I am looking for the traduction of the french word "terre". Which means the planet earth, the ground and also the material the ground is made of. I don't know how to translate a specific meaning of it, this : enter image description here

Online translaters give me :

  • Earth : Google image only shows the planet earth
  • Ground : I don't know if this can be used to mean the material
  • Land : I think that doesn't mean the material either
  • Dirt : I think it means the "material" that make a thing dirty

What is the right translation for this ?


Example of sentence translated with google:

Il y avait un tas de terre.
There was a pile of dirt.

Il mit de la terre autour de la plante.
He put the soil around the plant.

  • 1
    Perhaps, soil? – user1513 Jun 5 '14 at 19:47
  • Could you write some example sentences and then translate them to English? That might help us understand the usage you are thinking of. – user3169 Jun 5 '14 at 21:25
  • I added some example, does it change your answer ? – Heckel Jun 6 '14 at 6:21

Soil is used mostly in farming/plants context - it's what plants grow in. You'll hear of "scent of wet soil", "good soil" (good for plants) etc.

Dirt is the common word used for the loose material ground is made of - you dig in dirt, you pile up dirt to form a ramp etc. You buy a bag of soil for your flowers, but you get a truck of dirt if you need to fill a hole or build a scarp.

Ground is what you walk on. You are on the ground level, the ground is firm under your feet etc. But you don't load a wheelbarrow of ground, you load a wheelbarrow of dirt you dug out from the ground.

Land is an area. You purchase a plot of land, and build a house on it. There is a land on the horizon - an island or a continent. A country is a land and its people. While ground is generic, local, land is more specific - the ground under your feet, but the land you live on.

Earth usually means our Planet Earth. In some cases it's used as synonym for soil/dirt, say, "rare earth metals", but this use (most common in poetic contexts) is definitely less common than 'planet Earth' and considerably less common than 'soil'.

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  • It should be noted that it is not uncommon to use "earth" instead of "soil" to achieve a desired poetic effect, and that at least in the States, this definition is fairly well-known, if largely unused in day-to-day conversation and writing. – Pockets Jun 6 '14 at 16:55
  • I agree with almost everything here. I'm just not sure I'd say that earth "almost strictly" refers to the planet, or that it's "very rarely" found in other contexts. – J.R. Jun 7 '14 at 13:41
  • @J.R.: Outside of poetic contexts, or archaisms, I wouldn't say it's anywhere close to frequent. Ngram doesn't have separation by meaning of synonyms, but fertile earth, fertile soil is a bit of indication of how frequently they are used, respectively. – SF. Jun 7 '14 at 13:57
  • @SF - "Not as frequent" ≠ "very rarely found" – that's all I was trying to say. The Ngrams depend on the context; check out the dry earth vs the dry soil, e.g. I agree that earth often does have more of a poetic flavor. – J.R. Jun 7 '14 at 19:59
  • @J.R.: As uncountable, earth=soil is very rarely prefixed with 'the'. Strip that, and you're getting a graph very similar to mine. We may disagree what comprises 'very rare', but if you include 'on earth' (a common expression for our planet) soil-related earth expressions land 3-4 orders of magnitude lower. But let's leave it at that - 'earth' may appear as a less common, poetically tinted synonym for 'soil'. – SF. Jun 7 '14 at 20:28

This is probably a question for a geologist, but anyway:

Most words we use in this way refer to the ground we can see and some small distance below that.

Earth (meaning the ground, not the planet), ground, and dirt all pretty much refer to this. * Soil* mentioned by Fantasier is also OK. In some contexts one may be a better choice than another.

Land is more often used in descriptions of surface areas of land or ownership.

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Even if Google images only shows the planet when you query Earth, let me assure you, the word earth is an apt description of what you seek. Check out what Collins says:

enter image description here

If earth means "soil, ground, land," then it can be used to describe the picture you've included.

If you're looking for only what that person has in his hands, consider topsoil.

That other option listed in meaning #2 might be of interest: terra firma. NOAD defines that as:

terra firma (noun)
dry land; the ground as distinct from the sea or air.

However, I think of that more like "firm land to stand on," rather than "rich soil to plant in."

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  • Just some notes on the sentiments that the suggested alternatives here conjure: topsoil has a bit of a scientific feel to it; the context that I most naturally picture it in is when someone is discussing how nutrients are distributed throughout different soil levels. Terra firma is a bit abstract (the only modern context I associate it with is classifications of land under international law.) – Pockets Jun 8 '14 at 1:45

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