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Can "presently" and "currently" be used interchangeably?

For example which is better:

I am presently teaching Grade 12 or I am currently teaching Grade 12 ?

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In British English, presently can mean at present. This doesn't appear to be the case in American English, where it seems it always means "shortly". Presently can have that meaning in British English, too.

The position of the adverb is used to distinguish the different meanings in British English. If presently occurs at the end of the clause, it normally refers to a future situation.

I am presently teaching Class 6B.
- This is taking place now.

I am teaching Class 6B presently.
- This is likely to indicate a situation in the very near future.

I will be teaching Class 6B presently.
- This is unequivocally describing a future situation.

There is still some ambiguity about the second example because although the "present tense" of be can be used to indicate a future state, and the position of the adverb indicates that it is referring to the future, I am is still the present tense and presently could mean now.

Currently always means now.

  • As a native American English speaker, I would not say that it always means "shortly"...in fact, the position rules you laid out seem to match how we interpret the word. Having said that, I would be more likely to use "at the present" in the second sentence if that was what I meant. – JeffSahol Jun 25 '14 at 15:05
  • Thanks @Jeff. I hedged my bets in my second sentence as I've never heard it used in American English to mean anything but "shortly". But since that experience is limited to film and TV, it probably represents only a small cross-section of AmE. – Andrew Leach Jun 25 '14 at 15:09
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No time to answer currently.

I'll be along presently with a reply.

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In the second sentence, presently is used to mean "in a short while", a meaning not shared with currently.

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"I am presently teaching Grade 12" would mean you are standing in the classroom, right now, in the process of teaching a class. You probably shouldn't have taken that call.

"I am currently teaching Grade 12" means that is your occupation these days. Maybe next term you'll be looking for a new job, because you took too many calls during class.

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Sherry indicates that presently is not synonymous with currently.

"According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, presently was first used around 1380 to mean immediately, and then in 1566, the meaning was expanded to mean sooner or later. Neither one of these means something is happening right now, as we speak." http://languageandgrammar.com/2008/08/12/presently-is-not-now/

I think he/she makes an interesting point.

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