How To Talk About Time | English Idioms & Expressions

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

We’re talking about TIME! These are common, everyday English expressions & idioms about time.
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Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish. Time is important. We think about it, we talk about it many, many times a day, right from that moment you first wake up in the morning.

Now, of course, we have lots of different ways to express time in English, specific collocations, fixed expressions and phrasal verbs that help you to express different relationships to time.

Today we’re going to cover twenty-four useful expressions to help you talk about time, when you’ve got enough of it, or heaps of it, not enough of it.

We’ll also talk about some expressions that will help you to pass time and ask for more time, as well as some extra bonus idioms and expressions to help you express yourself clearly.

So we’ve got a lot to get through today. We’re going to move quickly. If you’ve got any questions at all, make sure you add them into the comments below so that I can answer them for you. Let’s get started!

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enough time

All right it’s about time we got started and we’re going to go through some collocations and some common expressions for when we have time, when we have enough or we have lots of time.

1. (to) have time

So, of course, this collocation is really important. It’s what this whole category is about. ‘To have time’ means that you’re available for something or you’re unoccupied or you’re not busy and so you’re able to do something.

  • I have time to meet with you on Tuesday.

And we can keep building on this because we have quite a few expressions that use ‘have time’, these fixed expressions.

2. (to) have plenty of time

So when you’ve got more time than you need, you have plenty of time. Not only do you have time for something but you’ve got a lot of time available for it.

So if someone said to you “Are you sure you don’t mind helping me?
You could say

  • Sure, I have plenty of time
  • I’ve got plenty of time! I can help

3. (to) have time on (one’s) hands

Another way to express the same thing is to say that you have time on your hands. Now this is a pretty casual phrase. It’s often used when you find yourself with some unexpected time available.

  • I had some extra time on my hands, so I offered to manage the community garden.

4. (to) have all the time in the world

And if you want to be really dramatic and exaggerate how much spare time you have, then you could say that you have all the time in the world. Now this expression is often used sarcastically, you know, to make a joke.

So if I said, “What day are you free to meet this week?”

  • Well I quit my job so now I have all the time in the world!

5. (to) take (one’s) time

Take your time. Now this expression is useful when you want to tell someone else to relax, you know, they don’t need to stress because you’re not worried about how long it may take. You have the time to wait so you say “Take your time.”

Another way to use this same expression is when you’re doing something really slowly because you’re really enjoying it.

  • Take your time driving down the coast, there are lots of beautiful places to stop along the way.

And pay close attention to that verb. If you choose to use a verb with this expression, then you need to use the -ing form, not the infinitive.

6. no rush

This is another informal way of saying kind of the same thing, to take your time. No rush, there’s no rush.

This is a fixed expression so it’s always used in this way, kind of casually and it’s usually something that you tell the other person.

  • When do you need the report by?
  • No rush, anytime next week is fine!

Now when you’re talking about yourself and your own actions, you need to include a preposition. You need to say:

  • I’m not in a rush.
  • No rush.

not enough time

Okay on to the second list now. I told you we’d be moving quickly. So we just talked about having time, maybe having lots of time but now we’re going to talk about the opposite when there’s a lack of time. Okay we don’t have enough time.

7. (to be) pressed for time

So in those situations, you can say that you are pressed for time. It’s often used as a way to remind someone to hurry up, to go a little bit faster.

  • Look I’m a little pressed for time right now. Can you just give me a call back once you know the answer?

So it’s probably a little formal so it’s great to use in a professional context at work.

8. (to be) short on time

If you want something more informal, then you can say that you are short on time.

  • I’d love to catch up for lunch, but I’m a bit short on time today. Can we meet next week instead?

9. (to) run out of time

When you’re running out of time, you’re going as fast as you can but you have to finish something, you don’t have enough time to do it. The time that you need to do it by is getting closer and closer and closer so you’re running out of time. Now you use the continuous version when there’s still a little bit of time left but it doesn’t seem like enough, you know it’s like…

  • Hurry, hurry we’re running out of time!

We’ve still got a little bit of time but there’s not much time left. And we use the past tense when that time is already over, you know, we can’t finish the action now, it’s too late.

  • I wanted to tidy up before my parents arrived but I ran out of time.

So I never actually got to complete the action.

10. (a/to) race against time

This is another great expression in this situation. When you’re panicked, you’re trying to finish before you run out of time, well then you’re in a race against time. Me verse time right?

Imagine that you are in a race with time, who’s gonna win that race? You know, a literal race, you or time?

  • The fire was moving quickly towards the town so the firefighters were in a race against time.
  • They were racing against time.

11. time’s up (time is up)

And if you do run out of time, then time’s up. ‘Time’s up’ is what we say when there is officially no more time, you can’t continue. Now it’s almost always said in the contracted form, time’s up, not time is up, but time’s up.

And it can be used as a way of saying stop like when you’re playing a game or when you’re sitting an exam and the time finishes.

If it was a one-hour exam, the exam finishes after an hour, put down your pencils. Time’s up.

12. (to) make time

Now if you don’t have time but it’s really important that you create some time, you need to make time. Now it suggests that you need to make a decision, not to do something in order to create that time or to create the opportunity to do something.

So you’ll often hear people saying

  • I need to make more time for my kids
  • I know it’s really important for you so I’ll make time to do it.

time passing quickly

Time is flying! And that is our next category, time passing quickly. Don’t you think that it’s really weird that the same actual amount of time can pass really quickly for one person and then really slowly for another? That’s what we’re going to talk about now.

13. time flies

So ‘time flies’ and we use the continuous tense when whatever we’re doing in that moment feels like it’s happening really, really quickly.

  • Is it 2pm already? Time is flying!

This is also when you start to hear strange expressions like:

  • Where has the day gone?
  • The day’s disappeared

But it’s just that time is disappearing so quickly that it feels like half the day is gone. Where’s the day gone?

And we use the simple present ‘time flies’ to make a general statement about when time passes quickly.

‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ is a common expression and it’s often shortened to simply ‘time flies’

14. (to) lose track of time

And when time passes so quickly, when you’re doing something that you’re so interested or you’re so involved in doing that you don’t realise how much time has passed then you lose track of time.

You’ve heard me talk about this expression before. It’s usually used in the past tense after you finally have taken a break from whatever you’ve been doing and you suddenly realise how much time has passed.

15. better late than never

And finally, if you did lose track of time and you complete a task or something after you should have done it, then the best phrase to use is ‘better late than never’.

So this expression is quite a good informal or friendly apology to remind someone not to get upset because you’ve done something late. The fact is it got done and that’s a good thing. So this is a fixed expression that doesn’t really need further explanation.

So just imagine that your friend’s birthday was last month and you completely forgot about it so you bought an extra special present to make up for it and you could say “Better late than never right?”

16. (to) make good time

So this expression is used for trips, you know, when you’re on some kind of journey or a trip and you’re actually getting there faster than you thought that you would so you’re making good time.

  • Now I think we’re about halfway there. We’re making good time!

Or you could say “We made good time! I wasn’t expecting to be here by sunset.”

17. (to) make up for lost time

Now this expression is a really specific one.

  • She hasn’t seen her mother in years and now they’re making up for lost time!

She missed out on seeing her mum for many, many years and now finally they’re spending some time together, lots of time together and they do it more often to make up for the time that they didn’t have before.

Really good one to know, to make up for lost time.

time passing slowly

Now time doesn’t always pass quickly, sometimes it passes so slowly. But hopefully, that’s not the case now.

18. (to) pass time

So usually if you want time to go faster, to feel faster, then you need to do something to keep yourself busy for a while to pass time.

  • Watching movies is a great way to pass time on a long flight.

19. (to) kill time

A more informal version of that same phrase is to kill time.

  • I’ve been killing time by listening to music before my appointment.

Now it sounds kind of violent, doesn’t it? But it’s not. This is just an expression.

ask for more time

Now we often need to ask for more time, don’t we? When things are happening too quickly or too many things are happening at once. So often you need to ask someone politely to wait.

20. give me a second

So imagine I’m on the phone and I’m speaking with someone and at the same time you come up to me to ask a question and I might say to you

  • Just give me a second. I’m on the phone.
  • Hang on a minute. I’m on the phone.

Now we always use ‘a second’ or ‘a minute’ in these expressions like a second is all of the time that you need. It doesn’t really matter, it’s just a way of asking for more time, for extra time.

So even if it sounds ridiculous, it doesn’t matter, you might need more than a minute or more than a second. But it’s okay.

In fact, if you’re speaking sort of informally with someone, the lazier version of that is to say “Give me a sec” and if you want to be even lazier again, then you can shorten the whole expression to “one sec”

  • One sec, I’m on the phone.

And that’s important. Body language.

Or you could sayJust a sec! I can’t find my keys!”


Are we making good time? No we’re almost out of time! But for those of you who have stuck with me all the way through, I’ve got some really awesome bonus idioms and expressions for you, ones that are really useful, really common expressions. Like this one…

21. (to) do time

Now this sounds really general but it has a very specific meaning. To do time is to spend time in prison.

  • He did time during his twenties because he was caught stealing.

Now that is definitely one verb that you don’t want to mistake right? An important collocation because it’s only really used in that context to talk about someone in jail.

22. (a) blast from the past

Now this is a really fun expression that I love to use. A ‘blast from the past’ is kind of what it sounds like. It’s something or someone from your past who pops up and surprises you in the present moment so it usually brings back fond memories or positive memories.

It’s like if a favourite song that you haven’t heard in years comes onto the radio, then you might say

  • Woah, this song is a blast from the past! Turn it up!

23. in the long run/short term

Now these expressions are both useful and very common in the workplace. So when you’re presenting or you’re giving an opinion or you’re trying to summarise something, these can be so helpful.

‘In the long run’ means over a long period of time where eventually something will happen.

  • It’s a big investment now but in the long run, we’ll make money.

Now ‘in the short term’ is the opposite right? From now until a point in the near future so it’s probably months not years which is the long run.

  • This space is going to work in the short term, but we’ll need a bigger place eventually.

24. before (one’s) time

All right here’s the last one, ‘before your time’. And this is an expression that kids really get tired of hearing because ‘before your time’, it means something that happened before you were born or just before you were paying attention. And you could say this to someone as a reason why they don’t understand something you know.

  • Life before the internet was a lot different but it was before your time. (So you wouldn’t understand.)

Or you can say it about yourself as an excuse why you don’t understand something or why you don’t know something.

  • I’m not sure, that was before my time.

Believe it or not, there are even more expressions about time in English so if you can think of any others that I’ve missed in this lesson, then make sure you share them below. Use it in a sentence so that I can check it for you.

You’ve probably noticed that you have to be very careful with prepositions and collocations about time. Many of these expressions that we went through today are fixed expressions which means you have to use the whole expression in your sentence or else it doesn’t make any sense.

Now I want to thank you for spending some time with me today going through these expressions, practising with me. I hope that you learned something new. Make sure you check out Lingoda, all the links are in the description below.

Subscribe and make sure you keep practising with me in these lessons right here. See you soon!

Links mentioned in the video

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