A pretty straight-forward question, but I'm totally unaware of the answer (unless I'm missing something horribly obvious). Is there a word that describes the set of these two words, where the definitions of these two words are as follows:

  • Absolute: without relation to any other thing
  • Relative: in relation to other things

To clarify what I'm asking, I'm doing a bit of programming where an object will contain a numeric value, and a property on that object will contain a value indicating the nature* of the aforementioned value, either absolute or relative. Now, the name of the latter property is totally arbitrary, but it's bothering me that I don't know what it should be called and I'd like to know what other people have to say on the matter.

Now, although this question arose from a programming problem, it does not pertain to programming specifically. In this case it actually refers to positioning in space, so I'm looking for a more general answer to the question.

*Maybe Nature is a suitable answer? :)

  • Programming tip: the notion of absoluteness can be redundant if you consider everything to be relative. All absolute values are defined as relative to some origin point. That is, the point of origin can be defined ad hoc, outside of the data element you're working with. In that case, you don't have to invent a hypernym for absolute and relative.
    – jojman
    Dec 22, 2015 at 0:53
  • I actually have five states to be awkward. 'None' for when it's not used, 'Absolute' and 'Relative' for when it is in use, and 'AbsoluteIdle' and 'RelativeIdle' for when it is not yet in use. Valency seems to apply to anything that could be considered a set. I'm wondering if there's a term specific to this set.
    – Eraph
    Dec 22, 2015 at 1:25
  • Why not call it "relevance"?
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 22, 2015 at 1:58
  • 1
    Or "relativity"?
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 22, 2015 at 2:09
  • 'Provisionality' is one hypernym of those terms with the definitions you've given. 'Dependency' is another, but it's less useful.
    – JEL
    Dec 22, 2015 at 2:37

5 Answers 5


Frame of reference

1.A set of criteria or stated values in relation to which measurements or judgements can be made.
‘the observer interprets what he sees in terms of his own cultural frame of reference’

1.1 A system of geometric axes in relation to which measurements of size, position, or motion can be made.
Oxford Living Dictionaries

With respect to the first example sentence given ("his own cultural frame of reference"), this is related to moral or cultural relativism/absolutism.

In the second mathematical definition it means that measurements can be taken from different points of reference, for example, absolute and relative coordinates. If you have a square on a screen it may begin at coordinates (200, 200), but another square inside that square might have absolute coordinates of (300, 300) but relative coordinates of (100, 100), relative to its parent square.


Absolute and relative values are different because they have different origin. So what you're probably looking for is "origin type" or "origin kind". This answer suggests that "kind" is better suited in this case.

  • Thanks for that, these did cross my mind but I thought they were a bit too general, was hoping there would be a more specific term.
    – Eraph
    Dec 22, 2015 at 1:34

The word disposition is synonymous with arrangement, and thus can be used to mean how something is arranged.Merriam-Webster It seems to fit well with your desire to indicate something is either absolute or relative.

  • Thanks, I really like this answer, it has a good ring to it.
    – Eraph
    Dec 22, 2015 at 3:10

this question is a couple years old, but i have the exact same question. I am looking for an appropriate variable name that will contain the values 'absolute' or 'relative'. After seeing the preferred answer by the OP, i googled for synonyms to disposition and came up with 'reference'. so i am going with the variable name 'referenceType'

  • Use citations in answers, if you please.
    – lbf
    Mar 24, 2018 at 20:09

"Position." For example, it's used in CSS as follows:

position: relative;
position: absolute;
position: fixed;
position: static;

Alternatively, you could say "positioning" if you think that's more accurate or descriptive.

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