It is common in business for people to request or demand for things to happen or be done/completed. Normally, they will not only want to know if something will happen or be done, but they'll want to know when.

When either requesting when something will happen or responding to this type of question, you could just say basic time phrases like next week or tomorrow.

But there are a lot of other time phrases (like 'right away' which means now) which are commonly used in both business and general English. To be able communicate more effectively, it is important that you understand these phrases.

In this online exercise, we will look at time phrases in English that are used for both requesting for something to be done and responding to this type of question.

Click here to go to an exercise on English vocabulary used for talking about time in general.


Exercise: When will something be done

Read the following three different business situations where one person is requesting/asking another person to do something or when something will be done.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Situation 1

Peter:'Hi John, I need you to do something for me.'

John:'What is it?'

Peter:'I need the customer report straight away.'

John:'I haven't finished it yet. You told me that the deadline was next Friday. I'm so busy at the moment, it won't be ready until next Tuesday at the earliest'

Peter:'I know I said that the deadline was next Friday, but the Service Director is demanding to see it now. Can you try to finish it as soon as possible?'

John:'I can give you a copy of what I've done. So at least the Service Director has some information. I'll try to finish it as fast as I can.'

Peter:'Thanks. When do you think that will be?'

John:'Hopefully, by the end of the week. But I'm not making any promises.'


Situation 2

Wayne:'Gary, can I ask you a favour?'

Gary:'Sorry, two seconds, I just need to send an email.

OK, what do you need.'

Wayne:'Well, you know I'm writing a recommendation for changes to the department. I would just like you to have a look at what I've written. Just to see if there are any mistakes. It's not urgent. I don't need to give it to my manager for a month.'

Gary:'It shouldn't be a problem. I have some things to do, but I'll look at it by Friday at the latest. Is that OK?'

Wayne:'As I said, I don't need to give it to my manager for a month. So, in your own time.'


Situation 3

Jenny:'When do you expect to send out the minutes for yesterday's meeting?'

Mark:'Well, I've got two very urgent things to do before I can start it. Can't it wait for a couple of days?'

Jenny:'No, it can't. I'd appreciate it if you could start doing it straight away!'

Mark:'I'm afraid I can't. I'll start it when I have time.'




Quiz: Business English time phrases for requesting & responding

Below is a definition/description of each of the words in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question which you can press/click on. In the first icon, , you can find extra information about the word/phrase (e.g. when, where and how to use etc...) and a Spanish translation. In the second, , is where you can listen to the word/phrase and do a pronunciation test (to make sure you can say it correctly).


1.

A phrase that has a similar meaning to 'it's not urgent', is

         

In your own time:
(phrase) 'in your own time' is used when requesting something to be done or happen. It means that something isn't a top priority and that it can be done when the other person has time to do it, e.g. 'when do you want me to do it?' 'don't worry, in your own time'. It has the same meaning as 'it's not urgent' and 'when you can'. In Spanish: "a su propio ritmo/tiempo".

Close

In your own time:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

2.

A phrase that asks somebody to wait for a very short time, is

         

Two seconds:
(phrase) 'two seconds' is a commonly used informal phrase for asking somebody to wait. It is used as both a response to someone when they want to speak to you about something or when you need to quickly do something else when in the middle of a conversation. 'two seconds' or 'give me two seconds' isn't literal. People in the English-speaking world understand that it's a request for the other person to wait from between a few seconds to a few minutes. If you want somebody to wait longer (up to 10 minutes), then use 'give me 2 minutes'. In Spanish: "un segundo".

Close

Two seconds:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

3.

Another way to say 'now', is

         

Straight away:
(adverb) 'straight away' is a very commonly used and means to do something now. You can also use 'right away' or 'immediately' with the same meaning. It can be used as both a request (e.g. 'can you do it straight away please') or as a response (e.g. 'I'll do it straight away'). It is often used when demanding somebody to do something. In Spanish: "de inmediato/en seguida".

Close

Straight away:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

4.

A polite phrase that requests somebody to do something urgently, is

         

As soon as possible:
(adverb) 'as soon as possible' is used to request somebody to do something urgently. It is polite because it doesn't demand that it is done (like 'straight away'), but informs the person that the task is both very important and urgent. The phrase normally follows 'could you do it', e.g. 'could you do the report as soon as possible'. This phrase can also be used as a response to somebody's request for something to be done. In this situation, it tells the other person that you'll do it urgently, but without saying when (so you don't commit yourself to a time/date), e.g. 'I'll do it as soon as possible'. In Spanish: "lo antes posible".

Close

As soon as possible:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

5.

A response to a request which means 'I'll do it when I want to!', is

         

When I have time:
(phrase) 'when I have time' is used as a response and is direct and is a little impolite/rude. It is often used as a response when somebody is demanding that you do something by a specific time/date and you are refusing to do it by that time/date. It is politer to say 'when I can'. The phrase can also be used as a polite request to tell somebody that something isn't urgent, e.g. 'don't worry, when you have time'. In Spanish: "cuando tenga tiempo".

Close

When I have time:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

6.

A formal phrase which means something will be done before or on a specific time or date, is

         

By Friday at the latest:
(phrase) This is a professional phrase that is commonly used in business. By saying it, you confirm that something will be done or happen before or at/on a specific time/date. This phrase requires that the verb in front of it is in the positive, e.g. 'I'll be there by 3 at the latest'. It can be used as both a request/demand for something to be done (e.g. 'we need it by tomorrow at the latest') or as a response (e.g. 'It'll be ready by 6pm at the latest'). It has the same meaning as using just the preposition 'by' and the time/date, which is more informal/neutral. In Spanish: "el viernes como muy tarde".

Close

By Friday at the latest:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

7.

A phrase that means 'as quickly as I can', is

         

As fast as I can:
(phrase) 'as fast as I can' is used as a response to somebody's request to do something. It has a similar meaning to 'as soon as possible'. It means that you will do it urgently, but you don't say when you'll either start or finish (so you don't commit yourself to a time/date). It can also be used as a request with a similar meaning, e.g. 'can you do it as fast as you can?'. In Spanish: "tan pronto como puedo".

Close

As fast as I can:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

8.

A common way to call the previously agreed date to finish a report or project, is

         

Deadline:
(noun) 'deadline' is also known as the 'hand in date' or 'finish date', although 'deadline' is more commonly used. This noun is used with the verb 'to meet' (to mean “to finish” before or on the time/date) , e.g. 'we didn't meet the deadline'. In Spanish: "fecha de entrega".

Close

Deadline:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

9.

A phrase that has a similar meaning to 'in your own time', is

         

It's not urgent:
(phrase) 'it's not urgent' is used when requesting something to be done or happen. It means that something isn't a top priority and that it can be done when the other person has time to do it. It is often followed by the phrases 'when you can' or 'in your own time' (which have a similar meaning) e.g. 'when do you want me to do it?' 'it's not urgent, when you can'. In Spanish: "no es urgente".

Close

It's not urgent:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

10.

A formal phrase which means something will be done after or on a specific time or date, is

         

Until next Tuesday at the earliest:
(phrase) This is a professional phrase that is commonly used in business. By saying it, you confirm that something won't be done or happen until at/on a specific time/date or after it. It is often used to advise or warn people that they'll have to wait for something to be done. This phrase requires that the verb in front of it is in the negative, e.g. 'I won't be there until 10am at the earliest'. It is only used as a response or when informing people about a situation. In Spanish: "hasta Martes como mínimo".

Close

Until next Tuesday at the earliest:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close

11.

A neutral or informal phrase which means something will be done before or on a specific time or date, is

         

By the end of the week:
(phrase) Using the preposition 'by' and the time/date, you confirm that something will be done or happen before or at/on a specific time/date. It can be used as both a request/demand for something to be done (e.g. 'can you do it by tomorrow') or as a response (e.g. 'it'll be ready by 6pm'). It has the same meaning as the more formal 'by + time/date + at the latest', e.g. 'we need it by Monday at the latest'. In Spanish: "ante el fin de semana".

Close

By the end of the week:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

Close





Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.