Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adverb In a short time; soon.
  • adverb Usage Problem At this time or period; now.
  • adverb Archaic At once; immediately.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • In presence; personally; actually.
  • At present; now; at the time spoken of.
  • Immediately; by and by; in a little time; soon.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adverb obsolete At present; at this time; now.
  • adverb At once; without delay; forthwith; also, less definitely, soon; shortly; before long; after a little while; by and by.
  • adverb obsolete With actual presence; actually .

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adverb obsolete With actual presence; in actuality.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adverb in the near future
  • adverb at this time or period; now

Etymologies

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From present +‎ -ly.

Examples

Comments

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  • It means soon, not currently.

    December 24, 2006

  • A contranym, or at least a near-contranym. It was banned altogether in one of my expository writing classes on the grounds that it is ambiguous, meaning either "currently" or "soon"

    At the risk of tedium, here is a portion of the note from RHD:

    "The sense of 'At the present time; now' dates back to the 15th century. . .the sense 'soon' arose gradually during the 16th century...Strangely, it is the older sense 'now' that is sometimes objected to in useage guides. The two senses are rarely if ever confused in actual practice..."

    So there, Mrs. Whatshername; I can once again say "presently" without fear of knucke-rapping.

    June 29, 2007

  • I assume momentarily was banned as well? It means both "in a moment" (soon) and "for a moment" (currently).

    June 30, 2007

  • That's a good question. I had not thought about it. The truth is, all that I remember of the class is that we were not allowed to use the word presently. Not now, not ever. But I am presently using it, and I shall use it again presently. Presently. I feel so much better now.

    June 30, 2007

  • I can't see how the two main senses could be confused. The sense "now, at present" normally occurs with a continuous or atelic verb construction, as in 'I am presently reading that book' or 'Elizabeth is presently to be found disporting in the otter-strewn thoroughfares of Hammersmith'; whereas the sense "in a wee while" goes with telic constructions such as 'I'll be with you presently' or 'The gate was opened, and presently entered two horsemen.' I suspect it would be hard to construct a natural and ambiguous sentence.

    I used to think the "at present" sense came from a blending of 'at present' with 'currently' of same meaning, but no, it's got a pedigree that goes back to Chaucer. It was just disapproved of for a while.

    March 19, 2009

  • I think I should have loved you presently,

    And given in earnest words I flung in jest;

    —Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sonnet II from A Few Figs from Thistles

    I shall forget you presently, my dear,

    So make the most of this, your little day,

    —Sonnet IV, ib.

    March 20, 2009