Just a sec! Three informal English phrases for asking people to wait a moment

If you have ever taken an English course, you probably learned the phrase “One moment, please” or “just a moment” for politely asking someone to wait for a very short period of time.

Phrases using moment are useful for formal situations. But in everyday conversational English they can sound stiff and unnatural.

Here are three informal ways to ask people to wait for a very short time. Informal expressions like these make your English sound more relaxed and conversational.

  1. (just) a minute
  2. (just) a second
  3. (just) a sec* / one sec

* sec is short for second


Context: Imagine you are at work, sitting at your desk writing an email. You need a very short time – somewhere between 10 seconds and one minute – to finish it. Your colleague approaches and asks you a question. You want to tell him that you can help as soon as you’re finished.

Colleague: Hey, can you help me with the copy machine? The paper’s jammed again.
You: Just a sec, I just need to finish this email.

Colleague: Hey, we’re about to order lunch from the deli. Do you want anything?
You: Just a second, I’m almost done here.

Colleague: Hey, have you got a minute to go over the Henderson Report?
You: Sure, just a minute. I just need to backup this file in case my computer crashes again.

Adding a reason for the inconvenience

Notice that in each example, you give your colleague a reason for the delay (I’m almost done here, etc.). Needing to wait can feel inconvenient for the person who wants your attention. Giving someone a reason for inconveniencing them is a way to “soften the blow” in polite English.

Of course, in face-to-face situations the other person will often be able to see why you need a little bit of time, so you don’t have to give the reason. Your friendly tone of voice and body language will be polite enough.

However, if you are using these phrases on the phone, where the other person can’t see what you’re doing, it’s more important to give a reason for the inconvenience. For example:

Colleague on phone: Hey, could we meet up this week to go over the Henderson report?
You: Sure! Just a sec, let me pull up my calendar.

Bonus vocabulary

To pull (sth) up (phrasal verb): In the context of computer programs and digital files, like the calendar in the example above, to pull something up means to make something visible on your computer screen so you can use it.

Here are a couple more examples of to pull something up:

1. We just need a minute to pull up the Henderson report.

2. Could you pull up my account details?

English learning tip

You may have noticed that many of the expressions above include the word just. Just is extremely frequent in English (no. 66 according to corpus data). Just has an intimidating number of meanings and uses.

Trying to memorize and apply every rule about how to use a word like just can drive you crazy. For most English learners it’s more useful to focus on one specific use, and then learn a couple of useful phrases that you can use right away in your spoken English practice. Trying to remember and use newly learned language frequently is the fastest way to make it a natural part of your active vocabulary. When one use is familiar, you can choose another one.

I hope you have enjoyed learning these informal ways to say “One moment, please.” Have fun using them!

How to use very and not very – intensifiers in English

You can do a lot of things with the word very in English. The simplest use of very is as an intensifer. An intensifier is a word that makes another word stronger or adds emphasis.

Very as an intensifier

You put very directly in front of the adjective or adverb that you want to intensify.

In the sentences below, strong and heavy are adjectives. Very adds intensity.

My friend Sasha is very strong.
She can lift very heavy weights.

very as an intensifier with positive adjectives

This is Sasha in action. She is very strong.

Very works the same way with adverbs. Remember, an adverb is a word that tells you more about a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a whole sentence.

In the examples below, hard and easily are adverbs, and very adds emphasis to the verb phrases.

Sasha has trained very hard for many years.
Now she can lift 300 kilos very easily.

Not very

But what happens if you add the word not to very? Does it just remove the emphasis? For example, what does the following sentence mean?

My friend Bob is not very strong.

Does it mean:
a) Bob’s strength is normal/average
b) Bob’s strength is a little below normal/average
c) Bob’s strength is far below normal/average. In fact, Bob is WEAK.
Continue reading…

042 – Make the Most of your Motivation part 2 of 2 – Real English Conversations

Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from Betteratenglish.com. Last week I shared the first part of a cool conversation I had with Dr. BJ Fogg, all about making the most of your motivation. Today you’ll be hearing part two, the final part of this conversation. If you missed the first part, make sure to go back and listen to part one before you listen to part two.

At the end of part one, BJ was telling me about his goal to get better at writing neatly on a whiteboard. He knew that he needed to practice a lot if he wanted to improve, so he wanted to make it as easy as possible to practice every day. In this part of the conversation, you’ll hear what he did to change his environment to make practicing easy, even on days when his motivation is low. You’ll also hear about how his practice routine is working for him.

As always, you can find the full transcript of this conversation, including a bonus vocabulary lesson at betteratenglish.com/transcripts.

Are you ready for the conversation? Let’s go!

Conversation transcript
BJ: One of the habits I’m doing right now is, I’m practicing whiteboarding. I’m practicing with markers writing on a whiteboard. You know, like teachers do.

Lori: Right.

BJ: And I want my handwriting to get much, much better and so, I’m practicing every day. But anyway, what I did was I went out and I got some marker paper, I got a bunch of markers, I got different whiteboards so I have whiteboards in different parts of my house. I have the marker paper, I have markers, I have a marker in my bathroom, one in my sun room, I have a whole set in my office, I have a whole set in my other office. In other words, I made it really, really easy to practice writing with markers by getting all the materials and getting everything set up. And I did that when I was in a period of high motivation. So now, it’s really easy just to pick up a marker and practice. I don’t have to be super motivated.

Lori: Right. And– and you can tell yourself that, you know, “You have all your materials. It’s all easy right at hand.” You could even tell yourself, “I’m just going to write one sentence. That’s all I feel like doing right now and —

BJ: Yeah. In fact, just before your call, that’s what I did. I was sitting down and I was going to read but I was like, “No, no. I’m just going to, like, get out the marker board and write one sentence.” And I ended up filling up the entire marker board because I thought, “Oh, this is kind of fun. I’m going to keep going.”

Lori: Yeah —

BJ: And then, you called.

Lori: Have– have you — oh, I’m sorry to interrupt your practice…

BJ: [crosstalk] No, I was expecting your call.

Lori: …while you were on a roll. But yeah, and I guess…how’s your writing? Has it been improving? It must be improving.

BJ: Oh my gosh, it’s so much better.

Lori: And that —

BJ: Yeah.

Lori: Because I can imagine when you start seeing that your efforts are paying off, that that makes it more likely that you’re going to pick up those pens and do your practicing.

BJ: Yeah, and I– I think there are some behaviors or skills where it becomes clear pretty quickly — your progress. And then there are some, at least outcomes, where it’s harder to measure like, “Wow, am I really reducing my stress? Am I really getting healthier? Am I really…,” you know, whereas the whiteboarding — and then, I practice guitar every day…
Lori: Oh! Cool.

BJ: …and– and other things. Yeah, but in those two cases, it’s very clear that you’re getting better. It’s just obvious that you’re getting better. And the writing is one that I may have other people join me in because…and then take pictures before and after because it’s– it’s quite dramatic.
Lori: I…yeah, I can imagine if you practice. I mean, I haven’t practiced writing really since I was a kid; and learning to write and then, you know, you get your hand style and you think that that’s sort of what you’re stuck with for the rest of your life.


BJ: And part of it is changing; changing like what your style is. You know, because my normal style doesn’t work very well on a whiteboard so I have, sort of…it’s almost like having, well, in some ways, speaking a different language because you shift into a different gear. So, I speak Spanish and French, and I know when I speak those languages, I go into a different gear. It’s just different. And when I’m writing on a whiteboard, it’s not like I’m writing in a notebook. It’s just…I’m drawing in a different– different movements and different ways of thinking, well, about the letters and the spacing of the letters. And on the whiteboard, I’m trying to get things very straight, up and down just like you might try to get an accent, like, you know, an accent right and you’re really focusing. I think there’s probably a lot in common about learning languages and practicing other skills. Continue reading…