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!