Momentarily – Usage & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Momentarily may not be a traditional English word, but it has become a well-used word in the English Language – especially in North America. The word sounds and works much as you would expect based on its root word, moment, but with a polite connotative use.

Use momentarily in your speech and writing to signify a way to let someone know you will be with them briefly. Learn about its adverbial use and synonyms to help work it into your everyday speech and writing.

What Does Momentarily Mean?

Momentarily Usage Meaning

Momentarily is an adverb; in its traditional sense, it means “for a moment,” so it would be synonymous with briefly and not with soon. Its archaic use signified that you would address something instantly, immediately following whatever you were doing.

For example:

  • She lost her breath momentarily when she watched the vehicle narrowly miss the stray dog running across the road.
  • He momentarily lost sight of the car he was following, but it came back into view when he turned the curve.
  • Her attention was momentarily drawn to the drama unfolding through the large, picturesque windows.

However, the word is also often used to mean in a moment—synonymous with soon or shortly. This newer sense of momentarily is often derided by protectors of traditional English, but it is well established, especially in North America.

For example:

  • She glanced up as the customer walked through the door, murmuring, “I’ll be with you momentarily,” as she turned her attention back to the phone conversation.

Synonyms of Momentarily

To better understand how to use the word momentarily, take a look at some of the synonyms you can use in place of it. These words can directly replace momentarily or be used in its place with some small grammatical changes to the sentence:

  • Anon
  • Briefly
  • Before long
  • By and by
  • Directly
  • Presently
  • Shortly
  • Soon

For example:

  • I was told to wait momentarily (briefly) for a sales associate to attend to me.
  • I’ll help you with your purchases momentarily (directly) as soon as I finish this quick data entry.
  • If you have some patience, the scores will be released momentarily (before long).

Origin of Momentarily

Momentarily Ngram
Momentarily usage trend.

Momentarily came into use during the mid-17th century to mean “for a moment” from the word momentary. The -ly adverbial suffix is added to adjectives to mean “in a manner denoted by.”

Let’s Review

Momentarily derives from the word momentary and the suffix -ly. It is an adverb and is used to mean “for a moment,” “briefly, or “soon.”