Stop Saying Always: “SONO OCCUPATO” – Learn all the the Best Alternatives!

Oh, no I can’t make the video, i’m busy now… Just kidding! I’m here, but in this video I wanto to tell you about the phrase “SONO OCCUPATO/A” (I’m busy), which is often used and overused by those who learn Italian as a second language, even though it could sound a bit rude or unnatural and, when used in certain contexts, it will immediately reveal that Italian isn’t your first language. So I will teach you all the more natural, less boring and dfinitely more interesting ways to say that “you are busy” when you are asked to do something. While you are still free, let’s begin!

All the Ways to Say “I’M BUSY” in Italian 

How many times did it happen that a friend asked us to do something and we had to decline because we had too many things to do? (or maybe we just wanted to finish watching the last season of our favourite series, but it’s the same thing). Or our boss asked us a small favour, or to work overtime, but we really had no idea of how to tell him that we didn’t feel like doing it? well, just know that there are many ways to decline a request, some more formal and some less. What really matters is picking the most appropriate way as to not sound rude.


1. The esiest way to decline a request is by saying:

“Mi dispiace, ma non posso.” → “I’m sorry, I can’t” Or “Mi dispiace, ma non mi è possibile” → “Sorry, it’s impossible for me”

You can use these in both formal and informal situations. Basically it’s already implied that you have other things to do, end there’s no need to further explain. You can also use these sentences when the reason you can’t do something isn’t because of lack of time, but rather a very specific reason for why you really can’t do that thing. For example, if somebody asks you to reveal a very important secret about your boss, you can definitely say “I’m sorry, I can’t”, and the reason would be obvious to anyone.


2. Other expressions that native Italian speakers often use are:

“Sono super impegnato/a.” → “I’m super busy” Or “sono straimpegnato/a” → “I’m extra busy”

These sentences aren’t ones that we would use in a formal context; but only in informal ones, for example when meeting a friend or a relative. “Super” e “stra” (extra), are mainly used in everyday life in place of “very”. These sentences already imply why you can’t accept the request: you have too many thiings to do and you really can’t make time for that thing.

A similar alternative (but a bit more popular in the area of Rome rather than the whole of Italy) is “Sto impicciato/a”. The “impicci”, are in fact, nothing more than commitments and things to do.


3. The third alternative is:

“Mi dispiace, ma non ho proprio tempo”. → “Sorry, but I really don’t have time”

It’s both a formal and informal impression, and can be used in any situation. The meaning conveyed by this sentence is that you have so many things to do that you really don’t have enough spare time to dedicate to what they are proposing you.

A similar expression, that also implies a lack of time, is “Sono mortificato/a, ma proprio non ce la faccio” (I’m so sorry, but I can’t make it). “Farcela” (to make it), in this case means “avere il tempo di fare qualcosa” (to have the time to do something).


4. A fourth way to say you are busy is:

“Ho un sacco di cose da fare” → “I have so many things to do” or “ho una montagna/una marea di cose da fare” → “I have a bunch of stuff to do” or again “Sono sommerso/a di cose da fare” → “I’m drowning in things to do”

The meaning is pretty much the same, and it can be used for, work, domestic matters or entertainment. Overall, this time as well your days are so full that you really don’t have any free time.


5. Other very popular sentences, similar to the previous ones, are:

“Mi dispiace, ma ho da fare” → “Sorry, but I have things to do” or “Mi dispiace ma ho alcuni servizi da fare” → “Sorry, I have some duties to attend to” or “Mi dispiace ma ho alcune faccende da sbrigare” → “Sorry, I have some things to take care of”

It’s not necessary to explain what you have to do, it’s implied that you won’t have time to do what you’ve been asked. In this case they are not very empathic sentences, and they may sound rude or impolite, especially in an informal context, where we know well who we are talking to. Truth be told, they are risky in formal situations as well, because they are just not very nice.


6. We could also say “Purtroppo è un periodo / una settimana / un giorno un po’ incasinato”. → “unfortunately it’s a rough period / week / day”.


7. Lastly, with no doubt, the most formal and polite way to say no to a proposal, is:

“Mi dispiace, ma al momento ho altre priorità” → “I’m sorry, right now I have other priorities”

Be careful though, because even this apparently harmless sentence, hides a threat. In some specific situations it may sound ironic and taunting. Exactly because it’s mainly a sentence for a formal context, it could be used ironically on purpose in a more informal context, kinda like: “figurati se mi metto a fare una cosa del genere, non ci penso neanche!” → “As if I would do something like that, not a chance!”

At any rate, if you really care about that person, or doing that specific thing, don’t just use these sentences to decline the invitation, rather make a proposition of your own: it could be another day, another time or another activity… but sure enough, the other person will appreciate your attempt at rescheduling your meeting and won’t feel offended. You could make an addition at the sentences, such as: “Che ne pensi invece della prossima settimana?” → “How about we do it next week instead?”. Or “E se lo rimandassimo a un periodo più tranquillo come per esempio…?” → “What if we postpone it at a more confortable period, like…?”

Well, you have probably already figured it out, when speaking Italian you must always pay attention to what you say, because you might unintentionally sound rude, and this happens very easyly when we want to decline a request, and we don’t want to offend our acquaintance. If I can give you a tip, if you don’t want to sound too rude, firstly try not to use the word “NO”, it always sound bad. rather, try to use a circomlocution or a more “convoluted” way to explain why you had to decline. I’m sure you are gonna make it!

I hope these alternatives will be useful for all those times your schedule will be too full to accept a request… and also, and mainly, for all those times somebody will ask you to do something extremely boring that really don’t want to do, and you don’t know how to get out of the situation! If you had a similar experience, tell us in the comments below! I really want to know how you got away with it!

And if you want to learn other ways to say TI AMO (I love you) to your one and only, and sound fancier while doing it, then take a look at the video we made on this subject.

Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!

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