These words have generated a lot of arguments over the years and some grammarians have refused to be convinced that they can be interchanged. Be that as it may, let’s look at the latest stand on them.
Presently can be used in both British and American English as ‘soon’ or ‘after a short period’. This implies that the following sentences have same meanings in both British and American English.
- Presently, I’ll sign the document. (soon)
- My boss will be with you presently. (soon)
- Bring the food, I’ll eat presently. (soon)
However, presently is usually used in American English to mean ‘now’, ‘at the present time’ or ‘at the moment’. This is gradually being accepted in British English, and you won’t be wrong if you use it as ‘now’, though some dictionaries still say it’s ‘mainly US’.
- We need your answer presently. (now)
- Presently, all hands should be on deck. (now)
- The clerk is presently in your house. (now)
So, this is the point: currently, presently is used to mean both ‘soon’ and ‘now’ in American and British English.
At present is British, unlikely to be used in American English. It means ‘now’, ‘at the moment’ or ‘currently’. Speakers and writers often prefer using this so it won’t be confused with presently—and I do too.
- At present, UK is not in the European Union.
- There is no confirmed cure for AIDS at present.
- He knows we are at present the best of all.
In conclusion, use presently in a manner that will not confuse your audience.