Momentarily can have two meanings: (1) in a moment, or (2) for a moment.


  1. The food will be served momentarily.
  2. The meeting will adjourn momentarily.

Often the context will make it clear which meaning is intended (clearly food is not going to be served for just a moment), but sometimes the meaning can be ambiguous.  In looking at the second example above, one might question whether the meeting will adjourn for a moment or in a moment. To avoid confusion, be sure that your intended meaning is clear from the context, or simply substitute momentarily with “in a moment” or “for a moment.”

Which meaning of momentarily do you use most often? Please share in the comments. (I always use momentarily when I mean “for a moment.”)

If you’re interested in the history of the usage of momentarily, see this post at Motivated Grammar: “In a Moment, for a Moment“.

Posted in Word Choice.

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  1. brett says:

    Let’s clarify this. It’s only acceptable in the USA to mean ‘in’ a moment.
    Momentarily is an adverb created from the word momentary, which means ‘for a moment’ not ‘in a moment’.
    The other meaning began in the USA in the 1800s, so it has to be accepted based on usage of a misuse rather than any etymological logic.
    It’s sounds terrible to most of us outside the US. ‘The plane will be taking off momentarily’ is quite a scary thought.

    • Rachel V. says:

      Brett, thanks for sharing your non-American perspective on the usage of momentarily. The “in a moment” usage sounds strange to me also (I never use the word in that context), though I have gotten used to hearing it over and over again.