Spanish expressions: “Mientras tanto…”

spanish expressions mientras tanto 1

In Spanish, there are many ways to express when two events are happening or happened at the same time. One useful word for this is “mientras”.

We can make a bunch of new Spanish phrases just by combining “mientras” with other words. And, one typical phrase is Mientras tanto which native speakers use as an equivalent of meanwhile or in the meantime.

Using “mientras tanto” is useful when we want to talk about simultaneous events, but many learners wonder what’s the difference between “mientras” and “mientras tanto”.

For that reason, in this article, we will clear your doubts and will show you how to use the Spanish phrase “mientras tanto”.

How to use “mientras tanto”

“Tanto” is a Spanish word that has several uses. One of them is as an adverbial. When combined with “mientras”, we can build an adverbial phrase that helps us express simultaneity.

Using “mientras tanto” isn’t a challenge. When we use it as an equivalent of “meanwhile” and “in the meantime”, we have to use the present tense.

Therefore, the formula we should use looks like the one shown below:

Sentence/Event 1 (Present tense) + “mientras tanto” + Sentence/Event 2 (Present tense)

Please note that we can use either the simple present tense or the present progressive tense to talk about ongoing activities. When we place “mientras tanto” in the middle of the sentence, it has to be between a semicolon and a comma.

Let’s look at the examples below:

Estoy lavando los trastes; mientras tanto, tú estás muy cómoda viendo la TV.

I’m washing the dishes; meanwhile, you are very comfortable watching TV.

Ve a comprar el vino para la cena; mientras tanto, pondré la mesa.

Go buy the wine for dinner; in the meantime, I’ll set the table.

We can also begin a sentence with “mientras tanto”. In this case, the semicolon isn’t necessary but the comma remains.

Let’s have a look at the following example:

Mientras tanto estamos intentando alcanzar un acuerdo, la gente exige una solución.

In the meantime, we are trying to reach an agreement, and people are demanding a solution.

Mientras tanto tú estas cómoda viendo la TV, yo estoy lavando los trates.

Meanwhile, you are comfortable watching TV, I am washing the dishes.

As you may see, “mientras tanto” allows us to exchange sentences, since both events are happening simultaneously. Yet, in some cases, even though it’s possible, it wouldn’t have much sense.

Take, for example, the sentence about the agreement. It’s correct to say “mientras tanto la gente exige una solucion, estamos intentando alcanzar un acuerdo”.

However, as we first mention that people are asking for a solution, the audience might get confused and wonder “a solution about what?” before heading to the second part of the sentence.

Placing “mientras tanto” at the beginning of the sentence, helps us emphasize not only the simultaneity characteristic but also the event mentioned right after the structure.

“Mientras tanto” vs “hasta entonces”

“Hasta entonces” is a Spanish phrase we use to express “until that moment” or “until then”.

And, Native Spanish speakers often use “mientras tanto” as an equivalent of “hasta entonces”. In this context, we don’t use only the present tense but the future tense.

Therefore, the formula we should use is the one below:

Sentence/Event 1 + “mientras tanto” + Sentence/Event 2

Sentence 1 will be in the future tense meanwhile sentence 2 will be in the present tense. Using words like “pero” and “porque” before “mientras tanto” is also common.

Consequently, we don’t need to use a semicolon even if we place “mientras tanto” in the middle of the sentence. The comma will remain.

Here are some examples so you can get a better idea:

Esperaremos a la próxima sesión porque mientras tanto, mi cliente no tiene nada que decir.

We will wait for the next session because, in the meantime, my client has nothing to say.

Estaremos en la oficina a las cinco, pero mientras tanto podemos descansar.

We’ll be in the office at five, but in the meantime, we can rest.

Mañana lloverá, pero mientras tanto podemos disfrutar del sol.

Tomorrow it will rain, but in the meantime we can enjoy the sunshine.

Please note that, frequently, we also use the verb “poder”. If you don’t want to use the verb “poder” in the sentence following “mientras tanto”, you can use the future tense and conjugate the verb accordingly.

Please have a look at the sentences below:

Mañana lloverá, pero mientras tanto disfrutaremos del sol.

Tomorrow it will rain, but in the meantime we will enjoy the sun.

María dijo: “Estaré allí en horas de la tarde, pero mientras tanto descansaré.”

Maria said: “I will be there in the afternoon, but in the meantime I will rest.”

“Mientras” vs “mientras tanto”

There’s no doubt that these two Spanish expressions are quite similar but, of course, there are some differences. First, “mientras” is a single word adverbial and “mientras tanto” is a adverbial phrase or “locución adverbial” as we call it in Spanish.

Second, unlike “mientras tanto” we can’t use “mientras” as an equivalent of “hasta entonces” or any similar expression. Another difference is that we use words like “pero” or “porque” together with “mientras tanto”.

With “mientras”, it’s also possible but way less common. We generally use “mientras” with prepositions like “que”.

The last and biggest difference is that we only use “mientras tanto” with the present or future tense. On the flip side, “mientras” is much more flexible and allows us to build sentences even in the past tense.

Spanish important expressions

Generally speaking, taking advantage of “mientras tanto” when you want express simultaneity is one of the best things you can do. You can either say something in the present or future tense.

Remember that using a semicolon will be necessary depending on how you structure the sentence. If you begin a sentence with “mientras tanto”, you can forget about the semicolon but using a comma is mandatory.

If you want to improve your skills, keep learning how to use phrases like this one; “mientras tanto”, we will be glad to help you!

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