Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the difference between presently and shortly? They seem to have rather similar meanings.

share|improve this question
    
In popular parlance today they're usually equivalent. Only a pedant would insist that presently means at this present moment. –  FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 23:14
    
Presently, may also mean at this present moment. For example, "We are presently engaged in discussions." –  Jack Robbin Feb 6 '12 at 0:02
    
And let’s not forget the storm-in-a-teapot about whether “momentarily” is also a synonym for these two words. “The plane will be landing momentarily.” is commonly said, but some insist that it means that the plane will not be on the ground long enough for anyone to get off. –  Hexagon Tiling Feb 10 '12 at 23:26
add comment

4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Presently has two meanings: currently and shortly. So, one difference is that shortly does not mean currently. Otherwise they mean pretty much the same thing.

Ngrams shows that shortly is more common than presently. If we take into account the fact that the results are context-agnostic and the fact that a fair portion of the uses of presently found by Ngrams was in the sense of currently, we can conclude that in the sense of soon the word shortly is far more common than presently.

share|improve this answer
    
Quite true - will be with you presently gets 844 hits in Google Books, but will be with you shortly gets over 4000. That's even more than will be with you soon, which only gets 2400. –  FumbleFingers Feb 5 '12 at 23:58
add comment

I like the tone and content of the above responses. Yet, there may be a subtle distinction in use.

A social superior might say, "I'll be with you presently". But it would seem rude and out of place for a social inferior to say the same thing.

On the other hand, "I'll be with you shortly" appears socially neutrally. As likely to be used by an inferior or a superior.

share|improve this answer
    
I think that "social status" business is a spurious distinction. The only reasons anyone (social superior or other) might feasibly favour presently are (1) because it's slightly more "formal", and (2) because of the slight tendency to conflate the two possible meanings of soon and now. –  FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 0:04
    
The "slightly more formal" distinction you make supports the argument that there is a social status dimension to its use. Levels of formality tend to correlate with distinctions in social status. On the other hand, the argument regarding the "slight tendency to conflate the two possible meanings of soon and now", is without merit. I'd stick with the level of formality distinction. –  Jack Robbin Feb 6 '12 at 1:07
    
Whilst it's true people of higher status do tend to speak in a more formal register all the time, it's equally true that people of lower status tend to adopt the formal register when addressing others of higher standing. By which logic a butler, for example, might feasibly say "I shall be with you presently, sir" to his employer, rather than use the somewhat more informal "shortly". I certainly see no justification for your claim that the opposite principle applies - but I sense you're not about to be convinced, so we'd best leave it at that. –  FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 1:33
    
The deferential "sir" means that the butler could have said almost anything he chose to, while still respecting the boundaries that separate him from his social superior. Rather, I'd suggest a scenario where a guest was awaiting some type of assistance. It would be considered presumptuous on the part of the service provider to state "I'll be with you presently." But, "I'll be with you shortly." would not cause offense. Note: In both cases, the deferential "Sir or Madam", has been omitted. –  Jack Robbin Feb 6 '12 at 1:50
add comment

Certainly the senses of presently and shortly overlap -- senses of the first include "Before long; soon", and senses of the other "In a short or brief time or manner; soon; quickly" -- but the sense "At the present time; now; currently" of presently is not uncommon, and the sense "of short duration" or "terse" of shortly likewise. In these latter senses, neither word substitutes for the other.

I say "not uncommon", above, because instances of presently with the meaning "at the present time" occur frequently in Google books but the meaning "after a short while" occurs more frequently.

ngrams for presently,shortly shows that presently was more common than shortly before the early 1800's, and mostly vice versa since then; but their frequencies do not differ significantly enough to allow any particular conclusions to be drawn.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Yes they are synonymous with other in the sense something will happen "in the near future" . " The book will appear shortly" "The shooting of the movie will start presently"

share|improve this answer
add comment

protected by RegDwigнt Apr 15 '13 at 10:11

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.