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Hello friends,

I am wondering if I may say “on the other hand” and “meanwhile” are synonymous and interchangeable in most cases. “On the other hand” is used to balance contrasting points, says the grammar book, but in reality native speakers very often use it to show two things happen simultaneously, just like “meanwhile”. Interestingly, “meanwhile” can also be used to compare two aspects of a situation, very much like “on the other hand”.

I wish to seek your agreement that in the following sentences either discourse marker is possible without real difference in meaning:

1. The job was boring, but on the other hand / but meanwhile it was well paid.

2. They’d love to have kids, but on the other hand / but meanwhile they don’t want to give up their freedom.

3. Well yes, it was quite a good bargain; on the other hand / meanwhile, do we really need one?

4. Bob spent fifteen months alone on his yacht. Meanwhile / On the other hand, Ann took care of the children on her own.

5. Stress can be extremely damaging to your health. Exercise, meanwhile / on the other hand, can reduce its effects.

I found these sentences from dictionaries and reference books. I’ve put the original discourse marker first. (1-3: on the other hand; 4-5: meanwhile) The only sentence where I don’t think this alternative works is this one:

6. The doctor will see you again next week. Meanwhile, you must rest as much as possible.

I can’t quite explain, but “on the other hand” doesn’t seem to work in this sentence. But in most cases I find them interchangeable.

Thank you very much.

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Hi, Kinto,

I can't call them interchangeable at all. "On the other hand" shows us the contrast between 2 concepts. "Meanwhile" represents the idea of a specific timeline "for now."

Let's take this example:

They'd love to have kids. On the other, hand they don’t want to give up their freedom. - this version describes people who are struggling to decide whether they really want to have children or not.

They'd love to have kids. But meanwhile, they don’t want to give up their freedom. - this option tells us that they already know they will have children but not now. Or they'll be such parents who can have both children and freedom.

So, if you put "on the other hand" instead of "meanwhile" or vice-versa, the meaning would change.

Hello Jack,

Thank you very much for your reply. Assuming you are a native speaker, I especially cherish your judgement. (I’m a non-native teacher of English in Hong Kong.)

But here I may be more interested in the other meaning of “meanwhile”: used to compare two aspects of a situation (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th Edition), which has nothing to do with the timeline, “at the same time” or “for now”. In this sense, I find it rather close to “on the other hand”. So for sentences 1-3:

1. The job was boring, but on the other hand / but meanwhile it was well paid.

2. They’d love to have kids, but on the other hand / but meanwhile they don’t want to give up their freedom.

3. Well yes, it was quite a good bargain; on the other hand / meanwhile, do we really need one?



the struggle seems to me the same if we substitute “on the other hand” with “meanwhile”. There may be a difference in meaning, but it’s too subtle for me to explain.

Meanwhile, I find that users, including native ones, are increasingly using “on the other hand” in the sense of “at the same time”, describing two actions with no real contrast. So I’m also interested in knowing whether you would find the following sentence acceptable:

John has gone to the supermarket. Nicola, on the other hand, has gone to collect the kids from school.”

I’ve rewritten this sentence from Cambridge online dictionary; the original discourse marker is “meanwhile”. Years ago when I saw my students wrote this I would have considered it wrong, but growing exposure to the popular usage has been changing my mind.

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