What is the different between "late for" and "late at".

I was in a business meeting outside the work place (let's say at a restaurant), and it took time, so I late on my friends daily gathering. The next day my friend phoned me and said: "we expected to see you, where were you yesterday?", What should I reply?

  • I was late for work.
  • I was late at work.

I'm used to understanding them as following:

Late for:

When someone late on appointment or scheduled time:

My colleague was late for work yesterday because of an accident .

Late at

When someone late inside a place after the normal time of leaving.

I had a lot of tasks yesterday, So I was late at work.

  • 2
    I would say "Sorry, I worked late" or "I stayed late at work" or "I worked late hours". But I'm not a native speaker, wait for native speakers' opinions. – CowperKettle Mar 5 '17 at 17:15

If you are supposed to start your work day at 8:00 AM, and you arrive at 8:10 instead, you are late for work.

If you are supposed to end your work day at 5:00 PM, and you stay until 5:10 instead, you have stayed late at work.

So one expression refers to beginning later than you should (which makes the boss mad) and the other refers to leaving later than you could (which makes the boss happy).

If you miss a meeting with your friends because you stayed at work, you could explain to them "I was late for our meeting because I stayed late at work."

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