19

Can anyone please tell me, what is the difference between right now and currently?

Also, please give some examples for when we should use right now and currently.

Thanks.

27

They are almost the same, usually interchangable, but in certain contexts they might be interpreted slightly differently depending on the listener/reader.

"Right now" could be interpreted as meaning "in this instant", or "at this very moment". Whereas "currently" is still referring to the present, but a present that is still ongoing, possibly for a longer period than "right now".

For example:

"No thank you, I don't want coffee right now" - meaning, I don't want a coffee now at 11.03am, but I might want tea at 11.57am.

"No thank you, I don't currently want coffee" - this could be interpreted as meaning I don't want a coffee at all, because I am having a day/week/etc of not wanting coffee.

Other examples

"Syria is currently at war" is probably more appropriate than "Syria is at war right now" as it better reflects the 'ongoing' nature of war.

"I am on the phone right now" seems less formal than "I am currently on the phone".

The only time I can think that they are not interchangable would be when giving a command:

"We need a doctor, right now!" sounds very urgent. "We need a doctor, currently!" - implies that we do need a doctor, but it's possible we already have one, the task is ongoing... it just doesn't convey the same sense of urgency.

  • 2
    Good one about the imperative example. – GreenAsJade Nov 30 '15 at 11:25
  • 4
    I agree with you. Right now implies an emergency. +1) – user140086 Nov 30 '15 at 11:25
  • Would anyone even say "We need a doctor, currently!"? That seems ridiculous. Good job finding a situation where they're not identical. – DCShannon Nov 30 '15 at 22:58
  • Small clarification, @Rathony ... "Right now" can imply emergency. It doesn't always imply that. In contrast, "currently" is not suited to conveying an emergency. – GreenAsJade Dec 1 '15 at 4:55
  • @GreenAsJade I can't agree with you more. :) – user140086 Dec 1 '15 at 8:31
9

Right now seems to have more more contrastive emphasis than currently. It contrasts with other times. Otherwise the meanings are fairly similar. However, their grammar is not at all similar in any way. There are very many situations where it is ungrammatical to use currently but grammatical to use right now.

The reason for this is that right now is a preposition phrase, and currently is an adverb. We can use preposition phrases as well as adverbs as temporal adjuncts in sentences:

  • I am working right now.
  • I am currently working.

However, there all grammatical similarity ends. We can use preposition phrases to post-modify nouns, but we can't freely do this with adverbs:

  • The concert right now will be better than the concert tomorrow.
  • *The concert currently will be better than the concert tomorrow.

And we can use preposition phrases as Predicative Complements, but we can't do this with adverbs:

  • *The meeting is currently.
  • The meeting is right now.

Notice that right now is a preposition now modified by the specialised adverb right. This adverb can be used to modify prepositions, but not adverbs (in standard English):

  • right now
  • right through
  • *right currently
  • *right locally

In short, although the meanings of right now and currently are very similar, their grammar is not!

  • "The concert (which is being performed by X) right now", "The meeting is (being held by X) right now". Right now seems to be an adverb modifying performed/held to me. (Remember I have 4 comments left :). Still +1) – user140086 Nov 30 '15 at 14:51
  • 1
    Now is a preposition? Interesting! Would you care to recommend a textbook that introduces your curious (if not weird) viewpoint on grammar? Thanks in advance. – Færd Nov 30 '15 at 15:30
  • 2
    @MJF It's curious if you just read grammar that's a hundred and fifty years out of date :-) Sure. Look at A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, here pp127-149. Or you could try Oxford Modern English Grammar or The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language – Araucaria Nov 30 '15 at 15:41
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    I look up this kind of stuff in dictionaries like OED or M-W or Longman, which are pretty recent I reckon, and all say that now is an adverb. Your first book says on the first page: "...groundbreaking undergraduate textbook ... revolutionary advances ... winner of ..." . If it's going to contrast with all those dictionaries reasonably, I'm definitely going to read this book! – Færd Nov 30 '15 at 16:42
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    @MJF: The major issue is that dictionaries have to serve a general audience who's not aware of these things; so even if the dictionary-writers are perfectly well aware that modern grammars have re-classified many traditional adverbs and subordinating conjunctions as prepositions, they can't necessarily make use of the improved classification. (These changes do eventually make it into dictionaries; for example, a fair number of dictionaries now use "determiner". But it takes a while.) – ruakh Dec 1 '15 at 3:35
3

This is a good question, because currently is somewhat elusive to define, as you have no doubt seen by googling for it, and right now is only subtly different.

Meaning:

Currently refers to something that is true now, and in an ongoing sense, but is not expected to be permanent.

Currently we are having a hot spell.

... the weather is hot, but eventually it will change.

I'm currently not at my phone.

... and later I will be back and will listen to your message

Right now focusses more on the exact moment, and has more of an implication and expectation of change.

Right now it is too hot to go outside

... but soon, in the evening it will be fine.

I can't talk right now

... I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

(Note: later answers have correctly pointed out that "right now" can bring an element of imperative that "currently" does not).

Grammar:

There is a grammatical difference between the two.

Currently is an adverb. It describes something taking place (verb).

Right now is a noun - it is a time.

So they can be used interchangeably in sentences, but not without slightly changing the sentence (usually) to accommodate this difference.

  • Now is an adverb and so is right that modifies an adverb now. There is no reason to see right now as a noun. – user140086 Nov 30 '15 at 11:15
  • I see your point, and yet how do you explain "Right now it is too hot to go outside"? – GreenAsJade Nov 30 '15 at 11:24
  • I don't think it matters where right now is placed. The subject is dummy it. But in "Now is too hot to go outside", now is definitely a noun, – user140086 Nov 30 '15 at 11:31
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    @Rathony Not really, because it has no adverb-type properties :) – Araucaria Nov 30 '15 at 14:27
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    @Araucaria I made up my mind that I would reduce the number of comments to 5 max no matter what. :) This one is the last one. I know what you mean. – user140086 Nov 30 '15 at 14:29
2

"Currently" is continuous (a small window of time). "Right now" is discrete (at a precise moment in time).

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U.This post would be improved by giving evidence for these usages, for example, by providing a dictionary definition or examples in the wild. I encourage you take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – Nathaniel Nov 30 '15 at 20:10
  • 1
    There's considerable truth in this answer. Proto-Indo-European verbs had a characteristic sometimes referred to as grammatical aspect, allowing a speaker to distinguish between a one-time action and an ongoing or repeated action. As most Indo-European languages evolved, verbal aspect was replaced by different adverb phrases, adjective phrases and noun phrases that served to make the distinction that aspect previously did. Thus English "currently" is aspectually imperfective, while "right now" is aspectually aoristic. – Peter Dec 2 '15 at 1:41

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