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Is there any difference between the two?

In a technical document I have used a phrase "this is a temporal solution" and my coworker told that he'd use "temporary" in the context. Is one of the two more correct than the second?

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I came across "temporal" in technical documents as well. E.g. you can describe temporal aspects of a computer systems: how quickly it responds, what it's availability is etc. Whereas temporary would be used to describe a workaround that is to be replaced by a better solution at some stage. – Alex Dec 27 '10 at 20:01
They mean two different things, is the difference. :) Can easily be found in the dictionary. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 '11 at 20:24
@Tomalak, of course I checked in a dictionary. But the phrase "enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory (opposed to eternal)" in the definition of temporal can be understood as if the two words are actually synonyms. – FireAphis Jan 18 '11 at 11:33
@FireAphis: That is not the definition of temporal. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 18 '11 at 11:55
@Tomalak, I didn't invent this definition. I'm just quoting from here. Is this source considered unreliable? Would you advise not to use it? – FireAphis Jan 19 '11 at 15:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Temporal means “pertaining to time”. Personally I have not enountered this word in normal speech at all, even in somewhat formal writing. I have only encountered it as a technical term. For example, in grammar, the part of the sentence that specifies the time at which something happened (e.g. “today” or “throughout the year”) is a temporal adverbial. The word also comes up a lot in science-fiction wherever some made-up technical term pertaining to time (usually time travel) is required, e.g. temporal mechanics. In real science, the term is sometimes used as a complement to spatial (pertaining to space).

Temporary is a much more common word. It means “lasting for a limited time” and is the opposite of permanent. Politicians sometimes qualify their policies as a “temporary measure” to give the impression that there are plans for them to be repealed in due course (which, of course, never happens, but that’s a different matter).

Edit: In the specific example in your question, I think you most likely mean “a solution that isn’t permanent”, so temporary is definitely what you need. Temporal is wrong unless you are contrasting your solution against one that is spatial or in some other way not relating to time.

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Temporal always refers to matters that are finite as opposed to infinite. You would not use it as just another synonym for temporary, even though it does mean that in a more specific way. It is more a synonym for mortal and usually refers to something involving the span of a human lifetime. It also is used to contrast human concerns with the religious or the divine. A bishop, for example, might speak of tending to the temporal needs of his flock to refer to the building of a hospital, since the repair of human bodies has nothing really to do with his principal duty of tending to their (supposedly) immortal souls.

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Another synonim of temporal is "secular", as in "temporal power" (as opposed to the "religious power"). – nico Mar 9 '11 at 7:09
  • temporal means "of or relating to time as opposed to eternity"
  • temporary means "lasting for a limited time"

One has no exact limit in time, the other comes with the definite notion of an expiration date.

  • If you can say: "use this for now" (without specifying when you won't be able to use "this" anymore), "temporal" is fine.
  • But if you can say: "use this until xxx", then "temporary" is the right choice.

That being said, I suspect there are many instances where one is being used instead of the other...

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I think you are conflating the meanings of the two words even as you attempt to draw a distinction between them. There is functionally no difference between "using something for now" and using it "until xxx." Temporal, even in the definitions you cite, compares the finite to the infinite, which is a far cry from distinguishing between items having a specific expiration date and ones that do not. – Robusto Dec 27 '10 at 16:54
I agree with Robusto. Both of your examples warrant use only of temporary. Just because something is used for now, doesn’t mean that this something pertains or relates to time as opposed to eternity. – Timwi Dec 27 '10 at 18:31
@Robusto @Timwi: I agree about the conflation part. If temporal is to be used in place of temporary (like in "temporal solution"), then the distinction I make could be relevant. But both your explanations for temporal are much more to the point (and I have upvoted them). – VonC Dec 27 '10 at 20:52

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