5 Useful English Phrases to Say When You are Late


Do you know someone who is always late?

It is important to be on time in English-speaking countries! On time is the opposite of late. It means arriving or departing at the correct time, not early and not late.

If you agree to meet someone at 9am, you must be there at 9am. If a meeting at work starts at 8am, you must be there at 8am. It is considered rude and impolite to be late.

When you know that you will be late, it is polite to tell the person waiting for you that you are going to be late!

In this lesson, you will learn how to say you will be late to an upcoming meeting or planned event: a business meeting, meeting a friend for coffee, dinner at a friend’s house, a doctor’s appointment, a job interview, or even arriving at work.

Pay attention to the words and the order of the words in each sentence.


1. “I’m sorry.”

First, you must apologize for being late. There are several ways you can do this.

Don’t say “I’m sorry for the late.” You can’t say “the late” because late is an adjective, not a noun. You can’t use “the” before an adjective when the adjective is by itself.

If you thought you were going to arrive on time but you are a few minutes late, you need to apologize when you arrive.

“I’m sorry for being late.”

When the meeting or planned event hasn’t started yet, but you know you are going to be late, it is polite to call and tell people that you are going to be late.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to be late.

I’m sorry, but I’m not going to make our 9am meeting.

I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it to my appointment on time.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m going to make it to the meeting on time.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it to our meeting on time.

make (something) – This use of make means reach or arrive at a place in time to do something.

make it – This is a synonym of make above. It means arrive at a place at the right time

“I’m afraid (that)” – In this context afraid doesn’t mean that you are scared. It’s a polite way of saying “I’m sorry.”

2. “Something has come up.”

Next, you must explain why you are late. You don’t have to give people a detailed explanation, but you must say something.

Here are some general phrases that you can say:

Something’s come up.
This can also be used in the past: Something came up.

I’m running late.

I’m behind schedule.

come up – In this context, the phrasal verb come up is used when something happens suddenly or unexpectedly and you need to focus on it or take action.

running late – In this context, this is a fixed expression. You can’t change it and say “I run late.” It means that you will arrive later than planned. You are not doing things at the time you planned to do them.
Good reasons for being late (things that are not your fault):

I’m stuck in traffic.

The meeting is running overtime. 
(You are in another meeting but it hasn’t ended yet and it is going past the scheduled end time.)

I have a flat tire.

I was in an accident.

I have a family emergency.
(For example, your child is sick or your mother is in the hospital.)

My train/bus/subway is delayed.

Bad reasons for being late (things that are your fault):

I overslept.
(You didn’t hear your alarm or you didn’t wake up at your usual time.)

I missed the bus.

I missed the train.

I couldn’t find my car keys.

I lost track of time.

3. “I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

If you are going to be late but you know that you will be there eventually, tell the person when you expect to arrive.

I’m going to be about 30 minutes late.

I’m on my way. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.

I may be about 5-10 minutes late.

about – In these sentences, about is used as an adverb. It means almost, nearly, or very close to (but not exactly!)

“I’m on my way.” – I will be there soon. I am moving towards my destination.


4. “Would it be possible to … ?”

If you are going to be late and you know that you will not be able to meet today at all, you need to reschedule your meeting.

Would it be possible to …?” is a great question to memorize. It is used when you want to politely ask someone to do something or when you need something. In this question, to is followed by a verb in its base form.

Would it be possible to reschedule?

Would it be possible to meet tomorrow instead?

Would it be possible to get an appointment with the doctor tomorrow?

Can we reschedule our meeting for Friday?

reschedule – schedule again, change the time of your planned event


5. “Thank you for waiting.”

If you did not reschedule and someone has been waiting for you to arrive (after you called them to tell them you were going to be late), it is polite to thank them.

Thank you for waiting.

I’m sorry for keeping you waiting.

I’m sorry to keep you waiting.

I am sorry to have kept you waiting.

Are you usually early, on time, or late for meetings?


Do you have any interesting expressions in your language to say when you are late?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s