Instant vs. instantaneous

Discussion in 'English Only' started by mc84, May 7, 2006.

  1. mc84

    mc84 Member

    Hello there! These two drive me crazy. I just can't find anything that would help me distinguish between instant and instantaneous.

    I guess there's no problem with the first one, it's quite popular. But the second one... :eek:
  2. scronyjameson Member

    Seattle, WA & Salt Lake City, UT
    United States - GA English
    Instant is a noun, meaning a moment in time, as in "It changed at that instant", etc.

    Instantaneous is an adjective, describing something that occured without taking any time, as in "The change was instantaneous"

    Instantaneously is the corresponding adverb as in "It changed instantaneously"

    There's also the adverb Instantly, which while there seems to be little difference, conveys to me a sense of promptness more than the actual duration of the action which would be closer to "instantaneously".
  3. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Instant is certainly an adjective as in the following examples.

    1. The telegram asked for an instant reply.
    2. The flood victims were in instant need of help.
  4. scronyjameson Member

    Seattle, WA & Salt Lake City, UT
    United States - GA English
    Yeah, I realized that after I posted it. While similar, "Instant" to me conveys the time of response or promptness whereas "Instantaneous" conveys a change that was very short in duration.
  5. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Yes, I agree with your definitions of "instant" and "instantaneous." Well explained. :)
  6. mc84

    mc84 Member

    Uhum, and could you tell me what's the difference between
    "the change was instant" and "the change was instantaneous"?

    So far I did well using "instant" only, but it's a drag really that I know what "instantaneous" means and I still can't find a suitable context for it.
  7. mc84

    mc84 Member

    I notice instant/instantly is much more common, don't you think so?

    Hmm, and let's imagine such a scene from a western: Two cowboys at noon. One shoots and kills the other so his opponent falls instantly/instantaneously (cross out the wrong one, please)

    Maybe that will help me, I'm still confused :(
  8. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    Collocations! You just have to learn them.

    Instant coffee, instant success, instant dismissal, instant death - tends to mean the effect follows immediately after the cause.

    Instantaneous hot water, instantaneous return, instantaneous impression, instantaneous velocity - tends to mean in the same time as a cause, and is used often in technical vocabulary.
  9. scronyjameson Member

    Seattle, WA & Salt Lake City, UT
    United States - GA English
    The first one doesn't make sense, the latter one does.

    I need you to appear instantly ----> right now
    I need you to appear instantaneously ----> all of the sudden

    After I put the key in, the car started instantly--->right after something occurred
    The car started instantaneously--->it took no time

    In some contexts, like the car example, there's little difference, in others it means all the difference.

    Instantly makes more sense, he fell immediately after he was shot, but not necessarily quickly.

    Instantaneously theoretically works too, but conveys something different, it means the time he took to fall was no more than an instant.
  10. mc84

    mc84 Member

    Thank you for helping me to grasp the nuance. I really appreciate your help, especially the collocations and "2 cowboys" dilemma. :) :) :)
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Here is a late arrival's contribution:
    There is considerable overlap of meaning - something that happens instantly may well also have happened instantaneously. Hence the confusion. I picked the definitions from the OED most likely to help in this context. These support what has been said already.
  12. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
  13. poetree New Member

    I just saw a woman on TV say, "He was just standing there, and then he just instantaneously went through!"

    She really should have said 'instantly', even though the guy teleported.
  14. estebanrey New Member

    UK, English
    Don't know if this help but just heard this in a programme on TV,

    Character A "His death was instant, sir"
    Character B "Coffee is instant, his death was instantaneous"

    Guess it's a question of time really, 'instant' being a short moment in time and 'instaneous' being so quick you cannot notice it taking any time at all.

    It would then follow the "ly"s would follow the same rules.

    "A bullet to the head would kill you instantaneously"
    "I've about a coffee maker, it makes them instantly"
  15. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    (emphasis mine)

    I think this is absolutely right. That is certainly how the word is used in medicine, where you sometimes even hear the phrase 'instananeous with', eg when some other bodily change accompanies a massive infarction.

    The man who is shot in your western could die instantaneously, ie at the moment of impact.
    Someone can react or respond instantaneously to something. There was considerable debate a few years ago about to how long a delay could occur after a pupil hit a teacher before the teacher hit them back (!) If the delay was less than (I think) two seconds, the response was considered 'instantaneous' with the original blow, and the teacher got away with it. Anything longer than that was serious trouble...

    I think scronyjameson is right in that an 'instant' is a (very short) period of time. Thus for me, 'instantly' means 'in a very short time', but 'instantaneously' means 'in the same instant as whatever we're talking about'.

    Put it this way. I'm responding instantly to this thread, having only just read it - but hardly instantaneously, since I see the last post was more than an hour and a half ago...:eek: Apologies for crashing in late...

  16. TommyGun Senior Member

    I can't imagine such a collocation. Could you please provide an example where the phrase would fit?
  17. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Salesman: "Tell me madam, how do you heat your water?"
    Woman: "In a big pan over a wooden fire."
    S: "But that must take forever!"
    W: "About an hour or so."
    S: "How would you like instantaneous hot water? No more waiting! No more wood fires!"
    W: "Sounds good to me. How would that work?"
    S: "We put a powerful heater just before your tap. When you turn the water on, the heat comes on as well - instantaneous hot water!"
    W: "I get my water from a well..."

  18. TommyGun Senior Member

    Thank you, PaulQ :)
  19. Slices of Quince New Member

    This thread has been very helpful - like mc84, I, too have had difficulties with these two.

    So, would it be correct to say, "She now could have instantaneous hot water, the instant she turned on the tap"?
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2013
  20. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello Slices of Quince: welcome to the forums!

    Well, I've read the thread - but all I can say is that I'd be much more likely to say "She now had instant hot water":).
  21. Slices of Quince New Member

    Thanks, Loob.

    That's probably what I would say, but I thought I would be wrong to use instant - I think I'm more confused than I thought I was!

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