The International Monetary Fund tonight edged gingerly and imprecisely toward future adoption of a "substitution account" that might ultimately take some pressure off the U. S. dollar in foreign exchange markets.

A substition account would enable holders of dollars to turn them in to the IMF and receive instead a specially created, asset-earing interest.

In a communique issued after a day-long meeting, the Interim Committee -- the policy-making board of the IMF -- directed that a study of the account be given "priority attention" by the executive board of the monetary fund. The board was directed to report on the progress at the next meeting of the Interim Committee at Hamburg, West Germany, next April 25.

The communique broke no new ground on the tense economic issues of concern to all members, warning only that inflation had intensified, and that economic growth in the months ahead in the rest of the world would be adversely affected by a recession in the United States, which appears to be worsening.

The committee privately discussed, but did not release, figures that estimate that real economic growth in the United States next year will be zero, while the aggregate figure for major industrial nations was estimated at only one percent, compared with about 3 percent this year.

On the substitution account -- which was to be the single major substantive item of business at this meeting -- the communique said that if properly designed, such an account could ease the troubles of the international monetary system. But widespread disagreement on how to devise the account prevented the Interim Committee from carrying the scheme very far today.

IMF Managing Director Jacques de Larosiere described today's action nevertheless, as "an important step in agreement on principles." But he stressed that no deadline had been set as a target for final agreement, adding: "This can be a process that takes time."

A holder of dollars who chose to use the substitution account would receive from the IMF a certificate or a bond denominated in Special Drawing Rights. SDRs are based on a market basket of currencies, and the idea is that many central banks holding dollars could diversify their risk by trading in some dollars for the new SDR-instrument.

It seemed clear that there was less enthusiasm for the new scheme than had been advertised in advance. Earlier, the IMF staff had hoped for a ringing endorsement in principle, with most details ironed out in Hamburg, perhaps allowing the system to be operable late in 1980.

That timetable has clearly slipped. U. S. officials from the beginning have been lukewarm to the idea, except as a step in the evolution of SDRs as the centerpiece of the International Monetary System.

This prospect was stressed by the new Interim Committee chairman, Italian minister of treasury Filippo Maria Pandolfi, who said there is a "growing consensus that a substitution account would be "the first step toward a more stable and rational monetary system."

Pandolfi also referred in passing to the possibility that a substitution account would help ease the speculative situation in gold, which he referred to as a "problem." However, Pandolfi and other members of the Interim Committee said there had been no discussion of gold as such in the Interim Committee today.

The communique said that for the substitution account to have widespread use, it should among other things be established "on a large scale." He volunteered that a "token amount would be meaningless."