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What Does "for the Time Being" Mean?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The slightly idiomatic phrase “for the time being,” which is used in modern English, refers to a temporary condition that is true at the time that the speaker is referencing it. In this phrase, the word “being” is what makes this phrase confusing to some English-language beginners. It’s useful for instructors or others to explain to those who are learning English why and how this phrase is used.

In most uses, the phrase is used for a condition that, while temporary, may exist for any definite period of time. For example, if somebody says that sales numbers are good at a company “for the time being,” this implies that the numbers can always change in future quarters or at other points in time. If someone uses the phrase in reference to their well being, they are making a general statement about their current satisfaction with situations and events, again, recognizing that something could change over time.

In many cases, English speakers will avoid using this phrase for referring to personal intentions. For example, someone might say “I can put your bill on hold for the time being,” which is a correct use of the phrase, but in some cases, they might prefer other kinds of expressions for something that is self-referencing. Another example is if someone who is helping out another person by holding up a temporary banner or other item says “I can hold this for while.” Here the phrase, “for a while,” is often preferred over the other term, which speakers often use to reference longer periods of time.

The phrase is part of a larger category of phrases revolving around the use of the word “time.” Another similar one is “for a time.” This phrase also refers to a period of time, and shares a very similar meaning. Other modern phrases with the same meaning include “for now” or “for today.”

This is one of many utterances that can change its meaning slightly based on how someone says it. For example, certain inflections where the phrase is emphasized in context can lead listeners to believe that future conditions are expected to change quickly. Also, speakers can add the conjunction, “but,” and an additional sentence clause to suggest imminent change. For example, someone selling a product can say, “The price is low for the time being, but it could change tomorrow.”

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Discussion Comments

By anon1003739 — On Aug 28, 2020

I’m still confused about this. I had a little argument with my ex boyfriend and I asked him do you want me to get out of your life and not text you anymore?

He said, "That may be best for the time being." I’m foreign and never heard of this used for something like this. What does that mean? Never? Or just now because I was angry at him? Can someone help please? Thank you.

By BabaB — On Aug 25, 2011

For children, idioms can be difficult to understand and take a lot of practice before they can use them correctly.

Young children can have a hard time with idioms. When my children asked me when we were going to the park, I would say "in a while'". They would wait patiently and then ask how long a "while" was. That's hard to explain, so I would have to get much more specific and say something like, when I finish folding the clothes.

If they were swimming in the pool and they asked how long they could swim, I would hesitate. I was enjoying the sun, so I would say, "for the time being," which made no sense to them. So, I'd say - I don't know - I'll tell you when it's time.

I think parents and teachers should use idioms and idiomatic expressions as much as possible around their children and students. You can talk to them a bit about meaning. But I think it's best if they hear them over and over again. They will begin to absorb the meanings themselves.

By live2shop — On Aug 25, 2011

I love idiomatic words and expressions. They add a lot of allure to the language and provide so many ways of saying what you want.

In the case of the phrase,"for the time being," I think one way to let your listener know approximately the time you are talking about is through your tone of voice.

If you say it with a kind of negative, down beat tone, you are probably letting the listener know you mean a fairly short amount of time. If you say it with a pleasant, upbeat tone of voice, your listener could be optimistic that the time could be fairly long and that the person who said it is happy with the arrangement.

Of course, the phrase, "for the time being", is always up for alteration with any kind of change in circumstances. It's definitely not a commitment.

By bagley79 — On Aug 25, 2011

When I stop and think about it, I probably use this phrase more than I realize. I always look at it as a temporary situation, and while there are many other ways you can word something, this well known phrase is a part of my vocabulary.

When my adult son was between jobs and looking for a different place to live, he asked if he could stay with us for awhile. My response was, "for the time being".

This meant this was not a permanent situation and only until he got a job and a new place to live. I didn't want him thinking he could relax and not put forth much effort to find a place of his own.

By Valencia — On Aug 24, 2011

I'm not sure I could ever learn the nuances of the English language if I had to study it as a second language!

Right now I'm reading up on idioms for a class presentation, and it is quite difficult, for me at least. I didn't realize how much the meanings behind our everyday conversations are taken for granted.

This article has been very helpful, but I'll be glad when this project is over and I can stop thinking about words and phrases!

By MissMuffet — On Aug 24, 2011

@Sara007 - I know exactly what you mean about tone of voice adding a sub meaning to this idiomatic phrase.

When I was between apartments my sister offered to let me stay in her spare room. I'd only just got my foot over the doorstep when she pointed out that this generous offer was 'for the time being!'

It was a very clear message that I shouldn't get too comfortable there, which is fair enough. I just think she could have been more straightforward. Something like 'you're welcome to stay here for a few weeks, but any longer could well be difficult' would have delivered the same message.

By Penzance356 — On Aug 23, 2011

@wander - Your examples sound like the perfect way to help English language students grasp the meaning of 'for the time being' in context. If you don't mind I think I may use it myself in the future, as I've just been accepted to teach EFL abroad!

I found this article when looking for ideas on teaching this phrase. It was one of the questions on my orientation and preparation quiz.

At first I was worried that looking for the answer online was kind of cheating. Now I realize that there's a difference between speaking English as your first language and being able to teach it to others.

By Sara007 — On Aug 23, 2011

It really bothers me when people tell me that they will do things for the time being. I have always considered it to be a phrase that means that the person is reluctant to do something and will change their mind in the near future.

I remember a few years ago my babysitter said she could look after my girls for the time being, and I thought it was very strange to use that phrasing. I guess she was already subconsciously planning to quit.

I think when you hear an idiom used in an odd way it's a good idea to go with your gut feeling on the implied meaning.

By wander — On Aug 23, 2011

When I was working abroad as an ESL teacher "for the time being" was a really popular idiom to go over with the older kids. I think that emphasizing that it means that what ever situation is open to change is a really important to get the point across.

I used to joke around with that the kids that they were in middle-school for the time being, so they would fully understand that it meant change would happen in the future. Another good example was looking at the popular singer and celebrities they liked and asking who was the biggest star for the time being.

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