I am looking for a word that defines an object or thing within another object or thing.

Like in the movie Inception: a dream within a dream.

  • There are bound to be several answers which would work better in one context than another - One of my faves (often used sarcastically) is: "creamy filling". (I think it's a "Twinkie" thing.) (US)
    – Oldbag
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 0:42
  • 3
    Yo Dawg! I heard you like words in your words...
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 10:26
  • "Droste Effect". Read here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droste_effect
    – PKumar
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 16:04
  • Even when limited to the field of computer programming there are probably a dozen different terms that might describe this concept, depending on the specific context.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 17:03

6 Answers 6


Recursive might be what you are after.


  • Thank you :) All the above answered are great but i think this is the word i was looking for.
    – Yannick.M
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 0:46
  • 3
    Fun fact, type "Recursion" into Google search and it asks "Did you mean: recursion"
    – Ilythya
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 10:16

I would use nested. For example, "a dream nested within another dream".

See, for example, Russian nesting dolls.

  • 4
    I feel that this is better suited compared to recursion.
    – justhalf
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 6:54

The best word will depend on the context. Given the example of a dream within a dream, I assume that you're thinking of a distinct object that is inside another object, not an object which is a part of another object.

An object that is inside another object can be said to be embedded. The inner object can be of the same type as the outer object or of a different type. Some examples of usage include:

  • A pole is embedded in the ground: it's inserted in the ground and can't be removed easily.
  • An embedded journalist is one who belongs to the team that he's reporting on, for example an army reporter who is part of an army unit.
  • A computer document that is embedded in another computer document is stored in the same file and displayed as part of the larger document, for example a picture in a word processor document.
  • In linguistics, embedding refers to the ability to build up clauses that are part of a sentence. Recursion is embedding of a clause inside a clause of the same form.


Subset is defined as a portion, particularly in mathematics. An example of subset is a classroom to an entire school.


a constituent part or aspect of something more complex

Constituent, subunit, part...


How about this from Merriam Webster

Mise en abyme

  • placement at the center of an escutcheon of a smaller copy of the same escutcheon
  • containment of an entity within another identical entity
  • image of an image

And from Wikipedia, how mise en abyme is used in film:

Mise-en-abîme occurs within a text when there is a reduplication of images or concepts referring to the textual whole.[...] In film, the meaning of "mise en abyme" is similar to the artistic definition, but also includes the idea of a "dream within a dream". For example, a character awakens from a dream and later discovers that s/he is still dreaming.

The article on Wikipedia specifically mentions Inception as an example of this.



A person or thing that is included within a whole

This is also used commonly in science, for example:

  • In set theory, a smaller set is included in a larger, more comprehensive set.
  • In geology, a smaller rock is included in a larger rock.

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