temperament

noun

tem·​per·​a·​ment ˈtem-p(ə-)rə-mənt How to pronounce temperament (audio)
-pər-mənt
1
a
: characteristic or habitual inclination or mode of emotional response
a nervous temperament
b
: extremely high sensibility
especially : excessive sensitiveness or irritability
c
: the peculiar or distinguishing mental or physical character determined by the relative proportions of the humors according to medieval physiology
2
a
: the act or process of tempering or modifying : adjustment, compromise
b
: middle course : mean
3
: the slight modification of acoustically pure intervals in tuning a musical instrument
especially : modification that produces a set of 12 equally spaced tones to the octave
4
obsolete
a
: constitution of a substance, body, or organism with respect to the mixture or balance of its elements, qualities, or parts : makeup
5
obsolete
a

Did you know?

Why is temperament spelled the way it is?

Blame Latin.

Like the related noun temper (which most often refers to a person's tendency to become angry, but also has a neutral sense very close to that of temperament, among other meanings) temperament traces back to a Latin word, temperare, which means "to mix or blend." The a in temperare lives on in the modern spelling of temperament.

Temperament is an old word (it dates to the 15th century) with multiple meanings, but in modern use it typically refers to the usual attitude, mood, or behavior of a person or animal. If you're adopting a dog, you might look for one with a sweet temperament; you might describe someone who is often nervous as having a nervous temperament.

Did you know?

What is the difference between disposition and predisposition?

What exactly is someone's disposition? And is it different from a predisposition? A person's disposition is his or her usual mood or attitude. Are you typically pretty happy? You could be described as having a happy—or cheerful, or sunny—disposition. Animals have dispositions too; a dog with a nervous disposition doesn't easily relax into a restful pup curled up at someone’s feet. In this use, disposition is a synonym of temperament; both words refer to the complex set of attitudes and inclinations that guide behavior.

Disposition can also mean "tendency" or "inclination," and in such cases it has a surprising synonym: predisposition. A disposition to exaggerate is the same as a predisposition to exaggerate. A disposition toward humility is likewise the same thing as a predisposition toward humility. The fact of being "in advance" that the prefix pre- implies hardly matters when tendency and inclination are concerned, since both concern what is likely to happen in the future.

While phrases like "a disposition to cooperate" are about as common as "a predisposition to cooperate," when the context is medical, predisposition is far more common. Phrases like "a genetic predisposition to nearsightedness" appear much more frequently in published, edited text than similar phrases employing disposition.

Choose the Right Synonym for temperament

disposition, temperament, temper, character, personality mean the dominant quality or qualities distinguishing a person or group.

disposition implies customary moods and attitude toward the life around one.

a cheerful disposition

temperament implies a pattern of innate characteristics associated with one's specific physical and nervous organization.

an artistic temperament

temper implies the qualities acquired through experience that determine how a person or group meets difficulties or handles situations.

a resilient temper

character applies to the aggregate of moral qualities by which a person is judged apart from intelligence, competence, or special talents.

strength of character

personality applies to an aggregate of qualities that distinguish one as a person.

a somber personality

Examples of temperament in a Sentence

The two women were opposite in temperament. looking for a dog with a sweet temperament
Recent Examples on the Web Currying favor was antithetical to his temperament. Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 31 Jan. 2024 And moral questions aside, the animals are incredibly expensive and difficult to use for reasons of logistics, temperament, and disease risk. Erika Fry, Fortune, 27 Jan. 2024 More than twice as many voters picked temperament as their top quality in New Hampshire, compared to Iowa, these voters are overwhelmingly choosing Haley. Jennifer De Pinto, CBS News, 23 Jan. 2024 Because my temperament — win, lose or draw — has always been kind of even keel. Jace Frederick, Twin Cities, 3 Feb. 2024 Chew seems to have the right temperament to keep TikTok in various governments’ good graces. Dexter Thomas, WIRED, 1 Feb. 2024 Both men were from what is now Uzbekistan, and both drew from Aristotle, but this engaging history uncovers their differences, in temperament and in scholarly approach. The New Yorker, 15 Jan. 2024 Spike Lee Recalls Sitting on His 'Stoop' in Brooklyn When Martin Luther King Jr. Was Assassinated Young, a former UN ambassador, also remarked on the civil right leader’s temperament on the day of his death. Julia Moore, Peoplemag, 14 Jan. 2024 Pros: Scott's mellow temperament and traditional conservative values could tame fears about Trump's erratic decision-making — and Republicans could benefit from having a person of color on the ticket. Kyler Alvord, Peoplemag, 25 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'temperament.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, "regulation of the body's vital spirit, proportion of humors in the body," borrowed from Latin temperāmentum "mixture of substances in proper proportion, mean between hot and cold, compromise between extremes, moderation" (Medieval Latin, "proper balance of bodily humors"), from temperāre "to moderate, bring to a proper strength or consistency by mixing, maintain in a state of balance" + -mentum -ment — more at temper entry 2

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of temperament was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near temperament

Cite this Entry

“Temperament.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/temperament. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

temperament

noun
tem·​per·​a·​ment ˈtem-p(ə-)rə-mənt How to pronounce temperament (audio)
1
: a person's attitude as it affects what he or she says or does
nervous temperament
2
: the quality of being very excitable or irritable

Medical Definition

temperament

noun
tem·​per·​a·​ment ˈtem-p(ə-)rə-mənt, -pər-mənt How to pronounce temperament (audio)
1
: the peculiar or distinguishing mental or physical character determined by the relative proportions of the humors according to medieval physiology
2
: characteristic or habitual inclination or mode of emotional response
a nervous temperament

More from Merriam-Webster on temperament

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