Passing phases and fleeting glimpses: words that mean ‘brief’

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by Kate Woodford

Today’s post looks at words and phrases that describe things that end after a short time. A very common adjective for this is brief. A brief activity or period of time does not last long:

We had a brief phone conversation.

For a brief period she taught in the US.

Less common adjectives that are still useful and which mean ‘lasting only a short time’ are ephemeral, fleeting and momentary. ‘Fleeting’ and ‘momentary’ describe a very short time:

Fashion is by definition ephemeral.

He caught a fleeting glimpse of her as she walked past.

There was a momentary hesitation before she spoke.

Something that is passing lasts only a short time and is therefore unimportant:

It was nothing just a passing phase.

Short-lived, meanwhile, usually describes a feeling or experience that ends after a short time:

His enthusiasm for the subject was fairly short-lived.

She’d had one or two short-lived relationships.

Temporary is a very common word to describe things that are brief.  A situation or arrangement that is temporary is intended only for a short period:

This is only a temporary solution to the problem.

He’s found a temporary job.

An adjective with a very similar meaning is short-term:

Most of these people are employed on short-term contracts.

The bank only offers short-term loans.

There are also a number of words used to describe situations that are not meant to be permanent. A stopgap is a temporary arrangement that is in place until a better arrangement is found:

Hostels are used as a stopgap until permanent accommodation is found.

An arrangement or plan that is intended for a short period and is likely to change may be described as provisional:

These dates are only provisional.

The country was ruled by a provisional government until new elections could be held.

Similarly, a caretaker government/manager is doing the job of government/manager until a permanent one is in place:

A caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the season.

The adjective interim is used in the same way:

An interim government was set up to oversee the transition.

A pop-up shop/restaurant/gallery is one that is intended to operate for only a short period, often using a building that was previously empty:

Chefs often use pop-up restaurants to test out new ideas.

Such a place is sometimes also referred to simply as a pop-up:

 It’s just a pop-up – it’s closing in December.

Of course, there are also idioms that describe things that are brief. Something that is successful only once and for a very short period may be described as a flash in the pan:

She’s determined to prove that her team’s success is no flash in the pan.

A phrase that is sometimes said of something that lasts only a short time is here today, gone tomorrow:

Sadly, like so many independent shops in this area, it’s here today, gone tomorrow.

Next week, we’ll look at words that describe things that last a long time.

18 thoughts on “Passing phases and fleeting glimpses: words that mean ‘brief’

  1. BRIKI

    Very rich vocabulary to describe the things that last a short time or are brief.I like English idiom ‘a flash in the pan ‘(feu de paille) which conveys the idea of fire burning out dry leaves then not lasting long.. and quickly extinguishes .

      1. Emmanuel Owugah

        Thanks for sharing it has improved not only my vocabulary but also my knowledge base on how to use the word, and those similar in meaning.

  2. Ary

    Hi Kate. I hope that this excellent post not be a fleeting in our minds, once it contains relevant knowledge that deserve to become permanent information for now on. However, if you don’t mind, I’d like to add one more example of a word that can mean ‘brief’. This is ‘snap’: ‘He makes snap decisions on the issues and all of this without debate and without discussion.” Is it a good example? At least, in our day-to-day life, we got used to having to make snap decisions!

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hello! Yes, that’s an interesting one. A snap decision or election is one made or arranged very suddenly. Your example is lovely!

    2. Emmanuel Owugah

      Another wonderful annotation to the word brief, to explain that something is short lived or of a temporary time lapse to be snappy at something. Snap.

  3. Thank you very much.
    In 2014, we got Ford from my wife’s father as a stopgap before a dream car was found.

    Is the sentence idiomatic and the use of stopgap correct?
    By the way, it’s true. 🙂

    Thank you.

  4. Halil

    It is very useful information. Thank you. I think we can add the word “transient” to our list. Well done.

  5. I like the idiom ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ because the similar phrase exist in our native Pashto language meaning that if something available today but may not be tomorrow. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  6. manas mishra

    Hi Kate! I am from India. I would like to add two more ” makeshift and evanescent”. Both of these words, we usually use in India.
    By the way, your passing phase blog is just engraved in my memory!

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