Presently Is Not Now

A commonly misused word that I’ve come across more and more lately is presently. I think the reason that I’m seeing it more frequently is this indisputable need we seem to have developed to try to use longer, and sometimes more complicated, words to convey simple thoughts and feelings; that is, we’re all trying to sound smarter by discarding simple language and using bigger words.

The problem is that sometimes, the bigger words we choose aren’t at all synonyms for the simple words we’ve discarded; thus, what we end up saying isn’t what we mean.

Presently is being misused as a synonym for the words right now, as we speak, as in Research is presently being conducted on creating a more durable asphalt. (Research is being done now.) That is not, however, the proper, standard use of presently.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, presently was first used around 1380 to mean immediately, and then in 1566, the meaning was expanded to mean sooner or later. Neither one of these means something is happening right now, as we speak. They both contain an intrinsic reference to the future, not a current action, even if that action should be done in the very next minute. (Immediately does not mean it’s happening right now; it means the next thing that should be done.)

Use presently to mean soon or in a little while. Research on creating a more durable asphalt will begin presently. (Research will begin soon.)

Some readers will argue that presently has been used to mean now long enough for it to now be acceptable. The problem, though, is that having a standard, historical definition that is in contrast to a newer, less standard definition means that some people will be legitimately confused. If some of us use presently to mean right now and others use it to mean soon, then readers might not know when something is being done.


Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever;

Sherry’s Grammar List

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