To expand on the title slightly: all of the groups to which an item belongs directly or indirectly? That seems to make "parent groups," my first choice, ill-fitting.

The key concept here is membership, but that term generally refers to the items in the group, not the groups themselves.

A bit more explanation:

An item's relationship to a group may be direct or indirect because groups are hierarchical. The term would describe all of the relevant groups in the hierarchy.

An example:

Fuji is an apple. Apples are fruit. Fuji belongs to apples and fruit.

The phrase I need to construct is along the lines of: Fuji and "the groups to which it belongs."


As Barrie pointed out, my example involves categorical relationship, but that won't necessarily be the type of membership I'm referring to. The membership is arbitrary and changeable.

Edit 2

My example caused more confusion than good. The best metaphor for what I'd like to express is: a child has parents and grandparents, who are collectively his ancestors. I want to say: a user has groups and (super?) groups, which are collectively _?_.

  • Perhaps roles?
    – rems
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 19:40
  • That makes me think of "responsibilities," not necessarily membership. In that sense, it seems like an alternative to "groups," not a narrowing of its definition.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 19:42
  • The fact that some categorisation schemas are hierarchical doesn't mean membership of any given higher-level category is "indirect". I'm English, but it's nonsense to suggest I'm only indirectly British. Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 20:10
  • @FumbleFingers: In some cases this is a relevant distinction: the difference between parent and grandparent, for example. Incidentally, I already mentioned the membership is not categorical.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 20:36
  • Category/supercategory? Some idea of the context would be helpful, since there may be specific terms that would help (species/genus, for example).
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 20:41

11 Answers 11


For parent-child relationships, ancestor works, or ancestor groups if you need to be explicit. An ancestor is a parent or parent of an ancestor. You could also use containing, inclusive, or maybe superordinate.

  • And then descendents, being the flip side.
    – Sam
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 23:36
  • Containing group may be the best we can do. Super-group is another one, although it reminds me of Cream. Ancestor feels too specific for my use.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 21, 2011 at 14:28


Fuji is a hyponym of apple. Apple is a hyponym of fruit. But Fuji is also a hyponym of fruit. And fruit and apple are both hypernyms of Fuji.

  • I considered suggesting this, but it didn’t seem to fit the question.
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 23:39
  • This was my first thought, too. By hypernym refers to the relationship between words, while the question is about the relationship between the objects that the words represent. Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 18:16

The closest you’re going to get is probably supersets.


I'm not sure what context you have in mind, but in some cases set might be the word you need.

  • Perhaps I need to elaborate on this in the question, but groups sometimes belong to other groups, therefore the item belongs to some groups directly, and other groups indirectly.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 19:44
  • Are you perhaps thinking of hyponymy, in which ‘fruit’ is the superordinate of ‘apples’ and ‘apples’ is the superordinate of ‘Fuji’. Looked at in the other direction, ‘Fuji’ is a hyponym of ‘apples’, and ‘apples’ is a hyponym of ‘fruit’. Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 19:59
  • No. That's an idiosyncrasy of my example. The key idea is membership, but not necessarily categorical.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 20:02
  • Can you elaborate on that, Daniel? Maybe by giving an example.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:47
  • I edited my question to include a better example.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:49

You could refer to all broader categories containing the item as classifications of the item.

When sorting/labeling items, you would classify each based on certain characteristics relative to the sorting. Using the term classifications, therefore, would be relevant to any level of the heirarchy being discussed at the time.

Based on the comments on this answer, I see no reason why the word groups would be insufficient.

  • As I've noted in comments and in the Edit portion of my answer, the relationships are not categorical. In retrospect, I chose a poor example as it seems to be gaining more attention than the question and subsequent clarifications.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:30
  • Could you provide an example of some of these arbitrary memberships?
    – yoozer8
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:35
  • Yes. Security groups. A user may belong to any number of groups, which themselves may belong to other groups, and so on. The term would refer to all the groups to which a user belongs, directly or indirectly.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:37
  • In that case, I think roles would be a good candidate. It's essentially the purpose it serves in computer user permissions.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:38
  • Either that or you would have to provide a name for each of these groups independently of members, and simply refer to them as that.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 21:40

A group (or kind or concept or class) that belongs to another group is a subgroup or child group and the larger including group is the supergroup or parent group. Extending this to more and more inclusive groups, one then calls them all:


  • Perhaps ancestors is the right word. Is there a related word that implies a more temporal (or configurable) relationship? I think of ancestor as being fixed.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 19:58

"Associations" seems to fit nicely.

  • Ooh, I like it. Associated groups is nice and general, and leaves open the exact closeness of the relationship.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 21, 2011 at 22:27

Programmers, and perhaps some mathematicians, would use the word class. "Apples" constitute a class. "Fuji" would be a member of the "Apple" class. "Apple" would be a member of the "Fruit" class. "Fruit" may be referred to as the parent class or the superclass of "Apple". "Fuji" is a subclass of "Apple". Members of a class automatically belong to that class's superclass.


The question reminds me of junior high math — sets and subsets.


Another good one is domain. Fuji is within the domain of fruit.


The area of overlap on a Venn diagram is referred to as the "intersection" and illustrates visually the groups which a given object belongs to. While typically used for a small number of groups due to the limitations of drawing numerous circles, there is no reason that large numbers of other figures couldn't be used to represent the groups if it was more conducive to understanding. A Wikipedia link which may help follows... https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram

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