Ways to Say “I’m Busy” in English

Being busy! This is something we all struggle with. I’m sure you are quite busy studying English! Sometimes it seems like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. Has someone ever asked you to do something but you simply just don’t have any time? Of course, this happens to all of us! In English, it can be perceived as a bit rude to simply say “No, I’m busy” so we have created a lot of more polite ways to say “I’m busy”.

How to Say “I’m Busy” in English


“I’ve got a lot to do.”

You might hear people say they’ve got a lot to do. This is the more common way that people express that they’re busy.

“I’m going to the office early, I’ve got a lot to do today”.

“My plate is full” or “I have a lot on my plate.”

In this phrase, we are not actually speaking about eating. To say you have a lot on your plate is descriptive. If you have a lot on your plate there is no room for anything else. This means that you don’t have room for anything else in your life.

“Since I was assigned a new project, my plate has been pretty full”.

“I’m starting a new job and I’m moving to a new city, it looks like I’ll have a lot on my plate in 2018.”

“I’m up to my ears.”

This is a bit of a strange one. Again, this is fairly descriptive, think of it like you’re actually up to your ears in something.  It is used if you’re really busy and you can barely keep up with the work.

“This year has been busy at my law firm, we’re up to our ears in cases.”

“My agenda is full.”

You might use this one if you need to decline an engagement. My agenda is full means that your daily schedule is all booked up and you have any more free time.

“Sorry, my agenda is full this week.”

“There is a lot going on.”

This is a vague way of saying your busy. It implies that you are busy but doesn’t really give the person you’re speaking with many details. If someone says this to it is usual that you don’t ask any further questions. In the example below, you don’t get much information, maybe they are busy because they recently acquired new clients. It is also possible that they are facing problems. In this case, it is better not to ask!

“I can’t commit to anything right now, there is a lot going on in our office.”

“I’m swamped!”

You will say you’re swamped only if you are really busy! If you look literally at the word swamp you can understand better why we say this in English. A swamp is a wet forestland- think of where alligators live, this a swamp. It is easy to get stuck in a swamp because the soil is so wet. If you are swamped you are so busy you can’t do anything else.

“I can’t take on any additional projects, I’m swamped with my current work!”

“Buried with work.”

This is another phrase you only use when you are extremely busy. To be buried in work is kind of like being swamped. If you are buried that you can’t move.

“I can’t go out this weekend, I’m buried with work”

“Tied up.”

You will hear native English speakers using the phrasal verb all the time! You can’t take this literally, this has nothing to do with actually being tied up! It means that something took longer than you expected or you were doing something and you could not leave.

“I was tied up in meetings all day”

“I’ve got a lot on the go.”

If something is on the go it is not finished. This phrase signifies that there a lot of things you need to finish.

“I’m looking forward to my vacation, I have so much on the go right now.”

In Canadian culture, it is perceived as rude to complain about being busy at work. It is okay to talk about this with your friends and family but at the office is it better not to discuss your workload. If you have a problem with too much work it is better to discuss this with your manager or boss privately.

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