Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you been very busy lately?

Do you notice that people talk about how busy they are often in English?

This may be a cultural thing, but it seems that everyone is busy these days.

Talking about how busy you are has become a very common part of everyday conversations in English.

We’re going to show you what phrases to use, and how you can talk about this and help to express just how much you have going on.

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Today we have a great question from our listener, Masoud.

Hello guys, 

Hope you’re doing fine. I have a question for you today about being busy, and I hope you can help me.

I have heard a few things to say when you are very busy. There are terms that I have heard such as “I am swamped”, “I am tied up”, and
“My plate is full”.

Would you please teach us a little more about these phrases?

Thank you for your time and effort. Great job guys! 


Your biggest fan, Masoud

Talking About Being Busy

As a culture, we tend to talk about being busy quite a bit.

There are a lot of phrases about being busy which have been discussed over time.

We’ve talked about your “plate being full” in Episode 730 but there are many other great phrases that we want to touch on too.

This topic is good to revisit because it is a huge connection topic and there are so many ways to talk about it.

We also talked about why Americans compete to be busier than others in Episode 677.

In Episode 290 we talked about the fact that Americans seem to be on a hamster wheel and can’t get off of it.

Everyone seems busy these days, and this is a topic that many of us like to share about.

There seems to be something rewarding or positive about just how busy you may be.

The Phrases To Express This

So if you recognize that how busy you are is a topic of conversation, you want to know the best way to express this.

There are certain phrases that can help to explain and express just how busy you are in your conversations.

Using these can help others to see and understand that you have a lot going on.

  • I am swamped: It means you have a lot of tasks, and therefore a lot of things to do. It means that you can barely keep up because you have so much going on. You could say, “I am swamped at work right now. There are so many projects going on.”
  • I am tied up: This is more in the moment and works well as an answer to a request for you to do something. Swamped could be more general about being busy over a period of time, but tied up means you are currently busy. One way to say this is, “Ah, I’m really tied up watching the kids right now. Can I call you back?”
  • I can barely keep my head above water: This is definitely a bit more extreme, but it helps to illustrate the point. If you are the busiest you have ever been, or you feel that way, then this may be a good one. Here is an example: “I would love to help you, but right now I can barely keep my head above water.

These phrases all help to express that you have a lot going on right now.

They explain that you are busy doing a lot of different things at the same time–which seems to be a constant for many of us.

Busy Is A Hot Topic

There are other phrases that can help to explain this constant state of being busy.

Since this is such a hot topic, you want to know multiple ways to express that you are busy or have a lot going on.

What other phrases are out there?

  • Busy bee: This would be more cutesy and lighthearted in nature. It means that you are busy but still likely positive and not planning to stay this way forever. “I’m such a busy bee right now, my goodness!” 
  • Up to my ears in…. ” : It’s another way of saying that you are buried, but in a less formal way. It could be used like this: “Can you pick the kids up? I’m up to my ears in work right now.”
  • I have my hands full: You will hear this one used a lot and so it really helps you to show that you have a lot going on. You can’t keep up because you are so busy, and it feels like you are juggling a lot. Here is an example: “I’d love to join you but I have my hands full with all the renovations going on at my house right now.”

All of these phrases can help to show that you are busy, and often it may feel like a constant state of mind.

Try using these in conversation and you will notice just how much people love to talk about how busy they really are.


Being busy has become something people are proud of, and so it’s become a big part of conversation in American culture.

It’s a good connection skill to have these phrases so you can be honest about what is going on in your life.

Being busy is common and a part of life, but you do want to be sure to keep it in check.

It’s important to get things done, but it’s also important to take the time to breathe and relax when you can!

If you have any questions, please place them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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