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‘Momentarily’ or ‘In a Moment’?

Have you been criticized for using "momentarily" to mean "in a moment"? Here's why.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
August 23, 2018
Clocks to illustration the difference between momentarily and in a moment

What’s the Trouble? “Momentarily” is losing its original meaning.

“Momentarily" has its roots in the word “momentary”—as in the Pink Floyd song “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”—and it traditionally means “for a moment.” But, it’s more common these days to hear people use “momentarily” when they mean “in a moment.” The Oxford English Dictionary says this is mainly an American problem. Its first example of “momentarily” being used to mean “in a moment” is from a novel written in 1869. 

I often hear sticklers joke about flight attendants saying “We’ll be on the ground momentarily” as if it means the flight will just touch down and take off again because “momentarily” should mean “for a moment,” not “in a moment,’ but Garners Modern American Usage says using “momentarily” to mean “in a moment” is ubiquitous even though some stalwarts do still object to it.

Should You Use 'Momentarily' or 'in a Moment'?

If you want to be careful, don’t use the word ‘momentarily’ to mean ‘in a moment.’

If you want to be careful, don’t use the word “momentarily” to mean “in a moment.” It still annoys some people, but that group of people is also getting smaller. Fighting against that use is a lost cause, so when you see it, don’t get too upset about it either. Save your energy for battles you can win.

QUIZ

Choose the better word or phrase.

  1. Please wait here. I’ll be with you [in a moment/momentarily].
  2. When I heard the news, I think my heart stopped [in a moment/momentarily].
  3. We’ll be back [in a moment/momentarily] with more news.
  4. I was [in a moment/momentarily] blinded by the headlights.
  5. [In a moment/Momentarily], we’ll bring out dessert.

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