Here’s an instance of when multiple instants combine for a lot of confusion. For instance, there might be instants when spellcheck and autocorrect betray you. It happens. And it’s in an instant like that when we have to make sure we have things right. We have powerful tools and instances of the future on our fingertips, but this power isn’t perfected. So, everyone’s cool with my usages of “instance” vs. “instant” vs. “instances” vs. “instants,” right? No problems here at all?
Well, just in case, let’s talk about these words because I’ve seen them muddled just enough that it’s worth a conversation.
What is the difference between “instance” and “instant”? How do you use each properly?
- “Instance,” as a noun, means a single occurrence of something or an example.
- “Instances” (plural) means multiple examples of something.
- “Instant,” as a noun, means a precise moment or a tiny space in time.
- “Instants” (plural) means multiple specific moments. Yes, it might sound much like “instance”; however, spelling matters, folks!
In short, keep things simple for yourself:
If you can swap in the word “example(s),” use “instance(s)”; if you can swap in the word “moment(s),” use “instant(s).”
They may be so close, yet these are not the same words. It should be noted that “instance” can also be a verb, meaning “to mention as an example,” and “instant” can also be an adjective meaning “immediate” (e.g., “instant coffee,” “instant oatmeal,” or “instant grammar-check gratification”), but these don’t seem to be the forms of these words where there is nearly as much confusion.
These words have been in the English language for a long time (far more than just an instant). As nouns, both “instance” and “instant” have been around since the 1300s. “Instant” has roughly the same definition today as it did in its earliest centuries; “instance” has shifted more dramatically, though. Its earliest definition was related to a solicitation.
All that being said, perfecting your language choice isn’t something that is instantaneous, but we can all keep working on it, right?
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