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Citation:

‘Presently’ should be used with care until the Anglo-American difference of meaning has been resolved.

What difference?

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Compare: Momentarily; Instantly? –  RedGrittyBrick Jul 17 '12 at 17:23

2 Answers 2

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“Usage note: presently. In both British English and North American English, presently can mean ‘soon’ or ‘after a short time’: I’ll be with you presently. In North American English the usual meaning of presently is ‘at the present time’ or ‘now’: She is presently living in Milan.There is presently no cure for the disease. This use is becoming more accepted in British English, but at present or currently are usually used.”¹

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I think that reference is misleading in the extreme. Obviously the one and only original meaning of the word was "at this present moment", for both British and American speakers. Brits have simply adopted the second meaning as a common alternative (not a replacement) more enthusiastically than Americans. We're not "becoming more accepting" of the older usage just because Americans still tend to only use that. Also note there's no possibility of confusion with is presently - so of course we use that freely, just as we always have. –  FumbleFingers Jul 17 '12 at 21:39
    
@FumbleFingers Interesting. OEtD claims the meaning relaxed in Britain to "sooner or later" by the 1560s. I take it this contradicts the claim that the British meaning developed as an alternative, not a replacement. I understand the situation to be that Brits have long used presently to mean "soon", but that "now" (which happens to be the original) is regaining currency. (Possibly this is a borrowing from AmEng.) OEtD and Oxford are generally very reliable sources. Of course they can still both be wrong. –  MετάEd Jul 18 '12 at 17:39
    
OED says the "currently" sense was Obs. (since 17th c.) in lit. Eng. (No certain instance in Shakes.) But in regular use in most Eng. dialects, and common in Sc. writers; revived in U.S. and to some extent in Great Britain in 20th c. I must admit I didn't know until now that it this sense had become obsolete everywhere except dialects, and had actually been "revived" (esp. in AmEng). I thought it was just a long-standing archaic usage that never really went away. But both usages co-exist for most of us, and context invariably makes it clear which is intended. –  FumbleFingers Jul 18 '12 at 20:00

Presently has two meanings:

  • In a little while (the usual meaning - both UK and US)

  • Currently (less usual - mostly US)

However, there's rarely ambiguity, since the time contexts will differ between the two meanings. Together with a future sense, presently always has the meaning of in a little while (and both the UK and the US use it this way):

He will follow presently.

And when used with the present tense, presently always means currently (unusual in the UK):

He is presently in the dining room.

The moral: prefer at present or similar word/phrase to presently when you mean now. As the context of your quote says:

Clichés and jargon phrases tend to be wordy. ‘At this present moment in time’ is longer and less pleasant than either ‘now’ or ‘at present’. ‘Presently’ should be used with care until the Anglo-American difference of meaning has been resolved.

(Emphasis mine)

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