What's Up


"Relax, Jack, Your Order will Arrive Presently"

Our recent discussion on the meaning of "quite" and how to use it correctly prompted a request from a teacher friend to remind people what "presently" actually means and how to use the word correctly.

Many have been using "presently" to mean "at present" or "currently" and they are wrong. "Presently" originally means "soon" and most well-educated users of the English language know it.

Here's one correct way to use 'presently": "Relax, guys, we won't starve. The food we ordered will arrive presently."

Here's another one: "Presently, the much awaited visitor showed up, so we had to stop all unfavorable talks about him."

One more for the road: "Presently, I will go back to Tagaytay because it's cooler there than anywhere in Metro Manila."

"Presently" is actually an adverb of time for the occurrence of an event--or its failure to happen.

Photographed by: Rodel Rollorata


Oooops! In my Facebook page where I run quick tips on the use of the English language, and where I briefly discussed recently the wrong usage of "presently," someone replied that the word is also correctly used to mean "at present." He curtly reasoned out that language evolves and its evolution supposedly includes acceptance of what used to be considered wrong--such as "presently" to mean "at present" or "currently."

His comment drove me to check out "presently" in several online dictionaries. Only one cited using "presently" to mean "at present" though that one also says that the word is rarely used that way. Actually, it is only in the Philippines that I mostly hear "presently" being used in place of "at present" -- instead of other more appropriate expressions, such as "nowadays" or "these days." And it's mostly college students and young professionals who use them due, perhaps, to their limited vocabulary.

So, I will still say it is wrong to use "presently" to mean "currently." If you persist in using it that way, you risk being judged as less educated or badly educated.


It's we, Pinoys, who seem to be mis-using handfuls of expressions possibly because for many of us English is an acquired language. That's true even for our parents and grandparents, as well as our English teachers. Many of us use the language unidiomatically--meaning not the way native speakers of the language do. Wittingly or unwittingly, we have been inventing our own usage of certain words and expressions. One of those is "presently," two others I often hear are "call on" and "watch out."

Our own usage has come to be popularly called "Philippine-ism," though the scholarly term for it is "Philippine English." Have you heard of the term "Englishes of the world"? It's a legitimate term used among graduate school students in the English language or in teaching the English language.

We'll tackle the idiomatic use of "call on" and "watch out" in the next issue of this regular feature. Watch for it. (And that's the idiomatic way to say it--not "watch out.")

Share this article