In French, the word "temps" can refer to time (temps surcomposés) but it can can also refer to "temperature" or weather. For example, "Quel temps fait-il?"

I have been wondering, are they actually two different words with two different origins spelled the same way in French (like "cleave," to cut and to cling in English) or did they they really refer to the same thing "way back when" and only take on two different meanings later on?

En Français le mot temps peut désigner le temps grammatical ou la température (Quel temps fait-il?)

Y a-t-il deux mots différents d'origines différentes dont l'orthographe a convergé, ou ces mots dérivent-ils d'un même mot ancien qui aurait pris les deux sens?

  • @Gilles: Good point. Most of the references of temps are to "time." Some refer to "nature," i.e. a year, or seasons, but not specifically to "weather," which is the other meaning. Maybe "seasons" is operative reference, but that's not clear. The common denominator I can think of is "speed." That is "speed" of activity (time), and speed of molecules (temperature) and other weather causes. But I don't get this idea from my readings.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 21:58
  • In a discussion with a literary group over the weekend, someone pointed out that similar "early" instruments such as sundials, were used to measure both time and temperature. So apparently, there was a "common cause," but not an obvious one. And it seems that other languages, such as Japanese also have overlaps between the words for time and temperature. But this is a non-obvious, non-trivial relationship that I wouldn't have guessed. I honestly thought that they had different origins.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 14:05
  • @Gilles: Have I convinced you that I wanted a deeper answer than could be found in the links, and will you withdraw your downvote?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 14:07
  • 1
    Your question still answerable by a simple reading of the etymology section in a dictionary — all meanings derive from the Latin tempus. If you're after a deeper answer, edit your question to say so (“I've read the etymology section of <dictionary>, but it doesn't say anything about <subtopic>: <request for further information>?”). I don't know how you'd make your question about French and not about Latin though, seeing the words were already merged in Latin. Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 14:35

4 Answers 4


Il y a une très belle explication dans L'éclair immobile dans la plaine, philosophie et poétique du temps chez Lucrèce par Sabine Luciani. Cette explication est basée sur un article de E. Benveniste qui s'intitule Latin Tempus (ça ne s'invente pas ;)).

Ce lien google book permet d'aller voir la page 4 de ce livre.


Temps, in both meanings, comes directly from two Latin words tempus, belonging to two separate declensions, which meant:

  1. time (le temps qui passe); third declension (tempus, temporis)
  2. weather (le temps qu'il fait); second declension (tempus, tempi)
  3. the temple of the head (la tempe); third declension

So, the double meaning of time and weather was already present in Latin, though less marked. Going further from there would require a Latin etymological dictionary, which I don't have available.

  • TLF : lat. tempus, temporis « période, moment où quelque chose se produit; temps considéré dans la durée; période particulière en référence à l'histoire, la vie d'une personne...; moment propice pour quelque chose; circonstances, conditions particulières [sens auquel se rattache le sens B, cf. anni tempora, caeli tempus, v. OLD] Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 22:13
  • Point de détail : ma source dit que c'est tempus (tempis) pour le sens de “temps qu'il fait”… À creuser !
    – F'x
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 22:19
  • 2
    I don't know where Wiktionary got this, but there was no tempus of the second declension in classical Latin: neither Lewis & Short nor the OLD have it. The OLD says tempestas ("bad weather") etc. just come from tempus, temporis, "time, etc.". I really think your second etymology is not right.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 1:55

In a literary circle that I attended after I asked the question, someone brought up the point the similar instruments, like sundials, were used by the "ancients" to measure both time and temperature. Also, there are similar words for the two concepts in non-European languages such as Japanese.

The closest relationship between the two that I could gather from the links that were provided was that time was related to the passage of seasons, and by implication, the weather.

From the above, it appears that "ancient man" regarded time and temperature as two sides of the same "coin," even though this idea might seem ludicrous today. Hence, the common Latin etymology between the two, tempus, although the different declensions suggested that even they perceived a difference; e.g. that time led TO temperature changes. All this apparently occurred before the French language became popular.

The connection seems "counterintuitive," but at least plausible given the above context. I would not have accepted the validity of a link to the Latin tempus without an explanation of this sort.


It should be noticed that in the Bulgarian language there exists -just as in French - one word with the same two meanings: време (pron. [vrème]). It means "time" as well as "weather". So the explanation that the origin of he double meaning of the French word temps can be found in the Latin language, becomes more unsure.

  • This has to be paralleled with Romanian (a Romance Language): Time/Timp and Weather/Vreme. Vreme is clearly a loanword from Romania's surrounding Slavic languages (e.g. Russian Время). The weird thing however is that the Russian word actually means "time", not "weather". Russian for weather is actually Погода. Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 19:12

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