current versus contemporary

These two words are very similar some of the time, but can also be very different.

current is an adjective that means “belonging to the present time, happening now”, for example:

  • I like to follow current events.
  • My current job will end next year.

It also means “in common or general use”:

  • Some English words are no longer current.

contemporary is an adjective that means “living or occurring at the same time”:

  • This 1812 battle scene was painted by a contemporary artist. (In other words, the artist lived at the same time as the battle.)

It also has a meaning similar to “current” (belonging to the present time) but is used in different contexts:

  • Doctors say that obesity is a serious problem in our contemporary society.
  • Do you like contemporary art?

contemporary is also a noun that means “a person or thing living or existing at the same time as another”:

  • He was a contemporary of Shakespeare.
  • I still keep in touch with my contemporaries at school.

By Josef Essberger for EnglishClub August 2009
Josef started teaching English as a foreign language in 1991 and founded EnglishClub for learners and teachers in 1997.


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