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Suppose I want to meet my friend next week and wonder if his schedule is tight, could I ask:

Are you busy with work next week?
Are you busy at work next week?

And I'd like to know the difference between the two. Any comments would be appreciated.

  • I think , your first sentence focuses on the work you are doing. This work could be related to your professional job or house work so it is a neutral and ambiguous without any context. On the other hand, your second sentence is more suitable to refer when you are busy working at your office etc. I could be wrong though. – Mrt Jan 10 '17 at 20:26
  • Both "at" and "with" are fine in this context, but I would have used the future. "Will you be busy...?" (slightly more formal) or "Are you going to be busy...?" (slightly less formal). – Teacher KSHuang Jan 17 '17 at 9:36
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I'll begin with the second example.

Are you going to be busy at work next week?

What you're asking here is whether your friend is going to be busy at his place of work. I think you will be able to easily deduce the meaning with the following example. Let's say I work for a company. Then, I can say:

I'm going to be very busy at work this week. We've got so much to do with this new project that I'm probably even going to be working late hours. My wife and kids are not going to see me a lot this week.


Are you busy with work next week? is not very idiomatic. A more natural way to say that would be like this:

Are you busy working next week?

In this case, you're asking a slightly different question. What you want to know here is whether your friend will be attending the place where he works next week. For example:

I've landed a job recently. So, I'm going to be busy working next week. That's why I won't be able to join your party.

So, in the first example (my first example), we're talking about your friend being snowed under with lots of work to do at the place of his regular employment. In the second example, the question is will your friend be going to the place where he works which is going to make him busy in regard to his nonwork-related activities? So, there is quite a difference between these two examples.

I hope things are much clearer for you now.

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"Work" is a non-specific noun that can refer to both your place of employment and the tasks you perform there. "Busy at work" refers to the location. "Busy with work" refers to the tasks.

Is there a difference between the two? Not really. If you're busy at work it's assumed you are busy with your work.

(Unless you're doing something else, like answering questions on ELL. I should get back to work, so I can get to work. It's just busy work, and even though it's no work of art, it works for me. But it's all in a day's work. I know, I'm a piece of work, working this idiom. But y'know, all work and no play ...)

Work - Idioms by the Free Dictionary

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