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I know "temporal" means "to do with time", but I'm looking specifically for a term that means "spanning time" or "over time". Not necessarily all time, as "eternal" would mean, nor do I want to necessarily imply anything about the span of time (e.g. being long or short).

Upon reflection, I guess "temporally" is actually the closest word to use. I was just hoping for a word that meant literally "spans time". I guess the implication of using the word "temporally", because it deals with time, also often implies over the course of time.

However to illustrate the difference, I could use the term "temporal locality" to mean things that are close together in time (a term we use in Computer Science). In this case, "temporal" refers specifically to the concept of time, not the concept of something spanning it (it generally refers to two points in time that are close together, and points in time do not "span" time).

Update: Here's a much better example, though it's specific to programming: let's suppose we deal with the concept of locking an object. We might say that an object is "temporally locked" which means that it is locked with respect to a certain time; but we might also want to say that it is locked through time. I'd like to be able to say the latter with an adverb such as "it is locked _____". Since temporally locked already means something else, we need a distinction.

I honestly don't know if such a word exists, and it's more out of curiosity than anything, but thanks to all the folks who have contributed ideas. :)

Update 2: I've thought of another way to formulate my request. Think of it perhaps as the opposite of a specific point in time. In other words, a word that means "not restricted to a particular point in time". I think perhaps that's a better example than my lock example above.

I like the word chronological for this reason, but chronological also implies the concept of order and specifically progression through time, which isn't really part of this concept. Indefinite also works, to a degree, but as the term doesn't involve time itself, it would have to be temporally indefinite. This is very close, but again, a single word would be awesome.

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You know, I think an adverb of time is unnecessary in your example sentence. To say that something changes is to say that it changes over time; without the passage of time, no change would occur. You can argue about the rate of change, whether it's slow or fast (relatively speaking), but you can't very well argue that a transformation doesn't involve the passage of time. – Robusto Jul 10 '11 at 20:57
@Jasper Loy, Robusto is saying that "Change" normally occurs over time so there is no point in saying "over time" in your example "it changes over time". I wouldn't agree with the point, however, because would the gradual change be considered change meaning that some change would be instant, basically, not within the span of any time? – Xander Lamkins Jul 10 '11 at 21:47

11 Answers 11

up vote 6 down vote accepted

'Diachronically' would stress that the action occurs through time:

"[f. Gr. διά throughout, during + χρόν-ος time + -ic.]

1.1 Lasting through time, or during the existing period." -- OED

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I like that one. ;) – devios May 7 '13 at 18:31

There's a veritable smorgasbord of words in English describing something that spans a lot of time. Amongst them are: lengthy, long-lasting, drawn-out, long-winded, overlong, and enduring.

If you want a word that simply refers to the fact that something happens over a period of time rather than forever, then temporal, as you mentioned, seems to me to be the word to use. Here's a dictionary definition:

3. enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory ( opposed to eternal ).

Example usage:

It changes temporally.

As the definition says, there's also temporary and transitory.

I also just thought of transient, though that points instead to something lasting a short period of time.

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No that's not what I'm looking for: I want something very simple, not implying that the span of time is long or short or anything else. – devios Jul 10 '11 at 20:26
I've edited the answer to add temporal. – Jez Jul 10 '11 at 20:29
Hmm, I think "transitory" is definitely on the right track. Best one so far. – devios Jul 10 '11 at 20:31
Yes I realize "temporally" would work in the example sentence, but it still literally just means "to do with time", thus the "over time" is implied by the use of "changes", which may have been a bad choice for an example. – devios Jul 10 '11 at 20:40
No, I'd say temporally can indeed mean "over time", and in the adverbial sense I suggested, that is what I would interpret it to mean. If you want to be exceedingly clear, then just say "over time". – Jez Jul 10 '11 at 20:43

I see that nobody has posted the most obvious (to me) alternative to temporal: chronological.

2. In units of time. [...]

Usage notes
In the "units of time" sense, the term is almost exclusively used to clarify a contrast.

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Perhaps use duration or durational.

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It's been a while since I asked this, but this is very good. There's a definite implication of transience (i.e. the subject eventually ending) but "locked durationally" vs. "locked temporally" is a good distinction of concepts! – devios Nov 16 '12 at 1:07

Maybe perennially?

perennial |pəˈrɛnjəl| |pəˈrɛniəl|
lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring : his perennial distrust of the media.

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The problem with perennial is it's most strongly associated with garden plants that die back and regrow over several consecutive years. The main other use, which I feel is effectively metaphorical, is as per your example. – FumbleFingers Jul 10 '11 at 20:42

I'm not sure what you're looking for. Would indefinitely work?

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This isn't bad, and gives me an idea for a clarification of my request, which is that I'm looking for a word that means "not restricted to a particular point in time". – devios Jul 19 '11 at 15:45

Ignoring highly abstracted metaphysical contexts, for something to exist at all, it has to exist for at least some time. Things that exist only briefly are ephemeral, transitory, or temporary.

Things that exist for a long time are persistent or enduring. If it's important to emphasis that they remain unchanged through time, call them constant, immutable, unchanging or durable.

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You want "ongoing for some interval of time"? I believe that continually fits well.

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How about chronic? I know it's associated with illnesses and implies a long duration.

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I would like to suggest the word "eventually" as an alternative to "over time". "Eventually" does denote the passage of time. For example, "Over time, she learned to love him" can be restated as "Eventually, she learned to love him"

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"Temporary" or "Temporarily" refer to something that happens for a period of time, then stops.

A database object can be temporarily locked, meaning that it will eventually be unlocked.

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protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 19:26

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