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I’ve found myself writing the phrase “as soon as possible” just too often. Sometimes I wonder if it sounds a little rude. How can I convey the same meaning in a more polite way but without losing sense of urgency?

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Another wording: "As soon as you can." A more polite way: "As soon as you can, please." –  J.R. May 27 '12 at 10:48
    
It really depends on the context! –  Django Reinhardt May 27 '12 at 14:34
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The phrase doesn't seem rude to me, unless you use it that way. Adding please or could you please could always make it more polite. –  Noah May 27 '12 at 19:21
    
@Noah I’m glad to hear that the phrase cannot possibly seem unpolite, as I have been using it a lot. However, there could be expressions even more polite than this one. –  Albertus May 27 '12 at 20:23

6 Answers 6

up vote 33 down vote accepted

You could try at your earliest convenience, but there is a risk that somebody unfamiliar with idioms might take it as 'when convenient to yourself' (which is actually at your convenience).

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I also read this as condescending... –  Izkata May 27 '12 at 16:04
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This is exactly the way I'd go because it expresses both urgency and an understanding that it has to be slotted in among the listeners other priorities. –  dmckee May 27 '12 at 18:13
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@Izkata Can you expand your comment a little? –  Albertus May 27 '12 at 18:46
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@Izkata: this phrase was standard in all business letters for the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. It doesn't normally have any overtones at all, let alone what you suggest (though obviously I don't know about your circles). –  TimLymington May 27 '12 at 19:02
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At your earliest convenience is, as Tim says, a common idiom that I consider quite polite, if for no other reason than "at your convenience" is hardly ever used outside of this idiom, so it seems formal and the formal sense is polite. I consider as soon as you can to be a less formal equivalent, more polite than as soon as possible, even though both are technically more urgent. That's strictly from experience of idiomatic usage. As a side note, I've heard people say "I will do that at my earliest convenience" thinking it was formal and polite, but it's actually quite rude. –  Old Pro May 27 '12 at 21:39

Unlike what you feel, as soon as possible is not considered rude. The abbreviated asap is very common in business emails and is accompanied with a 'Please' to convey the sense of polite urgency.

Please finish this task asap.

One alternative to asap is at the earliest.

Please finish this task as soon as possible at the earliest.

Another choice would be to re-word your statement as follows.

I request you to expedite this task.

Expedite conveys the sense of urgency in a formal way.

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It's difficult to convey nuances in formal writing. Italicised 'Please' would indicate to me that the writer would normally expect me to delay unnecessarily, which is quite insulting. –  TimLymington May 27 '12 at 15:32
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I do not like at the earliest. I think it is a corrupted shortening of at your earliest convenience and is confusing because of the more common usage I will finish this by Monday at the earliest. Of course, my experience is predominately in the US; maybe British usage is different. –  Old Pro May 27 '12 at 21:50
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At the earliest what? "I request you to expedite this task" is acceptable but, more assertive than polite, better used in an imperative sense for a subordinate. –  Jodrell May 28 '12 at 8:20
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"The sense of polite urgency" made my day. –  sharptooth May 28 '12 at 14:12
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"I request you to expedite this task" sounds overly formal and a bit awkward. I would rather say "Please expedite this task" which is still formal, but shorter, more polite, and avoids the awkwardness of the phrase "I request you to." –  zooone9243 Jun 12 '12 at 10:10

An alternative I see in business emails is:

As soon as you get a chance.

I like it because it implies sensitivity for the other person's schedule yet conveys the urgency of the matter.

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I agree, as soon as you get a chance is less formal but equally as polite as at your earliest convenience, and less urgent, demanding, and pushy than as soon as possible or as soon as you can. –  Old Pro May 27 '12 at 21:45
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I'd suggest this lacks formality. –  Jodrell May 28 '12 at 8:16
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@Jodrell: I agree, it's a bit informal – but sometimes that's exactly what's needed. (If two people have an ongoing, easy relationship, something more formal can sound overly pretentious or demanding). –  J.R. May 29 '12 at 0:53

I often need to ask for things to be returned to me. In a business setting, I have found that giving people a specific date (and sometimes a specific time) helps them. I always follow up with something like, "If you feel you need more time than that, please let me know." or "If this deadline is not feasible, please let me know." Adding that sentence shows the recipient that you are sensitive to his or her schedule. Giving a firm date helps the recipient be cognizant of your schedule.

I have found writing, "when you get a chance" or "as soon as possible" leaves it too much up in the air. And, as the saying goes, if it weren't for the last minute, nothing would ever get done. Your items of business will be pushed back in the recipient's schedule and then you find yourself trying to find a polite way to write, "where's my stuff!?!"

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This is more of a management tip than it is usage advice, but +1 anyway because it is a great tip that is relevant to the OP's problem. –  Old Pro May 27 '12 at 21:29
    
@OldPro, Yes, it is, but I think the vagueness of phrases like "at your earliest convenience" do not serve either the sender or recipient very well. Don't you really want to know your deadline? –  JLG May 28 '12 at 4:31

You could say "quick as you can", "expedite please".

This is not as polite but you could say "immediately if not sooner".

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"immediately if not sooner" sounds very rude, almost insulting... Is it? –  Sebastián Grignoli May 28 '12 at 2:24
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how could act sooner than immediately? I've only seen and used this as an attempt to be comically rude. –  Jodrell May 28 '12 at 8:14
    
@jan, Is it 1st of April? –  Pacerier Mar 23 at 15:10
    
"immediately if not sooner" can be used in some humorous contexts. E.g. This is excellent! Publish it immediately, if not sooner." –  Michael Deardeuff Apr 23 at 21:54

"At your earliest opportunity" is quite similar to "earliest convenience" but slightly more urgent; it's equivalent to "at your earliest chance."

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