The difference between “currently” and “presently”

Many people – native English speakers included – are confused by the word “presently”.

In UK English it has traditionally been a formal, literary word which means “in a short time”, “soon” or “before long” – in contrast to “currently”, which means “at the present time”.

Here are some examples:

Please hold the line, I’ll be with you presently.
i.e. Please don’t put the phone down, I have to do something else right now and I’ll talk to you again in a short time.

I’m sorry Angela isn’t here yet, but she just called us and we’re expecting her to arrive presently.
i.e. “soon”

They drove through the forest. Presently they came to a small town, where they pulled up at a petrol station.
i.e. “before long”

However, because “presently” has an obvious close association with the word “present”, people tend to use it to mean “at the present time”, “currently”. This usage is likely to be considered incorrect by conservative speakers of UK English – as in this example:

WRONG
We are presently experiencing problems with the internet connection in the London office.

RIGHT
We are currently experiencing problems with the internet connection in the London office.

BUT…

In US English, it is correct to use “presently” as a synonym for “currently”. Because of this, some UK English speakers may also find this usage acceptable.

More examples of how to use “currently”:

The price is currently being negotiated.
i.e. the negotiations have started but haven’t finished yet.

The employee started working for the Company in 2015 and is currently employed as Sales Director.
i.e. at the present time the employee works as Sales Director.

Speakers of US English would probably be fine with “presently” being used instead of “currently” in such sentences, but some speakers of UK English might think it incorrect.

 

 

 

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