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In the common hall of my office, in America, after some brief small talk, I said to my colleague,

OK, I will let you get back to work.

She did something really unusual upon hearing it: she did not say anything, but she moved another chair with her leg. I interpret it as "Come, sit". I took the seat, and talked to her for another 10 minutes.

I want to know if this phrase sounds weird/unusual to a native English speaker?

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    This is really a matter of opinion, tone, and circumstances. It could be taken as implying that the person is lazy or should be working, but it could a sincere apology for taking someone from their work. If a manager says it, it quite likely means "I'm done talking to you, now get to work!" Grammatically it's fine though.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 8 at 11:45
  • [At my office or in my office.] We cannot decipher tone without actually hearing the tone you used. We can't tell if you are the subordinate or that person is. So which is it and what happened?
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 8 at 14:43
  • I think the combination of my answer and Michael Harvey's comment under my answer would be a clue to the behavior. The locution is a polite acknowledgement, tinged with humility on the part of the speaker, that the other person's time is valuable and you do not wish to infringe upon it. Of course it could be said in a perfunctory manner that would rob it of those nuances. Apparently it wasn't :-)
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 8 at 15:31
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    @Lambie Did you even read what I wrote? Also, she didn't say anything. She moved a chair with her leg which appears to have been an invitation to sit.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 8 at 15:36
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    @Max - I'd say, crack on, mate! Commented Mar 8 at 16:04

2 Answers 2

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The literal meaning of "I'll let you X" in a context like this is "I'll stop taking up your time, which will allow you to X", and as TimR has already explained in his answer, it can have the function of expressing a mild apology for disturbing someone.

There is another function not mentioned yet, which is to politely excuse yourself from an interaction, place, event, etc., and really has nothing to do with whether you're disturbing the other person or not.

For instance, at the end of a long phone conversation with a friend or family member, one of us often says, "Well, I'll let you go now", which actually means, "I'm ready to stop talking".

In your situation, your coworker wanted to continue talking with you so much that she disregarded your polite excuse to leave the conversation, and invited you to stay longer. This is somewhat uncommon for a peer to do, so it likely indicates that she enjoys your company and might be flirting with you.

IMO, you did nothing unusual at all.

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Typically "I will let you get back to ... {whatever}" is a very mild apology for having bothered the person and taken up their time. It could be paraphrased as "I don't want to take up any more of your valuable time than I already have; I'm sure you are busy and have more important things to do than answer my questions".

Despite let, there is no implication that the speaker is in a position to control the person's activities and decide what they do and when.

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    It could very easily be construed as a polite ending, like 'I'll let you get on with your day'. Commented Mar 8 at 13:00
  • Yes, for sure. Nothing to take umbrage at.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 8 at 13:36
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    @Lambie The word tone has more than one meaning in a language context. Locutions themselves can have an abstract "tone of voice" that is independent of the delivery of the speaker, independent of the audible qualities of their voice. Abstract tone is established in part by the connotations of the locution, the contexts in which it is typically used, its register, and so on.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 8 at 15:25
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    @Lambie You're like a guy in Plato's cave telling a guy who is outside the cave what is going on outside the cave, based on the shadows you see on the wall inside the cave.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 8 at 15:40
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    Sorry @Lambie, I'm on TimR's side in this—or rather on both your sides. True, you can alter any language through delivery, or context. "I'll let you get back to your work," delivered with malicious glee by an evil torturer to an imprisoned captive, is sarcasm. From a big-eyed toddler it can be either heartwarming or guilt-inducing. But meanwhile, we do talk about written tone. And even at their most context-agnostic, certain phrasings have impact. E.g., I was going to tell the OP that skipping the contraction "I'll" would itself have a distancing effect. Commented Mar 8 at 18:42

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