I was looking for the translation of the German word "Vergänglichkeit", and the most suitable candidates from the contexts I looked at seemed to be impermanence and transience.

I found the following text samples via linguee.com where the two words are used in contexts comparable to mine. From those, I can't determine a significant difference, so I'm wondering if the words are interchangeable.

  • transience:

    [...] - now and then in the film, one can see a train passing, a car or a pedestrian on the road -, and makes the viewer aware of transience and the passage of time.

  • impermanence:

    Who lets matter become his master will also never overcome matter and to whom the loss of earthly goods was not a help to overcome these will rush towards these possessions with increased eagerness to increase them again and if he is to be helped again then this can only happen through renewed loss so that he learns to recognize the impermanence of matter and mentally profits from this.

Overall, transience seems more common, and impermanence seems to be preferred in texts related to Buddhism.

  • Hi Hanno, please provide the context for the word you are trying to translate.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:26
  • It's impossible to tell which word you should pick without knowing what Vergänglichkeit actually means. You forgot do define it!
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:27
  • Most English speakers will have no idea what Vergänglichkeit means, and so be unable to provide an approximate translation. You will have to tell us what it means in your words.
    – tchrist
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:27
  • 1
    So you are looking for ephemerae that are fleeting if not outright fugitive?
    – tchrist
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:32
  • "Vergänglichkeit" means transience, impermanence. I'm not asking for a translation. I'm asking for the difference between two valid ones I already have. It really hasn't got anything to do with the German word. I just mentioned it as a way of introducing the question. Jan 14, 2013 at 13:34

2 Answers 2


If I had to make a difference, I would make it in the time-scale.

Something transient is of relatively short duration, whereas impermanent merely refers to the fact that it is not permanent, meaning it will eventually change, without any assumption on the duration.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Can you cite reliable sources to back up your answer?
    – MetaEd
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:07
  • 1
    Here's Merriam-Webster for transient, and for impermanent. As you can see there is emphasis of brevity for transient, whereas impermanent is just defined as the opposite of permanent (although transient is marked as a synonym).
    – Khaur
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:55
  • That's fine; it just remains for you to add this information to the answer itself. Thanks.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:57

They are synonyms. Except where one or the other may be favored by a group (you mention Buddhism, though I cannot say one way or another there), you may use them interchangeably.

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