I'm wondering about the word "temporal." The definitions I've read are as follows: adjective adjective: temporal

  1. relating to worldly as opposed to spiritual affairs; secular.
    synonyms: secular, nonspiritual, worldly, profane, material, mundane, earthly, terrestrial;
    antonyms: spiritual
  2. of or relating to time.
    synonyms: secular, nonspiritual, worldly, profane, material, mundane, earthly, terrestrial;
    antonyms: spiritual
    relating to or denoting time or tense.

Is it fair to say that I can use this word in place of the word time? For instance, "parsing temporal data" meaning "parsing time related data." The data I'm referring to here is Hour, Minute, Second, Day, Week, etc. It has nothing to do with wordly/secular things.

  • 1
    As you say, "temporal" (in its second defn) means "time-related" so you can use it wherever you would use "time-related". "time-related" is not the same as "time", so you can't (always) substitute it for "time". (Eg, "What temporal is it please?" is not correct.) That seems logically quite obvious to me. Jul 25, 2016 at 16:18
  • You can definitely use it in the context of "temporal data" as evidenced here: desktop.arcgis.com/en/arcmap/10.3/map/time/…
    – user180089
    Jul 25, 2016 at 16:19
  • I suspect that whatever dictionary your are quoting (you ought to tell us!) lists the meanings in chronlogical, order. The first meaning is rare today, and I suspect many people would not understand it.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 25, 2016 at 16:31
  • I wouldn't say the first meaning is rare. It's common in the Christian religious services I've attended. It's at least as common as the noun "temporal" meaning the region of the head, skull or brain around the temples. Instead I'd say that the synonym list for the dictionary you're pulling from isn't set up for the second meaning at all. I'd consider "chronological" or "longitudinal" as obvious synonyms for the second meaning, and neither are listed. I'd ignore the synonym list on the second entry.
    – Bacon Bits
    Jul 25, 2016 at 16:37
  • 1
    Don't use "temporal" to mean "temporary." That's a common mistake. Jul 25, 2016 at 17:32

2 Answers 2


The question seems to be whether "temporal" can be substituted for the word "time", particularly in text about data. I would suggest (firmly) that the answer is no. My arguments are as follows:

  • Time data is not data related to time as a concept, or to the idea of time as it pertains to human thinking. It is data about points in time, specific measured moments on a clock. Even that data is not about the punctual nature of the measurement itself. It is about the contingent event or marker it serves to measure. In other words, when you store a time in a database, you're not concerned so much about the clock reading itself as you are about what happened at the instant you or your equipment took the reading. "Temporal" applies to the idea, the concept of time in its role within human thinking. I oppose ideas and data in my mind - not that they contradict one another, but conceptually they should be kept separate. An idea is not as valuable if it is not based on data, but data does not constitute an idea.
  • The sheer clarity of the phrase "time data" is compelling. The data describes a reading of hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds (or something else entirely, such a a counter in the case of atomic clocks or computer CPUs). It would sound pedantic to talk of "temporal data" just as it would sound pedantic to say "spatial data" when you actually mean "size measurements". I believe it would also be misleading.

I thought I would mention that "temporal" (related to the temple) and "temporal" (related to the concept of time) do not share a common origin. One comes from the latin templum/i meaning open or consecrated space, the other comes from the latin tempus/oris meaning time. It's tempting to think they are somehow related, but they're really not. Latin, like English, was a mix and match of several varied original languages and words that looked like one another did not necessarily have common ancestry or connected meaning.

Finally, I think the reason that "temporal" has come to be the antonym of "sacred" in English is through the dichotomy of life and death, or more specifically Godliness versus mortality. We are mortals, and Time is our enemy. Gods are eternal, free from Time's grip. The fundamental theology of the Romans, inherited from the Greeks, starts with the Titan Saturnus (Chronos, the spirit of Time) being defeated by his son Jupiter (Zeus) thus granting all Gods their immortality. From mortal versus immortal, the idea of secular versus sacred is thus attached to the concept of Time.

Perhaps one exception to my suggestion of not using "temporal" as a replacement for "time" in technical manuals and papers would be when talking about "spatiotemporal" data, which describes data related to space-time, keeping in mind that space-time is something quite different from the simple amalgam of space and time. So perhaps not so much an exception as a warning about a possible false association.

  • "time data" refers to data consisting of hours, minutes, seconds, etc. "temporal data" refers to how another variable is changing through time.
    – user180089
    Jul 25, 2016 at 20:42

Java, which is arguably the most popular software platform around, uses temporal in the way you want, so if it's good enough for them ...

See https://docs.oracle.com/javase/8/docs/api/java/time/temporal/package-summary.html

Package java.time.temporal Description

Access to date and time using fields and units, and date time adjusters

[...]  a temporal object, such as a date, time, offset or some combination of these.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.