If you’re old enough, you may recall a song that contains the lyric, “So it’s the meantime, meantime / All they gave me is that in-between time.”

The words meantime and meanwhile are handy transitional devices, but they are sometimes misused.

For all practical purposes, the words are interchangeable. Both mean simultaneously or during a brief intervening time. Both words may be used alone. But always write or say in the meantime, never in the meanwhile. To begin a sentence, use Meanwhile, not Meantime.

The following are correct:

  • “I’m waiting for an important e-mail message to arrive. In the meantime, I’m reading the headlines.”
  • “The sheriff pursued and captured the two bank robbers. Meanwhile, back at the ranch…”

A final tip: In The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein advises his readers to be certain that the two events under discussion really are simultaneous or close in time. An example of what to avoid: “The play opened in Chicago a year ago. Meanwhile, the producers are raising money to transfer it to Broadway.”

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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