Grammar Guru: Instantly vs Instantaneously

Grammar Guru

Our Grammar Guru series has covered a few examples of oft-confused words.

Affect/effect for example, practise/practice and pique/peek/peak.

This one is a little more niche, we have to admit, but stay with us!

It’s perhaps addressed best by the inimitable Inspector Morse, in this exchange with faithful sidekick Lewis:

LEWIS: “Death would have been instant, would it not?”

MORSE: “‘Occurred instantaneously’, Lewis, or “was instantaneous” if you must. Coffee may be instant, death may not.”

So . . . the words definitely don’t mean the same thing, right?

Well, sort of. And it depends who you ask.

“Instantly” means something happening at once, or immediately.

The meaning of the word “instantaneously” is a little more of a grey area . . .

Traditionally, it is used to refer to an event immediately following another.

So in the above example, Morse is pointing out that the death being investigated didn’t occur “out of blue” as it were, but immediately after the victim was shot.

Plenty of dictionaries will claim these words mean the same thing, or are at least interchangeable, but here at the “Friend” we’re sticking with John Thaw!

Lucy is convinced Inspector Morse can help you write better fiction. Find out how by clicking here.

Click here for more writing tips from our fiction fanatics.

To browse the rest of the advice from the Grammar Guru, click the tag below.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.