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?

closed as off-topic by Hot Licks, anongoodnurse, choster, Hellion, Brian Hooper Jan 15 '16 at 8:39

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


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sometimes qualify their policies as a “temporary measure” to give the impression that there are plans for them to be repealed in due course (which, of course, never happens, but that’s a different matter).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.

  • Would you say temporary/temporal/time sequence of events? – skan Dec 8 '18 at 13:08

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.

  • 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...

  • 3
    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
  • 2
    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

Temporal refers more to a time relationship between two variables. "he started abusing alcohol after he lost his job" shows a "temporal", not "temporary" relationship between alcohol use and job loss. It kinds of establishes an association. I don't think its exactly synonymous to temporary.

  • Would you say temporary/temporal/time sequence of events? – skan Dec 8 '18 at 13:09

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