When I am preparing my presentation for the meeting, someone asks me to go out playing basketball. Which following statement is more correct?

"Not now, I'm working" or "Not now, I'm at work" what is the difference between "I'm working" and "I'm at work"

As I know, I'm working is Present progressive, means I am doing my job right now.

On dictionary.com for the phrase At work, there are two explanations:

  1. Engaged in a job or other activity, as in The contractor is hard at work on the new building, or The little boy was fascinated to see the washing machine at work. [Early 1600s ]

  2. At one's office or other place of business, as in Is it all right if I telephone you at work ? [Late 1800s ]

For the first meaning, in some other online dictionary, also bears the meaning of busy.

My question is if the two sayings are the same meaning when they refer to "be busy doing their job right now"?

2 Answers 2

  1. I'm working
  2. I am at work

3 and 4 can be equivalent in meaning, just as the first dictionary entry suggests, and neither would be "more" correct. In other words, they can both mean "be busy doing their job right now". The problem is that 4 can easily be understood as 2 in the entries given. So I believe it would come down to context.

If your friend comes into your office, or place of work, and says "Let's play basketball" and you respond, "Not now, I'm at work", then he can see that you are working and deduce from context that you mean "I'm working".

If your friend calls you, or otherwise can't see you, and asks to play basketball, and you respond "Not now, I am at work", then it sounds like you are saying that you are at your office, or place of work. This strongly suggests that you are working, but it's not necessarily true.

In any case, if you want to be clear, I would recommend "Not now, I'm working."

  • Mostly agree, but I'd quibble with the last paragraph. That is clear only if the intended meaning is "I am presently actively engaged in work." If the intended meaning is "I am at my place of employment", "I'm at work" would be preferred. It is quite common to say, "Don't call me at work", meaning, you can call me when I'm home but don't call me when I'm at my place of employment. Whether at any given instant you are actually working, versus taking a lunch break or goofing off, is not relevant.
    – Jay
    Aug 19, 2016 at 10:27

"I'm at work" when I'm in the office, having a coffee break, chatting with a colleague about football, or reading my facebook page. In all these cases, "I'm at work" but I'm not working.

"I'm working" when I do the dishes or cut the grass at home. That's at home, I'm not "at work". Or if you are a student taking lessons at university, or doing homework, or writing your dissertation: That's all work, but you are not "at work". Even though the situation of a student and an employee are comparable, the student is "not at work" at the university, while the employee is "at work" at the office.

"At work" means being at your workplace, where you are getting paid, and where you are usually supposed to do your job and work.

Plus, you found another separate meaning of "at work", like in "hard at work" which has quite the same meaning as "working hard".

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