I am looking for a good synonym for the word attribute that can be used in these sentences:

  • The item's attributes are...
  • Colour is a type of attribute.
  • Weight is a type of attribute.
  • The item's colour (attribute) is red.
  • What are the items that have that attribute?

I'd rather not use the word "property" instead and I'd prefer a word shorter than "characteristic".

The audience for the word is software developers, they are used to properties and attributes, however the word "attribute" is reserved and both "attribute" and "property" usually refer to specific things.

"Feature" and "quality" have very different meanings in the software world. Also, most programmers would complain about the length of "characteristics".

"Trait" seems like a good option, however, I'll have to check how many of my co-workers will understand the meaning.

  • "Trait". Go with "trait". It doesn't have the technical connections that all the other terms already have.
    – Mitch
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:39
  • Seems like most of the people here agree (judging by the votes on the answers). Now to convince my co-workers. If no better new word is suggested, Kelly gets the accepted answer, since she suggested the word first.
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:42
  • @Mitch: Let's just hope he's not a C++ programmer ;-)
    – psmears
    Apr 12, 2011 at 21:53
  • Traits are innate--see how it is that it has no verb form? Attributes are what we attribute (verb) and can be innate or not.
    – lex
    Nov 25, 2012 at 3:54

6 Answers 6


Given the examples you provide, I reckon spec would be a pretty darn good option.

  • @Danny: Glad it works for you!
    – Jimi Oke
    Apr 13, 2011 at 13:34

Trait, characteristic, property.

Also: point, marker.

  • All are suitable as synonym's however I am looking for one that is simple to remember and type for people whom English is not necessarily there first tongue. That is why I ruled out characteristic and property usually has a different context in what I need it for (and attribute always has a different context).
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 17:59
  • I would think property is understood even from who doesn't speak English as first language.
    – apaderno
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:10
  • @Danny: I added a couple more suggestions.
    – Kelly Hess
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:11
  • Point and marker both have strong user-interface contexts.
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:14
  • @kiamlaluno Property is understood, however, I did state in the question that I prefer not to use it, since it has a common similar context, that may confuse people.
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:15

It really depends on the context as much as the audience. In computing, for example, we struggle quite a bit to give each of these terms an unambiguous space of its own. Try conflating the words trait, attribute, property, facet and aspect in a software design discussion, for example. You'll get some frowns, I'm sure.

"Facet" and "aspect" are two words not yet given that have their own shortcomings, as does "factor." I can't think of a memorable short word in the sense you want that doesn't bring some baggage with it. Personally I'd choose "trait" and take my chances.

  • I'm not sure I've ever heard "facet" in a sentence. :-) Aspect also has a strong software context (the software industry hogs up most of the good words). :-)
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:18
  • Factor always makes me think of how the university I did my degree in always adjusted the exam grades to make sure the average is in the range of 60%-70%, by applying "factors". Many of my co-workers suffered from the same context.
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:22
  • A friend of mine and I attended an Amway sales pitch once. We were young and bored and had no idea. But during the presentation they passed around some products, including a protein bar. My friend held it and proclaimed, "Whoa, density factor." Since then I have always loved that word and looked for ways to use it. He also had a queer way of using "feature." He's in financial analytics these days, which may help explain how he uses words. I do enjoy it when he pops one like that.
    – mfe
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:25

"Feature" is an appropriate synonym, although, depending on your audience, that may cause confusion due to the prevailing connotation of "positive attribute". Strictly by the word's denotation though, "feature" could be dropped into each of those sentence fragments.

Another synonym is "trait". That has the advantage of having fewer popular connotations to muddy its meaning, but the disadvantage of being (I think) a less common word and may cause confusion in some audiences as to its denotation.

  • I agree that "trait" is suitable, however its lack of popularity troubles me. "Feature" would cause too much confusion.
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:07

Feature, quality? Depends on the acception you want to express.

In your examples they don't fit the color one, in my opinion.

  • Feature and quality have dominate usages that may confuse people. - Quality is used a lot as in "high/low quality". - A "feature" commonly refers to an what something can do (abilities), not as something that describes something's essence.
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:04
  • Well, "feature" can be also used relating to physical traits: "she has good features". But now I got what you want. As soon as it comes to my mind, I'll write it :D
    – Alenanno
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:08
  • I coined "she has a nice UI" for that context. ;-) Feature usually refers to a "new feature request", or excusing a "bug" - "That's not a bug - it is a feature".
    – Danny
    Apr 12, 2011 at 18:26

How about field? I often use the term when referring to attributes in my class diagrams.

Although field doesn't have the same intrinsic association to its parent as property, it might work. It all depends on the context.

  • Field doesn't suit the required usage - see the examples I gave. Specification was the most accurate.
    – Danny
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:42
  • Fields refer to data storage, not to characteristics (e.g. attributes and properties). in object oriented programming, fields usually refer to internal state and properties to how an object is perceived.
    – Danny
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:46

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