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If I have a previous appointment, what can I say instead of appointment? Previous engagement? Promise?
And I wonder exactly what they both mean. (I thought they were similar.)

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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Besides the expression already discussed above, here are a few alternative expressions I tend to use in the situation:

  • I already have plans for the evening(or day)
  • I have prior committments for the afternoon

If you plan to use "promise" in a more informal manner, you could. But then you'd have to probably be more specific on what's keeping you occupied at the time.

For eg., I tend to say:

  • I would love to, but I already promised to run an errand for my mom
  • Ah - but I've promised my friend I'd volunteer for the charity event on friday.

Hope this helps.

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"I already have plans" means that you would rather follw those plans than accept the invitation, while "I have a previous engagement" means that you can't get out of your previous commitment, much though you'd love to accept this one (which may be a white lie). –  TimLymington Aug 14 '12 at 14:46

Previous engagement is more correct. In this context, it refers to a specific time of promise: a promise to be at a particular place at a particular time.

Promise is a general commitment made by someone. You can promise not to eat someone else's lunch, for example, but you wouldn't refer to that kind of promise as previous engagement.

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The definition given for promise from the NOAD is the following:

promise |ˈprɑməs|
noun
a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that guarantees that a particular thing will happen.
- What happened to all those firm promises of support?
- [with clause] He took my fax number with the promise that he would send me a drawing.
- [with infinitive] I did not keep my promise to go home early.
• the quality of potential excellence_: he showed great promise even as a junior officer.
• [in singular] an indication that something specified is expected or likely to occur: the promise of peace.

For engagement the definition is:

engagement /ɪnˈgeɪdʒmənt/ /ɛnˈgeɪdʒmənt/
noun
1. a formal agreement to get married.
• the duration of such an agreement: a good long engagement to give you time to be sure.
2. an arrangement to do something or go somewhere at a fixed time: a dinner engagement.
• a period of paid employment.
3. the action of engaging or being engaged: Britain's continued engagement in open trading.
4. a fight or battle between armed forces.

Promise is not the correct word to replace appointment (the fact you went to an appointment doesn't implicate you did a promise to go); engagement is a better choice, but who listens could understand you are using the meaning 1 or 3.

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