms are, at best, partial. Aug 23 '14 at 12:59
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    I found it! The word I was looking for is plesionym.
    – Dan
    Aug 25 '14 at 14:27

I think the word you are looking for is plesionym. See, for example, ftp://ftp.cdf.toronto.edu/pub/gh/Hirst-NearSynonyms-95.pdf.

  • That appears to be a very uncommon words. Who coined it?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 4 '14 at 5:25
  • Yes, thank you for reproducing my comment as an answer.
    – Dan
    Sep 4 '14 at 5:31
  • @Daи Why assume libcub reproduced your comment? People who know an answer will often give it without reading all the comments (it happened to me is a similar situation), especially when some of the comments appears only on request, as is the case for yours. They may sometimes forget to read all answers, and that is a fault if the correct answer is already there. But comments are not answers. You should have written your answer as an answer, not as a comment. As it is, libcub is first to answer correctly and should thus be accepted.
    – babou
    Sep 5 '14 at 22:41
  • @babou my thankfulness was genuine, not snarky. And I presume he did see my comment since he linked to the exact paper I referenced in my comment, but if not, no big deal. I'm still glad it was posted as an answer regardless.
    – Dan
    Sep 6 '14 at 14:56
  • @Daи Sorry and apology for misinterpreting. Very fairplay on your part.
    – babou
    Sep 6 '14 at 15:06

As pointed out by others, "true synonyms" do not exist. At least not when taking pragmatics into account. If we ignore pragmatics for a moment, we could claim that, e.g., At most five people will come to the party and Less than six people will come to the party are (truth-conditionally) equivalent. In any case, even this example is not uncontroversial.

Returning to the question: The term used (at least in semantics) is that of a near synonym. For example, entities in the world that may be referred to both with mass and count nouns (e.g. foliage and leaves, coins and change, clothes and clothing, footwear and shoes). While roughly interchangeable, they behave, morphosyntactically, according to their mass/count role (e.g. pluralization is only licensed for the count expressions in each pair listed above).

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