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.


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").


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.

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