Fr.: déplacement virtuel
In → analytical mechanics, any infinitesimal change in the configuration of a material system, consistent with any constraints acting on the system at a given instant. If the constraints are stationary (→ scleronomous), then the actual displacement of the system, in an infinitesimal length of time dt, coincides with one of its virtual displacements. In the case of time-dependent (→ rheonomous) constraints, the actual displacement of the system does not coincide with any of the virtual ones, since the conditions imposed by the constraints vary during the time dt.