meanwhile/in the meanwhile/in the meantime

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Vocabulary / Vocabulario Español-Inglés' started by Alificacion, Feb 12, 2007.

  1. Alificacion

    Alificacion Senior Member

    Spain - Spanish
    Hi everyone,

    Is there any difference in the use or meaning of these three expressions?

    Meanwhile - In the meanwhile - In the meantime.

    All of them seem to be translated to "mientras" or "mientras tanto" but I would like to know if each of them is more suitable for any particular context.

  2. Malevo

    Malevo Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina, Spanish
    Todas significan "mientras tanto"
  3. Alificacion

    Alificacion Senior Member

    Spain - Spanish
    ¿Entonces no hay ninguna diferencia en su uso? ¡Gracias!
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 31, 2015
  4. stooge1970

    stooge1970 Senior Member


    There are differences and the phrases are certainly not always interchangeable.

    First of all, I would never say "in the meanwhile". It's not incorrect but it is rare and sounds strange to my ears.

    This is how I see it, but I could be wrong as this is the first time I've thought about this and I don't know if there are rules.

    You use "meanwhile" when you have already mentioned one action and are about to mention another, but it always has to come at the beginning of a sentence or independent clause, or else you would simply use "while". I think "meanwhile" is generally used to refer to PAST events.

    Mark was out to dinner. Meanwhile, Jack was cooking at home.
    Mark was out to dinner while Jack was cooking at home. (You cannot use meanwhile in the second sentence.

    "In the meantime" is generally used to refer to FUTURE events.

    Mark is going out to dinner tomorrow. In the meantime, Jack will be cooking at home. (Meanwhile wouldn't sound as natural here, although it doesn't sound awful. Substituting meanwhile with in the meantime in the first example sounds even worse).

    I'm curious as to what other natives think, and I have a feeling there may be slight differences between North American and British English.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 31, 2015
  5. Alificacion

    Alificacion Senior Member

    Spain - Spanish
    Hi stooge1970,

    Thanks a lot!! These kind of subtle differences was what I was looking for. As you say, there's a lot of words with the same meaning and most speakers don't know about any rules, but they just sound more natural in some sentences and weird in other.

    I'd also love to know about the differences in this appreciation by other native speakers, but you've given me a valuable clue for using them. Thanks again!!
  6. LadyDungeness Banned

    ** Law Student ** Linguist **
    ** Oregon USA ** English **
    Stooge1970 has a great explanation. I'd like to add that "meanwhile" is more common in written English and "in the meantime" is more common in spoken English. Unlike stooge1970, I think both phrases can be used for future or hypothetical action.

    Here are some examples:

    In a discussion of politics:
    John Edwards will be campaigning hard in South Carolina in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, will Hillary Clinton focus more on South Carolina or on Florida? Watch "Focus on the Elections" tonight at 9:00 pm.

    In a cartoon or western film:
    Caption: Meanwhile, ...

    Before a party:
    I'll do the vacuuming and dusting before we decorate. In the meantime, could you make sure the bathroom is all cleaned up?

    Lady Dungeness
  7. Alificacion

    Alificacion Senior Member

    Spain - Spanish
    LadyDungeness, sorry for taking so long to reply!! Thanks a lot for your explanation, you've helped clarifying it for me!
  8. melimelo123 New Member

    'In the meantime' and 'meanwhile':
    'In the meantime' and 'meanwhile' can be used interchangeably. There are some contexts in which one may sound slightly more natural to the native speaker, but they are grammatically the same and nearly always interchangeable. The only difference I can think of in the usage of the two expressions is that 'meanwhile' is only used at the beginning of an sentence, whereas 'in the meantime' can be used either at the beginning or end of a sentence. 'Meantime' is not used apart from the expression 'in the meantime' and 'meanwhile' is only used by itself. That is, 'in the meanwhile' is NOT an expression and is NEVER used, although it may have been used in antiquity.

    'while' and 'meanwhile':
    The word 'while' is always followed with a description of the encompassing action. 'In the meantime refers to the nested action. For example:
    "He sang while he walked."
    "He walked. In the meantime, he sang."
    (In the above two sentences, 'sang' is nested within 'walked'.)
    You could reverse the expression, such that 'walked' is nested within 'sang', without changing the meaning much, but the expressions would be reversed:
    "He walked while he sang."
    "He sang. In the meantime walked."

    A few more examples:

    "While he was waiting for her, he played his guitar."
    "He sat waiting for her. In the meantime, he played his guitar."
    (In the above two sentences, 'waiting' is nested within 'played'.)

    "While she was driving to school, she listened to the radio."
    "She listened to the radio. Meanwhile*, she drove to school."
    *Remember, 'meanwhile' can be used in place of 'in the meantime', but it is easier to understand how to use it with the full expression 'in the meantime'.

    Note: Another slightly more formal way of saying 'in the meantime' is 'in the interim'.

    Note: If you consider the word 'mean', mathematically, it means the 'middle', the same as 'average'. Normally the word 'mean' is only used in this way in scientific and mathematical circles. Nonetheless, that is the (noun) meaning for the word.

    I hope that helps!
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  9. tetulio5

    tetulio5 Senior Member

    Mark was out to dinner?? ---- He's out to dinner, I'm out to dinner... I do not understand that sentence. Could you explain me?

    I'm not sure if the next sentences will be right but here's my attempt:

    " Mark was to dinner" ----- Mark se fue a cenar.
    " Mark went out to dinner"----- Mark salió a cenar.

    " They were to the cinema" -------------- Fueron al cine
    " They went out to the cimera" ?? --------- Salieron al cine
    " They probably went out to the cinema" --- Probablemente salieron al cine.
    " Maybe they were to the cinema"---- Quizás fueron al cine.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2015

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