Simultaneous and Simultaneously

By Maeve Maddox

The following sentence on a professional writing site caught my attention:

Simultaneous people (e.g. the editor and writer) can work on the same document at the same time, ensuring changes aren’t lost in old, misplaced drafts.

I have seen nonprofessional writers use the phrase “simultaneous people” in the context of computer use, as in this exchange between a customer and a service provider:

Question: How many simultaneous people can be logged in on my account?

Answer: Only one person can be logged in on a computer per account.  If you log in on a computer and are already logged in elsewhere, you will be logged out of your older session. For other devices such as Roku, iPad and iPhone, 3 people can be logged in simultaneously. 

Note the use of the adverb simultaneously in the answer to describe a situation that includes multiple users.

The principal definition of the adjective simultaneous is “existing, happening, occurring, operating, etc., at the same time.”

I suppose that in one sense we are all “simultaneous people” because we are all living our lives on the planet at the same time. In most contexts, however, simultaneous usually applies to things or events, whereas people do things simultaneously.

Here are some conventional uses of the adjective:

In 1964, roughly nine of ten Japanese watched the final match and felt a collective joy in the moment of victory. This simultaneous emotion created a strong feeling of community among them.

In 10 years there was a fall in the marriage-rate and a simultaneous fall in the value of exported British produce.

I’d say the scratch was simultaneous with the punch. 

Before the Rebels threw a monkey wrench into the Empire’s plans, how many simultaneous Death Stars were envisioned by the Empire?

An event at which a chess master plays games with multiple players at the same time is called a “simultaneous exhibition” or “simultaneous display.”

A “simultaneous equation” is “an equation involving two or more unknowns that are to have the same values in each equation.”

In the context of oral translation, simultaneous is used to describe human beings who translate from one language into another as a speaker utters it.

One of the key skills of the simultaneous interpreter is decisiveness.

Simultaneous interpreters must have not only complete mastery of the languages, but also of their cultures.

A Google search suggests that even in this profession, it’s more common to refer to the act of translation rather than to the translator as being simultaneous:

simultaneous interpretation: 434,000 results
simultaneous interpreting: 361,000 results
simultaneous interpreters: 161,000

Note: The phrase “simultaneous people tracking” racks up about 19,000,000 results when searched without quotation marks. A phrase associated with robotics, it doesn’t refer to “spontaneous people,” but to “spontaneous people-tracking.” The phrase has to do with the fact that a robot must be programmed to avoid human obstacles as it moves about.

Here is a suggested revision of the sentence that prompted this post:

Editors and writers can work on the same document simultaneously, ensuring that changes aren’t lost in old, misplaced drafts.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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5 Responses to “Simultaneous and Simultaneously”

  • Cliff Douglas

    Simultaneous equations only occour in pairs. Your rule is valid, you can’t have one simultaneous equation.

  • Dale A. Wood

    To Cliff Douglas:
    What Maeve meant to write was “a set of simultaneous equations”.

    Sets of simultaneous equations are found in pairs, triples, quadruples, quintuples, and so forth. For example, to find a unique solution for {x, y, z}, a point in space, you need three equations to solve for the three unknowns.
    You could have a set of 100 simultaneous equations in 100 unknowns, and there are computer programs to do just that. It is usually too cumbersome to find the solution by hand.

    If you have four equations in three unknowns, it is quite probable that there is no solution at all because the four equations give contradictory information.

    In the case of one unknown, you could have one equation that is simultaneous with itself, but nobody ever talks that way. For example, 2x + 5 = 16 is one equation in one unknown. So, just solve it.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Maeve, you have written an excellent article about how some people have been murderizing the meanings of the words “simultaneous” and “simultaneously”. Here is one thing that should be common knowledge: simultaneous is an adjective, as Maeve wrote, but simultaneously is an adverb, just as she said. Adjectives and adverbs have different uses.
    However, “Common sense ain’t as common as it used to be”. As time goes by, fewer and fewer people know the difference between an adverb and an adjective. The same goes for the sets of words {noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction}. These differences seem to have been noticed first by some scholars in Ancient Greece.
    The Indo-European languages all make clear distinctions between these different kinds of words, but that might not be so in all of the languages of the world.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Maeve, you have made an absolutely correct and eye-catching statement:
    “I suppose that in one sense we are all ‘simultaneous people’ because we are all living our lives on the planet at the same time.”

    This sentence is laudable and noteworthy, and I thank you.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I have recently read the book ABOUT TIME by the noteworthy scientist Paul Davies, and your sentence above is consonant with many things that Dr. Davies wrote about, and the style is the same, too. Bingo!
    I recommend this book to you to enjoy. It was published in 1995 in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, the U.K., and several other English-speaking countries. There are probably translations available by now.
    Davies is a native of England who has lived in South Australia for many years now. He is on the faculty of the University of Adelaide.

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