What word can I use for things with the same external appearance but with different inherent meanings.

For example, assume that in a social network, different users make friendships. All of the relations are thus friendship relations, a single type of relation. However, from an analytical viewpoint they may have different meanings/intents/... . For example, one may have been formed because the two persons are relative, another may have been formed because they are colleagues, and another may have been formed because one is interested in the posts the other person posts. These different meanings/intents/... may have different effects in some application.

Is modal a good word to be used in these examples: multi-modal relationships, modal-specific networks (a network in which all relations have a single meaning). What about modality? (e.g., multi-modality)

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2 Answers 2


Unfortunately, what you're looking for is going to be field-specific jargon, not general English meaning.

In my field, "modal" has a few meanings and none of them fit your example. However, someone from psychology or social science might very well use I this way. They might also suggest using "mode", "variant", or "version" instead. (I don't know, not being in those fields.)

If you were operating in my area of expertise, I'd use category (things with different versions in the same group) or equivalence class or variant/version. I'd use isomorphic as an antonym (things which look different but are actually the same underneath).


The following words represent a root concept, that various instances can instantiate.
• archetype
• prototype
• type
• idea
Also… .
• form
• construct

The following words can be used for or about an instance or example of an archetype.
• instance
• instantiation
• example
• case
• derivative
• form
• variant
• variation
• express/ion

Words for the whole group.
• class
• category
• group
Also… .
• definiens

Other terms that are probably not relevant.
nomothetic, opaque referring, transparent referring, denotation, connotation, range, gamut.

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