My friends say that, when it comes to going out, I’m the queen of excuses. But hey, I’m just a busy girl! Thinking about this, I remembered that many Spanish learners have asked me before what words of expression they can use to say ‘busy’ in Spanish.
Some of the most common expressions and words that we use to say busy in Spanish include:
- Ocupado – Busy
- Tener muchas cosas que hacer – To have a lot of things to do
- Estar hasta el cuello – To be up to your neck
- Atareado – To be rushed / busy
- Andar en friega – To be slammed
- Estar a full – To be busy
- Lleno – To be busy / crowded
As a direct translation of ‘busy’, some of these words are also used to express that a place is full with people.
And of course, knowing how to say I’m busy in Spanish can help you give better excuses for things you don’t want to do. Just kidding! Jokes aside, this can actually help you communicate better in a wide range of situations.
As a result, in this article, I’ve compiled a list of the 7 most common ways to say ‘busy’ in Spanish. Given that some of these expressions might be informal, I’ll make sure to include a description so you know when to use each one of these expressions.
I’ll also include examples, phrase structures and some popular variations so you have a better idea of how to apply these words and phrases into your vocabulary.
By the end of this, you’ll have learned how to say busy in Spanish!
1. Ocupado – Busy
As you may already know, ocupado or ocupada is one of the most common ways to say ‘busy’ in Spanish. In fact, this word is the direct translation of ‘occupied’ and ‘busy’. Since this is a standard term, ‘ocupado’ can be used in both formal and informal contexts.
Something that you need to keep in mind is that ‘ocupado’ is an adjective. To put it simply, this word needs to match the gender and the number of the person that is describing.
Also, even though you might be busy all the time, ocupado is considered a temporary state, so it usually works with verbs that describe these temporary states, such as ‘estar’ and ‘andar’. Here are some examples so you can learn how to apply ‘ocupado’ in Spanish. Notice that you can use the following words to intensify your sentence:
- Siempre – Always
- Un poco – A little
- Muy – Very
[‘Estar’/’Andar’ conjugated] + ocupado
Betty, ¿estás ocupada el sábado?
Betty, are you busy on Saturday?
Mis papás andan muy ocupados con su trabajo.
My parents are very busy with their work.
Entre semana, el Sr. Johnson siempre está ocupado.
During the week, Mr. Johnson is always busy.
Perdón que no fuera, pero estaba muy ocupada.
I’m sorry that I didn’t go, but I was very busy.
Notice that in casual or informal contexts, you can use the verb andar as a synonym of ‘estar’.
Take Note: In other contexts, ocupado can be used to express that a place or object is already being used or occupied by another person. So, in this situation, ‘ocupado’ means taken or occupied.
Esta silla está ocupada.
This chair is taken.
¿Sabes si el baño está ocupado?
Do you know if the bathroom is occupied?
2. Tener muchas cosas que hacer – To have a lot of things to do
Another common way (and my personal favorite) to say ‘busy’ in Spanish is by using the expression tener muchas cosas que hacer which can be translated as ‘to have a lot on your plate’ or, literally, ‘to have a lot to do’.
Since this expression is very blunt, it’s better if you use it among friends, family or people with whom you have enough confidence or familiarity to be candid. Some variations of this expression include:
- (Tener) un montón de cosas que hacer
- (Tener) un montón de pendientes
Both of these expressions also mean ‘to have a lot on your plate’ or ‘have a lot to do’. However, the word pendientes implies more urgency since it refers to things that you haven’t finished. Yes, you guessed correctly, this is my favorite of all!
Here is how you use these expressions. Notice that, if you want, you can use a noun to specify what are those things that you need to do.
[‘Tener’ conjugated] + [expression/variation] + (noun)
No puedo ir, tengo muchas cosas que hacer.
I can’t go, I’ve a lot of things to do.
Chris no vino porque tiene un montón de tarea.
Chris didn’t come, because he has a lot of homework to do.
¿Podemos ir mañana? La verdad, tengo un montón de pendientes.
Can we go tomorrow? To be honest, I have a lot of things to do.
Related Resource: How to Conjugate Tener in Spanish.
3. Estar hasta el cuello – To be up to your neck
Estar hasta el cuello is an informal way to say ‘busy’ in Spanish. As a result, this expression is only suitable for casual conversations. Just as its English equivalent, this phrase implies that a person is extremely busy and overwhelmed with tasks. ‘Estar hasta el cuello’ can be translated as:
- Be up to your neck
- Be up to your eyeballs
You could also use estar hasta las cejas, which is a variation that’s equivalent in meaning.
Below is a phrase structure that will show you how to use this phrase in Spanish. Notice that, if you want, you can be more specific and mention the tasks that are keeping you busy.
[‘Estar’ conjugated] + hasta el cuello + de + (noun)
¿Cómo estás? Yo he estado hasta el cuello de trabajo.
How are you? I’ve been up to my neck with work.
La semana pasada estuvimos hasta el cuello de tarea.
Last week we’re up to our eyeballs with homework.
Como firmamos un nuevo proyecto, estamos hasta el cuello.
Since we signed a new contract, we’re very overwhelmed.
4. Atareado – To be rushed / busy
In Spanish, atareado is a slightly more formal way to say that someone is busy. This word implies that the person is not only busy, but is also in a hurry to finish whatever they’re doing. As a result, atareado can be translated either as ‘rushed’ or ‘busy’.
This word has plural and feminine forms, so make sure that this adjective matches the person that you’re talking about. You could also use the variation ajetreado as a replacement for ‘atareado’.
[‘Estar’’ conjugated] + atareado/ajetreado
Mi mamá está atareada preparando la cena de Navidad.
My mom is busy preparing Christmas dinner.
He estado muy atareada con los trabajos finales.
I’ve been very busy with my final papers.
¿Qué necesitas, hija? Estoy un poco ajetreado.
What do you need, daughter? I’m a bit rushed.
Take Note: Ajetreado can also be used to express that a place (such a restaurant) is busy or filled with people.
5. Andar en friega – To be slammed
In Mexican slang, we use the expression andar en friega to describe that a person has a lot on his or her plate, and as result, he or she is overwhelmed with work or tasks. This expression also implies that, given their workload, people are rushed. As its a slang expression, it doesn’t have a direct translation, but it’s close in meaning to:
- To be slammed
- To be up to someone’s ears in work
- To be busy as a bee
Andar en friega is a very informal way to say ‘busy’ in Spanish. In other words, you just want to use it with friends and family. Additionally, keep in mind that this expression is only suitable in Mexico.
[‘Andar’ conjugated] + en friega + (complement)
No te llamé, porque anduve en friega todo el día.
I didn’t call you, because I was slammed all day.
Sammy me dijo que andará en friega hasta mañana.
Sammy told me that she’ll be super busy until tomorrow.
El sábado pasado, mi novio anduvo en friega arreglando su depa.
Last Saturday, my boyfriend was busy as a bee cleaning his apartment.
No te preocupes, sé que has andando en friega los últimos días.
Don’t worry, I know you’ve been up to your ears in work the last few days.
Notice that even though it’s close in meaning to ‘busy as a bee’, andar en friega is not nearly as cute as this expression. So don’t forget to use it in the appropriate contexts.
6. Estar a full – To be busy
Estar a full is also an informal way to say ‘busy’ in Latin American Spanish speaking countries. In this context, ‘estar a full’ doesn’t have a direct translation, but it’s very close in meaning to ‘busy’, ‘to be slammed’ ‘to be up to your neck’ or ‘to be up to be your ears’.
Here are some examples of how to use this slang Latin American expression. Notice that just like any other expression, it’s up to you if you want to mention the activities or things that are keeping you busy.
[‘Estar’ conjugated] + a full + (complement)
Sally estuvo a full este mes.
Sally was slammed this month.
No agendes más citas, hoy estoy a full.
Don’t schedule any more appointments, I’m slammed today.
Afortunadamente, hemos estado a full en la oficina.
Fortunately, we’ve been very busy in the office.
La semana que viene Sonia estará a full de trabajo.
Next week Sonia will be up to her neck with work.
Take Note: In Latin American Spanish, estar a full can also express that people are full with energy, that they’re in their best moment or very committed to something. In this case, you need to make sure to pay attention to the context.
7. Lleno – To be busy / crowded / packed
If you want to express that a place has a lot of activity or people on it, then, you need to use the word lleno. To put it simply, ‘lleno’ is the Spanish word that we use to express that a business or a place is busy, crowded, packed or full.
Keep in mind that, in Spanish, places can also be masculine, plural or feminine. As a result, you need to make sure that you use lleno, llena, llenos or llenas properly. Also, if you want to spice up your vocabulary, you can use its variation concurrido which is a more formal way to say that a place is busy.
Below is a phrase structure that will help you incorporate ‘lleno’ into your conversations. Notice that if, like me, you like to intensify or exaggerate your sentences, you can use llenísimo.
[Verb conjugated] + (adv) + lleno
Vámonos, este lugar está llenísimo.
Let’s go, this place is super busy.
Los autobuses van llenos a esta hora.
The busses are packed at this time.
A mis amigos les gusta ir a bares concurridos.
My friends like going to crowded bars.
El restaurante está muy concurrido en las mañanas.
The restaurant is very busy in the mornings.
Take Note: In Spanish, lleno is also the direct translation of ‘full’. As a result, this word can also be used to explain that a place or a person is full. In other words, if you ate too much, you can use ‘lleno’ to describe this feeling.
Estoy llenísima, no puedo comer más postre.
I’m super full, I can’t eat more dessert
En verano, las playas están llenas.
During summer, the beaches are full.
Even though you might already know that ocupado means ‘busy’, there are other very common ways to describe this state in Spanish. Since this vocabulary can help you describe your day to day life, in this article, we’ve learned 7 different expressions and words to say ‘busy’ in Spanish.
Although I included a lot of standard terms, there are also some expressions that are only suitable for more informal contexts. So next time you need to tell someone that you or another friend is ‘busy’, make sure you read the descriptions to choose the expressions that are more suitable for that context.
Hopefully, now you have a bigger vocabulary that will allow you to say ‘busy’ in Spanish like a pro! ¡Suerte!