I'm searching for a term describing the possibility of an entity to be seen many different things at the same time. The general concept of being able to categorize an entity into several context-dependent abstractions.

A car is not only a car, but can be:

  • A vehicle
  • A toy
  • A risk
  • A pollutant
  • A Faraday's cage
  • A source of taxation
  • A trap
  • A tool
  • A weapon

Words that does not capture the proper meaning:

  • A car is flexible.
  • A car is adaptable.
  • A car is versatile.

Words that might work

  • Multifaceted
  • Multi-sided

I need a general noun for describing this property in a ontological context

  • Multifacetedness (Does not sound natural)
  • Multi-sidedness (Even less natural)

Let's try some sentences

You could be anything you want, [multifacetedness] is universal.

We are not allowing [multifacetedness] in this game, you can only be one thing at a time.

Philosophers all agree, [multifacetedness] is fundamental in how we perceive and make sense of the world.

Is there a better word for this?

  • If this is in regards to ontology, you may want to ask on the Philosophy SE site. There are more philosophy domain experts there... – John Feltz Nov 20 '16 at 17:04
  • I had no idea that the word car was so arbitrary. – Mazura Nov 20 '16 at 22:04

10 Answers 10


Multiplicity might suit you. From Merriam-Webster's full definition:

multiplicity noun
plural multiplicities
1 a
: the quality or state of being multiple or various
. . .
Shakespeare's works seem to encompass the full multiplicity of human experience.

Philosophers and psychologists do use this term, though perhaps not in exactly the way you want. See, for example, this question and its answers on the Philosophy StackExchange (content is above my pay grade, so I'm not clear on how closely this lines up with your ideas) and this entry on multiplicity on the Dissociative Association's website.

At least one psychologist appears to be thinking along your lines:

MULTIPLICITY presents an entirely new view of our selves. Instead of seeing each person as a single personality, Carter argues that we all consist of multiple characters, each one with its own viewpoint, emotions and ambitions. The mother who feeds breakfast to her children, for example, has quite different concerns and opinions from the woman taking part in a boardroom discussion two hours later, and from the woman she will be with her husband that night. Yet all three may share the same body, and none is any more "authentic" than another. (Amazon book blurb for Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self by Rita Carter, bolding added.)

Note that this definition pertains more to how your car views its own many roles and identities, rather than how you or I perceive the car, but I think it could easily encompass both.


multifacetedness, multifaceted, multi- + facets

The real word for being multi-sided and thus having many facets is multifaceted, correctly spelled with an e not an i, and whose second, figurative sense Wiktionary gives as:

Having many aspects; nuanced or diverse.

Joanne was a multifaceted individual; she knew how to bargain both with Wall Street brokers and push-cart vendors.

I don’t where you came up with that weird spelling that nobody would be able to make any sense out of, because you have effaced the face part of it with your spelling error. In speech it would of course make no difference, but in writing you’ve lost the underlying root and so produced something confusing.

The OED attests multifacetedness as a noun derived from multifaceted, but I agree that it might come off as awkward; it is not an especially common word.

As I mentioned to the asker in a comment, I completely agree with him that I like the sound of neither multifacetedness nor multisidedness. One should always be wary of piling up ever-increasing suffixes to derive “new” words like this. It sounds really clunky, so if there’s a simpler word available, then one probably should. See also nominalization, which is sometimes useful but too often a hallmark of terrible writing and military bureaucracy.

  • Thank you for pointing our my spelling mistake, as a non-native English speaker I'm especially grateful when people make me aware of the mistakes I do. – Alex Nov 20 '16 at 15:44
  • 2
    @Alex In this case the key to spelling it right relies on understanding the etymological connection between a cut gemstone’s different faces and the English words face and facing. See also facet joints. French also has the word facette, but we simplified its spelling in English by shortening it up a bit. This by the way is one reason used to justify retaining certain spellings in English: to preserve etymological relationships between words that would be otherwise hidden. – tchrist Nov 20 '16 at 16:17

I think the term that may fit your sentences is versatile or versatility:

  • capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.:

The Free Dictionary

  • 1
    I agree that versatile is far less taxing of eye and tongue than is multifacetness. – tchrist Nov 20 '16 at 13:23
  • Thank you for your suggestion, but this is not working for me since it's highly associated with abilities and flexibility together in a utilitarian context. I'm in a ontological context, and the meaning Philosophers all agree, versatility is fundamental in how we perceive and make sense of the world. is very ambiguous. – Alex Nov 20 '16 at 15:49

How about multifariousness?

mul·ti·far·i·ous: many and of various types; having many varied parts or aspects [Google search]

It's word that Nietzsche and Nietzsche scholars have used, especially in regard to Nietzsche's multifariousness of the self, i.e., of ones inner drives. Google "multifarious Nietzsche".


I found a word that I'm very comfortable with: Multimorphism.

You could be anything you want, multimorphism is universal.

We are not allowing multimorphism in this game, you can only be one thing at a time.

Philosophers all agree, multimorphism is fundamental in how we perceive and make sense of the world.


Consider polymorphism. From Merriam-Webster:

the quality or state of existing in or assuming different forms:

Although the word has been mainly co-opted by the Object Oriented Programming crowd, it's a perfectly valid English word.

In another technical context, Sigmund Freud used the term polymorphous perversity to refer to sexual behavior outside of accepted norms.

It also has technical applications in material science, biology and genetics.



"the quality or state of having two different or opposite parts or elements" (Merriam Webster). The important part here is "different," not "opposite."

Your examples:

You could be anything you want, duality is universal.

We are not allowing duality in this game, you can only be one thing at a time.

Philosophers all agree, duality is fundamental in how we perceive and make sense of the world.

In this last one, it might work better to say, Philosophers all agree, the duality of (such-and-so) is fundamental in how we perceive and make sense of the world.

For example, something like the duality of objective and subjective reality.


I believe using the existing phrase "a car is not only a car but is "multifaceted" or "multi-sided" is missing an explanatory ingredient. I believe the word"multip[licity ios bettter than "multifaceted" or multi-sided. These words imply that cars have many many different outside surface forms, whereas the text refers to the car's utility - its many different innate functions and effects, some of which are nefarious. "Multiplicity" is better. In any case, further words are needed. I suggest the phrase should say " A car is not only a car but can have a multiplicity of functions and effects, both good and bad:" (-> list)


How about dual or polyglottal?

Monoism and Dualism seem to be two major ideas in the ontological context.

Since you are also stating multi- as a hint word for both your not so well fitting words - poly... fits well in the ontological context of being, which explains polyglot-polyglottal a good word pair to use.

If you could give an excerpt from your text, we could come up with better or well sounding suggestions/alternatives.


The word you may be looking for is either polymorphic or extensible.

pol·y·mor·phic /ˌpälēˈmôrfik/ adjective occurring in several different forms, in particular with reference to species or genetic variation.

ex·ten·si·ble /ikˈstensəb(ə)l/ adjective designed to allow the addition of new capabilities and functionality.

Hope these help!

Source: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/polymorphic Source: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/extensible

  • 1
    You should include a source for your definitions. – KillingTime May 30 '19 at 13:10
  • Added. Thank you – Mark May 31 '19 at 17:11

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