What is the idiomatic way of saying 'stealing time', if someone is so busy and he wants to work on something by sneaking to it?

  • Idiomatically, we just say we'll make time [to do something, even though we're very busy with other things]. More extreme metaphoric usages like steal or pinch aren't in common use. Sep 16, 2021 at 11:40
  • How about 'to skive off' - which is used in British English, but is almost slang.
    – Andy M
    Sep 16, 2021 at 15:34

2 Answers 2


One can actually say "I managed to steal a few precious moments / minutes / hours with my family."

“To my delight, before the graduation ceremony began, I was able to steal a few minutes with an old friend.”


To "steal" time in this way is to be able to assign, set aside, or reserve that time for a particular reason or activity. The presumption is that there other demands for this time.

[bibliolept; WordReference.com

So "I was able to steal a few a few short hours away from my job to ..." (usually used in a past time-frame).

  • "I am stealing time from my job to answer stack exchange queries" or "I will be able to steal away early tomorrow' would be normal idiomatic usage, so I am not sure that it is correct to say it is usually used usually in a past time frame.
    – Andy M
    Sep 16, 2021 at 15:32
  • @AndyM - But usually doesn’t mean only. Your examples demonstrate why only would have been incorrect. To disprove usually you’d need to show frequency of use data.
    – Jim
    Sep 16, 2021 at 15:58
  • It's usually used conversationally, and a past time-frame disarms the word 'steal' somewhat (no obvious ill consequences). Sep 16, 2021 at 18:30
  • Google Ngram suggests that 'Steal an hour' is twice as common as 'Stole an hour', which suggests that past case is less common usage. Not proof, but equally no evidence has been offered for the past case being more common. Interestingly suggests that the all forms of the phrase were more common in the 1800s and have declined since.
    – Andy M
    Sep 17, 2021 at 10:05
  • I've checked the obvious ngrams. Most of the recent returns for 'steal an hour' seem to be old-fashioned, and/or non-present ('they'd arrive at the same time all unbidden to steal an hour or two'), and/or modal constructions ('Even then , whenever she could steal an hour or two') .... // Raw Google hits: "I will steal an hour" -"from days gone by": about 5 hits // "I stole an hour" -"from days gone by" :1270000 hits. This again doesn't prove the claim above. But the metaphhorical use of 'steal' here has a literary flavour, this most commonly associated with a past time-frame. Sep 17, 2021 at 11:23

On the sly

on the sly
1 done secretly, especially because you know you should not be doing it
I’m supposed to be on a diet, but I still have the odd candy bar on the sly.

Macmillan : on the sly

And on the sly, she focused on the interesting stuff. She made her bones as a news and feature writer, editor, and translator, especially of literature. Font screams in her sleep, disturbed by eerie nightmares.

from the about the author section of Silvia font's Musings on the Dark.

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