Grammar Hammer: Is It Presently or Currently Storming?

Storms have been tearing through the U.S. in recent weeks, causing severe power outages, frenzied hoarding trips to the grocery store, paranoid people staying home from work, excessive online shopping for rain boots, and an unreasonable number of check-ins with the weathermen.

When the clouds start rolling in, do you say it’s currently or presently storming? Well, it depends what you mean. So before you start battening down the hatches and squirreling away your freeze-dried food and batteries, consider the subtle difference in meaning between these two adverbs, according to Merriam-Webster.com:

  • Presently: before long
  • Currently: occurring or existing in the present time

Confusingly, presently doesn’t mean “at present,” it means “in the near future.” Only currently refers to “right now.”

Examples:

  • The wind’s picking up; it will storm presently.
  • There is currently thunder and lightning.

Pro Tip: Replace “presently” with “soon” to double check grammaticality and correctness.

So if it’s currently thundery outside, you’ll need an umbrella presently!

Written by Grace Lavigne (@GnightGracie1111), senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog.

Image courtesy of Flickr user zuzkins.

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8 responses to “Grammar Hammer: Is It Presently or Currently Storming?

  1. Great post – any thoughts on the difference with reticent and reluctant ? people constantly misuse the words – drives us crazy!

    • Oh, good idea, Mark. I use “reticent” a lot – and now that I think about it, I think probably should be using “recalcitrant” instead. I’m sure Grace will see this but I’ll forward the suggestion to her. Thanks!

  2. Nice suggestion Mark. I’ll look into this and see what I can dig up. Will have a post on it soon — thanks so much!

  3. I’ve always hated the word currently, at least in most instances, because it is redundant. What’s wrong with “We are having a storm.” instead of “We are currently having a storm?”

  4. Grace Lavigne

    Interesting point, @cstxkillian! I had to mull this one over :-) In my example, “We are currently having a storm,” the word “currently” does seem unnecessary (although I do think emphasizing the “now” could be appropriate sometimes, even if it is redundant). But, as you pointed out, there are examples like this:
    “I’m getting a haircut.”
    *When* are you getting a haircut?
    “I’m currently getting a haircut” vs. “I’m getting a haircut tomorrow.”
    But you’re right — in most cases, “currently” can probably be cut to streamline writing. Thanks for the deep thought!

  5. I can’t imagine using the word “presently” — ever — because I may mean “soon,” but the majority of readers would think “now.” I think it’s one of those words that so few people know its true meaning that it’s best left unspoken and unwritten.

    • That’s a great point Laura. I’m not sure I would always recognize that someone meant “soon” if they said “presently,” but I do think context would make a huge difference too.

  6. “I’m getting a haircut” means that you’re sitting in the chair. “I’m getting a haircut tomorrow” or “I’m getting a haircut soon” indicates your intent to sit in the chair in the near future. the present tense indicates the current condition, so “currently’ should only be used when contrasting current conditions with past or future conditions—for example: “It has been sunny all week, but it is currently storming”, although I prefer “It has been sunny all week, but it is storming now” because it is shorter and means the same thing.

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