Both of these expressions mean “immediately,“ but “right away” means “without delay” and tends to be used in situations where there is fear or worry, in situations where there is really not a moment to lose before some bad thing might happen.
We took him to the hospital right away.
My grandmother said she was coming over in a few minutes, so I had to clean up right away.
“Right now,” on the other hand, is often used in angry imperatives, as in: “Come here right now!” If one said “Come here right away!” there would only be a sense of urgency implied, not a sense of annoyance.
Another very important difference between these expressions is that “right away” can be used for actions in the past or future whereas “right now” really means “right now.” It wouldn’t make sense to say “We took him to the hospital right now.” or “When you get to Boston tomorrow, please call me right now.” These sentences would be illogical and incorrect. However, both of these sentences would make perfect sense using “right away.”
Sometimes “right away” and “right now” can overlap. For example, it would be fine to say either “I have to go right now!” or “I have to go right away!” There is still a slight feeling of difference, though. If we say “I have to go right now,” the emphasis is on the exact point in time when the leaving is necessary; i.e., NOW. If we say “I have to go right away,” there is a sense of not being able to do some other thing before leaving or not being able to spend any more time doing what one is doing. “Right now” also tends to be more argumentative, assertive, or insistent in tone. “Right away” is more simply informative.
I have to go right now or I’ll miss the bus.
Oh, I’m so late! I have to go right now!
I have to go right away. My son had a bad fall at school, and I have to pick him up.
Thanks. I’d love to stay, but I really have to go right away.
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