In this example path


the def is a subfolder of c:\abc

But is ghi also a subfolder of abc? Or would it be more correct to say that ghi is a recursive subfolder of abc?

I know that the term recursive is related in such situation, but I am not sure if recursive subfolder is a correct term. In some context, many people for convenience just use subfolder to denote recursive subfolder

And so (a second question): is there a term which is applicable to folder def from my example path - but not to ghi? Maybe: def is a direct subfolder of abc, but not of ghi?

  • 4
    "Recursive" implies the potential for infinite repetition of the pattern. It would be confusing to most computer nerds.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 6 at 17:21
  • 5
    They're all subfolders.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 6 at 22:34
  • 1
    When represented by an alphanumeric path it is not a folder, but a directory. A folder is graphic metaphor.
    – David
    Aug 9 at 15:23
  • I’d call def a (direct) subdirectory of c:\abc, and ghi a subsubdirectory or a transitive subdirectory thereof. I don’t think this is standard, though. Aug 13 at 18:35

5 Answers 5


These are nested folders.

To find a nested folder, you could recursively searching a folder, but that's not necessary. You can also directly see a nested folder.


As I mentioned in my comment, a folder is a physical object, but the poster is talking about a location in computer path which goes under the “proper computing” name of a directory. Hence, the third level referred to is a:


This is the same type of English nomenclature used in great-great-grandmother.

You can find examples of this on our parent site, Stack Overflow, although the hyphenation (or lack thereof) varies. I prefer the form presented as it is a single term but the three levels are apparent.

  • Directory or folder, sub-sub has very little usage compared to nested. A google search on sub-sub-directory (which covers punctuation variations) returns under 6K results. Nested directory returns over 220K. Sub-sub only includes 2 levels, where nested is arbitrarily deep.
    – jimm101
    Aug 9 at 17:28
  • @jimm101 — But “nested” is generic. It does not indicate the third level specified in the question: “Proper computer term for a third level folder.
    – David
    Aug 9 at 17:47

All computing terms are metaphors. They have to be; English never needed words for the events and objects we experience while computing. Until the last century, and then we needed a lot of them, very fast. That's what metaphors are for; so we loaded up.

File is a good example. A file is composed of some sheets of paper, often residing in a file folder, which is made of cardboard and physically folds over the files. Computers don't use these. Computers use what are called files and folders (aka directories), but they're not the same things at all. A computer file is a string of bytes with a marked beginning and ending, and an address (another, shorter, string of bytes). These files are kept in folders, which are addresses also, but addresses for a list of files.

Since folders are files, they can be put into other folders, and those folders can be, too. There isn't a good term for stuff like this that can go on indefinitely, and English hasn't provided for it yet. Computers are still very young, compared to (say) printing, or literacy, and we are very far from developing good terminology.

One can multiply sub- prefixes, but after a couple, it's not really informative, any more than great-great-great- is helpful, unless you count. And you can count forever if you want to. Certainly there's no English term for 'a file located 17 subdirectories below usr/'. And if there were, we'd have no use for it, because there might be millions of such directories with billions of files in them.


According to dictionary.com, a subfolder is "A folder within a folder.", and (same site) a subdirectory is "A directory below another directory in heirarchy."

Folder is sort of like a synonym for directory, but it is more commonly used in a GUI environment (not so much on the command-line--people will still understand either one, though). I wouldn't call ghi a subfolder of abc, whether or not that's technically correct by some definition.

While it would suffice to say that your ghi is a subdirectory (as is def), if you want to be more obvious about it, you can call it a descendant directory (which although isn't a particularly common term, is in use, and will tell people exactly what you mean without ambiguity; people understand the terms parent directory and child directory, so descendant directory isn't a huge stretch of the imagination, even if you've never heard it before). Similarly, you could say sub-subfolder to be even more explicit in your case scenario (if you only mean it to refer to that particular depth).

It would be incorrect to call it a recursive folder. Recursion is such as when you have a function call itself. This is often used to do such things as traverse through directory structures programmatically. However, it's more of an action than an object. There's no programmatic logic in place to call folders themselves recursive. You can, however, do things to folders recursively (but just because folders are traversed doesn't mean it's necessarily done recursively; you would need insight about the code to know that; however, recursion is a really good guess). Some command-line programs will have a -r option for doing things recursively (like rm -r someDirectory will delete someDirectory and all its contents, recursively; that doesn't mean it's the only way they could have programmed it to delete it, though, even if it is the most obvious to many). However, you'll note that creating deeper directories and accessing a single path (regardless of how deep it is) normally do not require recursion. It's when you're trying to modify all the files or nodes in a complex structure where recursion makes more sense.

Nested means that something is within something else, like brackets within brackets, an if statement within an if statement, or a loop within a loop. I guess you could call it a nested subfolder, as jimm101 mentioned in the comments, but I wouldn't recommend it, personally, since it's more to learn for those who don't know what nesting is, and more to think about for those who do. If you're programming, you probably don't want to think more than you have to about this sort of stuff (nesting and subdirectories aren't usually thought of in the same context for them). If you're a business person, or just a power user, go ahead (but I still don't recommend it, as it'll make its way back to programmers and increase the complexity they have to work with; programmers work with a lot of complexity, so even little things like this can matter).

  • I might have waited for the other users to respond, but I'm just passing through, and I had additional stuff to say. I don't mean to dissuade others from answering, too. Aug 9 at 9:16

In your example ghi is sub-subfolder of (main) folder abc

Similar to like Adam is a "grand-grandfaher" [i.e. great-grandfather] of David, if 'Adam' has had a child (e.g. 'Beatrice') and then that child had its own child (e.g. 'Chris')- which now has its own descendant named 'David'

I myself often use the term subfolder and sub-subfolder when writing on many IT related forums despite almost no one else uses them; and despite being taught as far as ~25 years ago that using sub prefix for deeper folders is archaic/obsolete — because the word of computers was moving away from MS-DOS like programs towards ones having convenient GUIs. But this is my private preference; just like I to still like to write the Internet instead of just internet. (I often wonder if people used to write Radio and Television at their dawn)

  • Seems to me that it should be "great grandfolder".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 13 at 18:16
  • "gran-grandfather"? "just like I to still like write"?
    – David
    Aug 13 at 22:32

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