Google translates

Mechanics of continua

Continuum Mechanics


Mécanique du continua (faulty as it should be des continua but it is not the point considered here)

Mécanique du continuum

On the other hand, Cambridge translation and this service gives

Mécanique des milieux continus

My natif French colleagues suggest that I do not use Google suggestions and proceed with the classic structures

Mécanique du milieu continu/Mécanique des milieux continus

Indeed a Ngram finds nothing regarding mécanique du continuum and furthermore I have yet to find a single French book to use such terminology.

Nevertheless, the very term continuum exists in French. Indeed:





with the exact connotation of

Continuum espace-temps.

Les concepts de continuum espace-temps, d'énergie, de force, de masse, d'entropie.

Le Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé (TLFi) gives:

MATH., PHILOS. Espace qui n'est pas interrompu (cf. continu II) : Toutes les géométries que j'envisageais avaient ainsi un fond commun, ce continuum à trois dimensions qui était le même pour toutes et qui ne se différenciait que par les figures qu'on y traçait ou quand on prétendait le mesurer. H. Poincaré, La Valeur de la sc.,1905, p. 59. ♦ Continuum espace-temps. Continuum à quatre dimensions (les trois dimensions spatiales, plus le temps). Les concepts de continuum espace-temps, d'énergie, de force, de masse, d'entropie (Carrel, L'Homme, cet inconnu,1935, p. 36). Prononc. : [kɔ ̃tinɥ ɔm]. Pour la finale -um, cf. album. Étymol. et Hist. 1905 « ensemble d'éléments homogènes » supra ex.; 1935 continuum espace-temps (Carrel, loc. cit.). Mot lat. neutre de l'adj. continuus, v. continu; employé par les mathématiciens en b. lat. (ive.-ves.) opposé à discretus « distinct, séparé » (TLL s.v. continuus, 726, 52). Fréq. abs. littér. : 19.

Thus, I am wondering if indeed the (latin based) words continuum and (its plural form) continua cannot be used in French and in addition why one cannot do so.

  • As a scientific term it may not be translated word by word. Moreover, the discipline has alternative names, that may be more in use in french than in English: mechanics of continuum media may refer to elasticity theory or fluid mechanics/hydrodynamics. (Wikipedia supports your translation though .)
    – Roger V.
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 5:14
  • @RogerVadim Wikipedia also has Mécanique des milieux continus for "Continuum mechanics" !
    – None
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 5:42

4 Answers 4


The term exists indeed, but I never heard it/used it outside continuum espace temps (and now I'm "back to the future" :p).

I would would go with your colleagues suggestion:

Mécanique des milieux continus

(I suppose there are several such domains, and not just one).


The term "continuum" is perfectly valid. Aside from the "continuum espace-temps", which designates the four-dimensional space in which physics are set, there is the much less scientific expression "sur un continuum allant de ... à ...", which in English would translate as "on a spectrum from ... to ...".

I have never heard the plural form continua used.

As for the sentence that you were trying to translate originally, the correct translation is indeed mécanique des milieux continus. That's an expression that maps directly to the concept of continuum mechanics in English and is used e.g. to describe a course in a curriculum.

Similarly Special relativity does not translate to *"relativité spéciale" but to relativité restreinte ("restricted").


Continuum is a false friend.

In all the fields that I'm familiar with in modern mathematics, computer science and physics, the French word “continuum” is not used. It's a rather old-fashioned word and mostly used as a non-technical term in the sense of “spectrum”: “il y a un continuum de valeurs possibles” = “there is a spectrum of possible values” (i.e. between two possible values, there is always another possible value).

I'm not specifically familiar with the expression “continuum mechanics” but I have no reason to doubt the title of the corresponding page in French Wikipedia: “mécanique des milieux continus”.

In mathematics and computer science we use “continu” as a noun: “le discret” is opposed to “le continu”. For example “cardinality of the continuum” is “cardinal du continu” or (maybe a little old-fashioned these days) “puissance du continu”.


Here is the French wikipedia lemma for "continuum"


giving as an alternative

Le continuum mécanique

Sciences et technologies - Physique

Le continuum mécanique, une branche de la physique

I don't see anything faulty with continuum mécanique (grammatically speaking) other than its unknown usage. Of course it may sound awkward to French natives. Obviously, Wikipedia is not panacea.

  • Given the standard order of French nouns and adjectives, wouldn't le continuum mécanique be the mechanical continuum and not continuum mechanics? Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 20:47
  • Your link for "Le continuum mécanique" points to a page called Mécanique des milieux continus, "continuum" is only used on the "homonymie" page.
    – None
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 5:39

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