Students often have problems understanding the difference between the conjunctive adverbs in the meantime and meanwhile. The two terms are not used in exactly the same way. Here's a quick summary:
- In the meantime AND meanwhile both can mean in the time between two events/times.
- Meanwhile can also mean at the same time (as another event/action).
Below is a detailed explanation.
In the meantime
the meantime = the period between two events/times.
Imagine you will take a flight. It will arrive in Chicago at 8:00 p.m. After it arrives, you have to catch another airplane to go to New York at 9:00 p.m. The time between 8:00 - 9:00 pm is the meantime. Here are some example sentences for this situation:
- In the meantime between flights, I decided to eat some food.
- I didn't have anything to do in the meantime, so I watched TV until my flight at 9 o'clock.
In other words, the meantime is the gap between two times. One of these times is often the present. For example, imagine is it 7:00, and you have to leave for school at 7:10. In this case, the meantime is the time between 7:00-7:10. Here are some example sentences:
- I didn't have to leave for 10 minutes, so in the meantime, I checked my e-mail.
- In the meantime before my bus came, I reviewed my class notes.
Let's look at some examples to prove this point.
1. The store will close in two months. In the meantime, they are trying to sell all their products.
What is the meantime here? It is the two months between now and when the store will close.
2. The chicken needed to be cooked for another 30 minutes, so in the meantime, we decided to wash some of the dishes.
What's the meantime here? It is the 30 minutes between the time of action and when the chicken would be ready.
- The word 'meantime' is rarely used by itself nowadays. The word is almost always used in the phrase in the meantime.
- The phrase For the meantime is sometimes used, and it has the same meaning as In the meantime. A more common expression using for is for the time being. For example:
- It was raining, so we decided to stay inside for the meantime. (OK - not so common)
- It was raining, so we decided to stay inside in the meantime. (OK - common)
- It was raining, so we decided to stay inside for the time being. (OK - common)
What's the meantime in this example? The time from now until it stops raining.
This adverb has two meanings.
1. meanwhile = the period between two events/times
In this sense, it is the same as in the meantime. For example:
- I didn't have to leave for 10 minutes, so meanwhile, I checked my e-mail. (OK)
- I didn't have to leave for 10 minutes, so in the meantime, I checked my e-mail. (Also OK)
2. Meanwhile = at the same time (as another action/event)
This meaning is different from in the meantime, and it is most often how Meanwhile is used. For example:
- The man was brushing his teeth. Meanwhile, his wife was sleeping. ( = at the same time)
- I was driving to work. Meanwhile, someone was breaking into my house. ( = at the same time)
In these sentences, it is not natural to use in the meantime because you are not talking about a period between two events. We use meanwhile to describe events happening at the same time.
Here's a comparison that shows the difference in meaning between the two phrases.
- I'll vacuum the house. Meanwhile, you can clean the bathroom. (You can clean it at the same time).
- I'll vacuum the house. In the meantime, you can clean the bathroom. (By using 'in the meantime' here, it means the speaker is talking about the time between when starting vacuuming and finishing. In between these times, you can clean the bathroom).
Therefore, both phrases are possible, but they have different meanings. In the other examples, in the meantime is not possible.
- The man was brushing his teeth. Meanwhile, his wife was sleeping. (at the same time)
- The man was brushing his teeth. In the meantime, his wife was sleeping. (this means she completed the action of sleeping between the time he started brushing his teeth and finished. This is too short a time to sleep, so it is a strange sentence)
Summary: In the meantime vs. Meanwhile
To talk about the gap or period between two events, use:
- in the meantime
To talk about something happening at the same time as another event/action, use
Do you think you understand? Take the Meantime vs. Meanwhile Quiz below.
- It was raining in the city in the afternoon. , it was sunny in the countryside.
- John knew he had to wait 30 more minutes, so he decided to read the newspaper .
- "You set up the tent. , I will build a fire."
- Lisa will go to Japan in July. , she has decided to start studying Japanese.
- Meanwhile (only answer; these events are happening at the same time)
- in the meantime (or meanwhile, but it is unusual to have meanwhile at the end of a sentence)
- In the meantime OR meanwhile. (Both are possible. If you are talking about two actions at the same time, use meanwhile. If you want to the person to build the fire from between the time when you start setting up the tent and finish, use in the meantime)
- In the meantime or meanwhile (there is a gap here between now and July)
I hope this has clarified the difference between meanwhile and in the meantime. If you find a mistake or have a question, please leave a comment below.
-- Created by Matthew Barton of Englishcurrent.com (copyright)
Thank you for your explanations.
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Good explanation and graphics
Excellent clarification between at the mean time and meanwhile
Good explanation and clear
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I’m an online Teacher, meanwhile I’m a student.
My email is email@example.com
Thanks for the explanation
But what about when the one event takes years and the other events starts later but also takes years?
The father is pursuing a top sport career and in the meantime/meanwhile the daughter has started her career in gymnastics as well.
Hi. Both sentences work. Even though the daughter starts her training after her father did, her action still happens in the ‘meantime’, i.e. the time between when he father starts his training and finishes his training.
Very helpful. Thanks for sharing.
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Freaking language borrowed 12000 over words from Tamil language.
Very clear and easy to understand.
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Excellent explanation, many thanks!
Small typo here: This [is] meaning is different from in the meantime, and it is most often how Meanwhile is used.
very well explained. Thank you