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Consider the following passages:

A litter made of two rifles and two field jackets would suffice for now. That was good news; another bit was that the EPW was a lieutenant, a regimental REMF attached to a battalion quartered in town. --Rangers Lead the Way By Thomas H. Taylor, Robert J. Martin

He had a couple of thousand dollars on him that would suffice for the time being, until he could find some kind of legal employment. He got out ofthe car, and walked a block. --The Maze By Kahn Morris

Now, how are these expressions different? Could we use them interchangeably? Oxford Dictionary of English has the following definitions for them,

for now until a later time: that's all the news there is for now;

for the time being for the present; until some other arrangement is made.

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No obvious difference, but a corpus search might be revealing. –  Barrie England Jul 8 '12 at 5:40
    
There's not much difference between for the present, and until a later time. Maybe the duration of for the time being is a bit "less indefinite," but that seems like hair-splitting, and I wouldn't be dogmatic about it. I'd be inclined to call them "usually interchangeable". –  J.R. Jul 8 '12 at 10:53
    
There are lots of instances of "for now" where "for" and "now" just happen to be two words next to each other, and you certainly can't replace those with "for the time being". Aside from that, I consider them interchangeable. –  Peter Shor Jul 9 '12 at 12:55
    
Hard to say. I don't think there's any significant semantic difference though. It looks like "for the time being" might be more common in written English, at least based on what the BNC has, but searching other corpora doesn't really support this conjecture. –  Alex B. Jul 9 '12 at 16:34
    
Some Longman dictionaries treat them separately. However, in my opinion, the difference isn't that clear, cf. "for now: from now until a time in the future, esp. when you do not know exactly when in the future" vs. "for the time being: now, used when a situation is likely to change, esp. because an arrangement is only temporary". –  Alex B. Jul 9 '12 at 16:45
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5 Answers

For now indicates a temporary state or arrangement that is subject to change with time whereas for the time being implies a state that is subject to change with surrounding circumstances. The trouble of interchangeability lies in that progression of time often brings about change in circumstance, but not always.

  • It is cold this winter, so we will have to endure for now.

    In this case time brings about spring, summer, etc. so with the change of time we will no longer have to endure.

  • Our heater is broken and the handy man is busy, so we will have to endure for the time being.

    In this case, time itself will not fix the heater, the handyman will.

So for the time being emphasizes the role of the handyman in the temporary state of endurance. The handyman, however, will do it in his time. Therefore interchangability (winter/spring depends on time; time to fix heater depends on handyman) is quite convoluted.

A friend, after having lost several books I lent him, jokingly asked of me “Can I borrow your car?”

My reply was “Lend me your motorcycle for the time being.”

For now in this instance would weaken the sentiment that the duration of me having “your” motorcycle depends on “you” returning my car. Giving back the motorcycle will occur if and only if the friend changes the circumstance by honoring his arrangement. Therefore for the time being is subject to changes in circumstance.

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The difference between "for now" and "for the time being" is that the latter is usually used in a scenario involving a thing or idea that could change sooner rather than later. "For now" is an idea of saying that the thing or idea is subject to change but with time for a notice to be made. "For the time being" is suggesting that at this moment in time, this is what is happening/what is occurring/where we are, but could change with a simple "You can't stay" or "This won't work."

For example, let's say there is a little boy running around in the streets. He doesn't have a home; he lives in a cardboard box in an alley. For the time being, he will live in the box. This demonstrates that his box-living could change suddenly by let's say, a nice person found him and took him to an orphanage. For now, the boy will stay in the orphanage. This is saying that a person will let him know if anything is changing before it changes, like he is getting adopted.

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'For the time being' is a more fluid expression, while 'for now' is more static. Choice of one or the other would depend on something other than strict meaning. Mathematical tables would be unlikely to uncover the subtleties of the choice.

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If you are operating in the present tense, you can definitely use them interchangeably. I can find no definition that implies further semantics to distinguish between the terms.

However, outside of the present tense, "for now" might sound weird. It may be better to refer to "the time being"

Tomorrow we will pick up one bag of groceries, and then that will have to suffice for the time being.

However, "for now" could definitely be used in another tense if it reflects a subject's point of view; even though it happened in the past to the reader.

A litter made of two rifles and two field jackets would suffice for now. That was good news; another bit was that the EPW was a lieutenant, a regimental REMF attached to a battalion quartered in town. --

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Try a look at Google NGrams http://books.google.com/ngrams/ and put those two phrases in, or I could just give you a link:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=for+now%2Cfor+the+time+being&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

I'd say based on these stats that the two phrases are definitely not interchangeable. Interesting that "for the time being" was the clear preference for most of the corpus history but was usurped by "for now" in a late run.

For me, "for the time being" is a temporary state which the speaker believes is likely to change, and "for now" is a temporary state which the speaker believes is not likely to change. This is based on the number of dining companions I have had who "stick with water for now" and don't order any other beverage.

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How can you read from a graphic comparing the relative frequency that two words are not interchangeable? –  Em1 Jul 9 '12 at 7:33
    
Because of the spread of the lines - almost 1 order of magnitude at peak. To me this indicates that writers of these eras did not substitute these phrases freely. Compare route vs. path: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  lonstar Jul 9 '12 at 7:46
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Based on your logic, traveling and travelling are clearly not interchangeable. But they are, one has just replaced the other (in the U.S.), as you can see by the fact that the usage of one goes up while the other goes down. This could be happening with "for now" and "for the time being". –  Peter Shor Jul 9 '12 at 11:45
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The graphing service just shows how often the words are used. It does not convey any intelligence as to the meaning. "For now" may simply be gaining more popularity because it is shorter. –  Tolerance72 Jul 9 '12 at 14:45
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... so by your logic, now and then are nearly interchangeable? And stupid and idiotic are not? –  Charles Jul 9 '12 at 18:04
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