Bear with me here. We're going to take a small detour from the usual methodical explanations I provide to harp upon something.
My husband and I frequently get into disputes over our choice of parting words, especially when we’re traveling to the same location but by different means (i.e., in different cars). For example, recently, I took our son to gymnastics. My husband felt like getting out of the house and decided belatedly that he wanted to join us to watch our child’s physical antics. He arrived at the gym halfway through the scheduled practice.
After practice concluded and we had packed up our cares and woes, he and I separated in the parking because we had come in a separate car. “See you in a while,” he called as we got into our cars to literally drive home, a no-longer-than-ten-minute trip.
“But it’s not a while,” I argued over my shoulder. He shrugged and off he went.
So, let’s break down time phrases because I need to vent my frustration to someone.
“In a while”
“In a while” implies that a significant chunk of time is going to pass before we once again meet. It could be an hour or it could be several. It could mean that you think it’s going to take much time to complete an activity, even if it doesn’t. For instance, “Hey, I’ll meet you back at the apartment in a while. Traffic is bad.”
It should not be used when you’re going to see each other some ten minutes later!
“In a few”
Enter “In a few.” Now this is the appropriate farewell bidding should you intend to be reunited with someone in less than half an hour. Although “In a few” is the shortened form of “In a few minutes,” so long as your meeting is to take place within the next half hour, this is perfectly acceptable.
“In a little while”
Think of this phrase as the in-between of “In a while” and “In a few.” You’re not going to see someone immediately or even within the next half hour, but you most certainly will be talking to them before the afternoon. It’s more flexible.
“In a minute”
Only use this when you for sure are going to be seeing the person within the next five minutes. Perhaps you’re busy and you can’t quite get to a phone call at that immediate moment. “I’ll call you back in a minute.”
Maybe you’re on your way to meet a friend for dinner and you text, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
It’s not a literal minute. It’s approximately five minutes or less.
All of this might sound pedantic, but because I am an editor, I can’t help but consider the contextual implications of these temporal phrases.
Can you think of any others that friends or family misuse?
Owner/Editor of Emerging Ink Solutions, avid YA/NA author, adamant supporter of the Oxford Comma, anime and music enthusiast.