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What is the difference between "gymnase" and "salle de sport"? At first, I thought that the first is a gymnasium (a closed space where people do sports such as soccer, volleyball and basketball) and the latter is a gym (closed space where people work out). However, Word Reference says that "salle de sport" may also mean "sports hall", which is a synonym of gymnasium AFAIK, and that "gymnase" may also mean "gym".

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A "salle de sport" is a place where people of every walk of life go so as keep fit; they can do there a great variety of exercises, the most important being jogging on jogging machines. Nowadays, as these facilities were inspired by the american civilisation they are also called "salles de fitness".
There is another meaning of "salle de sport", the original one; the term describes building that can contain a considerable number of spectators and in which very often any of several ball games can be played (basket ball, handball, volleyball). Some of those salles can be used for numerous sports manifestations, as for instance The Madison Square Garden in New York, which in French you call "salle de sport omnisport" (tennis, ball sports, boxing, even concerts, …).

A "gymnase" is originally a building where specialised sportsmen go regularly for developping skills in the domain of gymnastics, gymnastics being the activity in which the body is trained to develop strength and at the same time agility.
However, this term, gymnase, is used also nowadays for omnisport buildings where you can play indoor ball games or even practice archery. They do not necessarily have facilities for a public of spectators and are meant as community facilities to provide the young with the means to participate in sports activities.

Addition due to user Laurent S.

In Belgium the term "hall omnisport" used instead of "gymnase" (France and Canada). https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnase_(sport)

A "salle des sports" is often called a "palais des sports" when the building is not part of a school complex. In a shool a "salle des sports" is also called a "gymnase" or "gym", that latter term being a mere apocope of the former (réf.). Whereas the word "gymnase" is masculine, "gym" is feminine (réf.) (On va au gymnase ; on va à la gym.).

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  • I don't have any reference so I'm not sure whether this is just me or not, but my impression is that this tendency to call an omnisport hall a gymnase is mostly in France, or at least less prominent in Belgium, where such places are called "Hall omnisport" or "Salle omnisport". Note also that I doubt anybody would call Madison Square Garden or anything similar "Salle de sport". In France such places are often called "Palais des sports" – Laurent S. Dec 23 '19 at 12:28
  • @LaurentS. Vous avez entièrement raison pour cette première remarque. Je ne sais plus exactement où j'ai trouvé ce détail à propos des lieux de rencontres sportives comme le Madison Square Garden, mais dans l'encyclopédie libre on réfère à ce type de bâtiment au moyen du terme « salle omnisport » ; il me semble donc que c'est tout d'abord une salle de sport. fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madison_Square_Garden – LPH Dec 23 '19 at 14:31
  • Il est assez intéressant de constater que le même article en anglais parle de "multi-purpose indoor arena", traduit par "salle omnisports" dans l'article français effectivement, mais cette traduction me semble hasardeuse. Tout aussi étrange, si on regarde l'article sur Paris-Bercy dont le nom était "Palais omnisport de Paris Bercy", en français on y parle de salle polyvalente tandis que l'article anglais parle là de " indoor sports arena and concert hall". – Laurent S. Dec 23 '19 at 14:41
  • @LaurentS. Ce n'est pas si rare que l'on parle de salle; en fait un palais des sports est toujours une salle, bien que ce soit toujours une immense pièce. Voila ce que j'ai encore pu trouver : « Le palais des sports de Treichville est une salle couverte d'une capacité de 7 000 places. » dictionnaire.sensagent.leparisien.fr/… – LPH Dec 23 '19 at 14:54
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I would like to add something to the (very complete) answer from LPH: In the french speaking part of Switzerland, "gymnase" can also be refering to high school (e.g.: "Le gymnase de Morges", which translates to "Morges's high school"). We tend to use "salle de sport" or "salle de gym" when it comes to refering to the place where you do sports. I'm not really sure where this comes from and often french speakers from France do not know what we're talking about. You will likely not meet that word in its "high school" meaning but if you were to one day, you'll know what it means:)

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