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Is It Correct to Say “In The Meantime”?

People often find themselves waiting for something else. While waiting for that event or a later time, they occupy themselves by doing other things. So, what is the best way to discuss this or tell others what to do while they wait? Is it correct to say “in the meantime”?

It is correct to say “in the meantime” to show we are doing something else while waiting for a specific time or event to occur. Consider this example, “The game starts in 30 minutes. In the meantime, I will finish my homework.” This is a prepositional phrase we use to say “in the time between two times or events.”

This article will discuss how to use “in the meantime,” give examples of using it in sentences, and alternatives to it. We will also briefly discuss other common and prepositional phrases.

What Does “In The Meantime” Mean?

The phrase “in the meantime” can mean one of two things. The first meaning is “during the time before some expected event happens or before a specified time.” The second meaning refers to “doing something simultaneously while something else is happening or being done” (source).

Let’s break down this phrase into its component words to understand it better. “In” in this phrase is a preposition. “The” is an article that indicates a specific noun. “Meantime” itself refers to “the time while something else is happening” (source).

It comes from the two words “mean,” which means “middle” or “intermediate,” and “time.” The earliest uses of this word are from the 14th century (source).

When we use “mean” and “time” as two separate words, as in “mean time,” it always refers to the “average time.” So, for example, we use it to say something like the below statement:

  • The mean time to complete this test is 35 minutes. 

This means that, on average, it takes about 35 minutes to complete the test in context.

In contrast, “meantime,” where we use the words together, refers to the interim and not an average. So, putting these together, we understand that “in the meantime” means “in the time between or during two times or events.”

How Do You Use “In The Meantime”?

We can use “in the meantime” in formal and casual conversations to indicate an activity someone is doing to pass the time while waiting for another event to happen or finish or for a specific time. It can also refer to something happening while another simultaneous event occurs.

It is a prepositional phrase, which means we cannot use it on its own, and it needs to be part of a more extensive sentence. 

We can use “in the meantime” either at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the sentence.  Moreover, we should include additional information for this as part of the sentence it belongs to or in other sentences around it.

Let’s look at the following examples to help us understand. All of these use “in the meantime” with the first meaning in mind: to indicate an activity to occupy the time while we wait for another event to happen.

  • We will serve dinner in an hour. You can have these appetizers in the meantime
  • We will serve dinner in an hour. In the meantime, you can have these appetizers.
  • We will serve dinner in an hour, but you can have these appetizers in the meantime.

Let’s consider a few more examples where we use the phrase to indicate simultaneous events. For instance, in the below sentences, we are saying that during the same time that the adults ate appetizers, the kids ate their dinner. 

  • The adults ate some appetizers. The kids had their dinner in the meantime.
  • The adults had appetizers, and in the meantime, the kids had their dinner.
  • The adults ate the appetizers. The kids had their dinner in the meantime.

Note that when you use “in the meantime” at the sentence’s beginning or middle, it is better, though not required, to follow it with a comma.

When Can You Use “In The Meantime”?

You can use “in the meantime” in formal and informal conversations. For example, many companies use it to update customers when undergoing any maintenance-related issues. 

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For example, consider the following statement: “Our website is currently down, and we are troubleshooting the issues. In the meantime, you can check the update’s status via our social media pages.

This means while the website is down, one may check the maintenance status via social media.

You might also see a posted notice that says something like, “Please pardon our dust. Our business remains open in the meantime for your convenience.”

So, though it is dusty, the business will continue to remain open.

Consider this informal scenario of a children’s party where people are waiting for the magician to appear: “Children, the magician is stuck in traffic and will be here in half an hour. In the meantime, you can make balloon figures.”

This example points to an activity the children can do while waiting on the magician to arrive.

When Not to Use “In The Meantime”?

Note that “meantime” does not mean the same as “mean time.” “Mean time” refers to the “average time,” so when we want to refer to the average, we should not be using “in the meantime.” Instead, we should use “mean time” or other options for the same. 

Notice how the following example with “mean time” does not mean anything close to “meantime.”

  • The mean time for the car to go around this track is 20 seconds.

Also, we should not use “in the meantime” for things we are doing just to pass the time without waiting for any future event or time. We should simply let others know what we are doing in these scenarios.

For example, when the children simply happen to be playing without waiting for another event to happen, we should simply say, “The children are playing now.” 

Using “In The Meantime” in a Full Sentence

Since “in the meantime” does not describe information about the other event or the activities that will occur when something else is happening, we need to provide that information. We can use “in the meantime” in various sentence locations.

Here are a few examples:

  • Her plane was 30 minutes late. In the meantime, she decided to finish her meal.
  • The doctor will see you in a bit. You can use the restroom in the meantime.
  • John was at the office party. In the meantime, Jill went on an outing with her friends.

You may also use it in the middle of the sentence. Ensure you surround it with commas: They closed the dance school for repairs. Janet had, in the meantime, continued practicing on her own.

What Can You Use Instead of “In The Meantime”?

While “in the meantime” works well in both formal and casual scenarios, it is always helpful to have a few other options to use instead of it. Sometimes, other options might sound better or more concise than “in the meantime” in the specific situation. 

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Keeping that in mind, here are a few alternatives for “in the meantime”:

  • Meanwhile
  • For the time being
  • For now
  • Until [time or event]
  • In the interim
  • For the duration
  • In the intervening period
  • Up to then
  • During this/that time
  • While [subject] is/are/were waiting

Prepositional Phrases 

We use many common phrases in the English language, and prepositional phrases are one among them. A prepositional phrase has a preposition, its object, and a modifier. The preposition appears in front of its object or is in the “pre-position” of its object (source).

Prepositions help answer questions like where or when something happened or help to define something better. In other words, they help indicate direction, time, place, position, or exclusion (source).

“In the meantime” is a prepositional phrase, where “in” is the preposition that starts the phrase. It helps listeners and readers know about the activities happening in the meantime. 

Other prepositional phrases include the following, with each phrase beginning with a preposition (at, by, for, in, on, under).

  • At the least
  • By the way
  • For example
  • In the event of
  • On-time
  • Under the influence of

Common Phrases

Most common phrases are straightforward to understand, like the examples above. However, more than a few are idiomatic and mean something different from what the words in the phrase mean. 

Consider the following sentence using a common prepositional phrase:

  • The deer crossed our path out of the blue. 

Here, “out of the blue” is a common phrase and idiomatic as we cannot directly get its meaning from the words it contains. We use it to point to something that happens unexpectedly. 

In this case, we can also say, “The deer crossed our path unexpectedly.” However, “out of the blue” does sound better than “unexpectedly.”

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To learn more about prepositional and common phrases, check out our article Is It Correct to Say “Between You and Me”? For more on an alternate expression of “in the meantime,” you can read “ Is it Correct to Say “In the Interim”?

Final Thoughts

There are many phrases in the English language, and often, people use varying phrases to indicate the same thing. For instance, in scenarios where you use “in the meantime,” others might use “meanwhile,” while yet others might prefer “for the time being.” 

Learning to use phrases can be difficult, and picking the right one each time can take time. In the meantime, we should continue listening to how others who know the language use them, and with practice, we can achieve success.