Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What's the difference between "I am busy right now" and "I am busy at the moment"?

I mean, is there any shades in meaning that would be implied in one, but not not in the other phrase?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I don't perceive much of a difference in most uses.

Let me take the contrived example of someone saying "my shop is really busy at the moment / right now". Firstly, they might mean that there are hundreds of customers in their shop right this second, or simply that there have been unusually many customers recently: you're going to have to gather information from the context in which it's being said. If it's the evening of December 22nd and you're talking about this over a pint, it's likely that your correspondent means the latter (though it's possible that they just received a phone call from someone who told them the former), whereas if you phoned them up while they're at work it's likely that they mean the former (I think "right now" makes this feel slightly more likely than "at the moment"). All possible combinations of meanings and choice of phrase are in common usage, though, as far as I'm aware.

Secondly, one subtle difference: if they say "my shop is really busy at the moment", you can ask for clarification by saying "what, right now?" - you can't really do that the other way round.

share|improve this answer
    
Not quite, but in response to ‘my shop is busy right now ’ you can ask for clarification by asking ‘What, at this very moment?’ –  Brian M. Scott Sep 17 '11 at 4:23
    
@Brian M. Scott You really couldn't. I don't know why, but you couldn't, even though you can do the reverse. –  Jeremy Sep 17 '11 at 5:04
    
@Jeremy: You may not be able to, but that’s a peculiarity of your idiolect. I can and so can many, many others. –  Brian M. Scott Sep 17 '11 at 5:27
    
@Brian M. Scott You're right, I shouldn't assume it's wrong just because it doesn't seem intuitive to me. –  Jeremy Sep 17 '11 at 5:29
    
@Brian: Ah yes, I don't think I'd ever say it, but that definitely works. Thanks. :) –  Billy Sep 17 '11 at 10:38
add comment

While they mean the same thing, they are used in very different situations.

"Busy at the moment" is much more formal. Whether it's used by friend or a stranger, it means "I can't talk to you or help you, because I am doing something else." If you didn't have a good reason, to keep asking a person for help after they told you this would be pretty rude.

"I'm busy right now" should only be used by a friend or an informal situation. It's also not as strong as "busy at the moment"; someone who is busy right now would like it if you left them alone, but they might be able to talk to you or help you if you ask them again.

Between the two... someone busy "at the moment" is more likely to be ready to talk to you or help you in a few minutes, whereas someone busy "right now" might be busy for a long period of time.

I should really stress, however, the differences that matter:

To a friend, use "right now." To a stranger, use "at the moment."

share|improve this answer
1  
None of this is correct. If there is any difference in strength, which is doubtful, it goes the other way, and busy at the moment is at most a little more formal than busy right now. The last sentence is, very simply, nonsense. –  Brian M. Scott Sep 17 '11 at 5:30
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.