Imagine you need to ask a favor from your boss or professor. You want them to help you quickly, but you don’t want to be disrespectful or add any pressure. In that case, is it correct to say “at your earliest convenience”?
It is correct to use “at your earliest convenience” to express that you want someone to do something soon politely. You can say or write it when you’re asking someone to do a favor or a task due soon, but you don’t want to put direct pressure on them. “Please sign this at your earliest convenience” is one example of how to use this prepositional phrase in a professional environment.
Here, we’ll explore the meaning and usage of “at your earliest convenience” and learn more about prepositional phrases that express location, position, and time.
What Does “At Your Earliest Convenience” Mean?
“At your earliest convenience” means “as soon as is possible for you” (source). However, while these two phrases have similar definitions, their connotations differ. In short, “at your earliest convenience” expresses less urgency and pressure than “as soon as possible.”
With the phrase “at your earliest convenience,” the speaker shifts the focus away from the task’s urgency and onto the listener’s schedule or availability. The listener – or the one who will complete the task or favor – takes ownership of the timeline when the speaker uses “at your earliest convenience” to make a request.
We usually see “at your earliest convenience” in very polite or formal conversations and correspondences. As such, it is a common phrase in business and academic settings. “At your earliest convenience” also adds a sense of politeness to a request and implies respect and deference for the other person’s schedule.
How Do You Use “At Your Earliest Convenience”?
You should use “at your earliest convenience” when you want to very politely express that a task has a time limit. This phrase is a bit formal, showing the reader or listener that you respect their time and schedule. But, at the same time, it expresses that you expect them to finish the task relatively soon.
“At your earliest convenience” is a prepositional phrase, and it usually comes at the very beginning or very end of a request. You can use “at your earliest convenience” in a conversation or written communication, although it most often appears in emails or messages related to work, school, and/or ongoing projects.
When Can You Use “At Your Earliest Convenience”?
You can use “at your earliest convenience” formally or professionally. You can say it in conversation or write it in correspondence. It is a very polite way to mention a time limit when you’re making a formal request in a business or academic setting.
When you use “at your earliest convenience,” you add formality and politeness to your speech or writing. So, it’s a great phrase to use in professional conversations, academic emails, or formal correspondence.
You can use “at your earliest convenience” when you need to express a flexible time limit in the near future; at the same time, you avoid putting any pressure on the other person.
In many business cultures, this deference and respect for the other person’s schedule and availability may actually raise your chances of getting the task back sooner than expected!
To learn more about formal phrases for professional messages, check out our article Is It Correct to Say “As Per Our Conversation”?
When Not to Use “At Your Earliest Convenience”
You should not use “at your earliest convenience” if there is no time limit on the task or favor that you are asking for. You don’t want to create pressure for your reader or listener: they might react negatively to the pressure and never complete what you’ve asked them to do!
At the same time, you should not use “at your earliest convenience” if a task is extremely urgent. This is because “at your earliest convenience” has a softer connotation and sends the message that the person is free to work at their own pace without regard to urgency.
So, if you absolutely need them to finish the task right now, you should opt for something like “as soon as possible” rather than “at your earliest convenience.” This clearly shows the urgency and time crunch: you will be more likely to get that task back faster.
Finally, you should reserve “at your earliest convenience” for formal situations. It would sound strange to use this phrase if you’re just asking a close friend for a quick favor. We use “at your earliest convenience” to show deference and respect for a person and their time: it’s not a popular phrase to use in an informal setting.
Using “At Your Earliest Convenience” in a Full Sentence
We use “at your earliest convenience” the same way we use any prepositional phrase that explains relative time: we use it to explain when something should happen relative to “now.” When we use “at your earliest convenience,” it describes a time coming shortly.
Like most prepositional phrases of time, you can use “at your earliest convenience at the beginning or the end of a sentence. Check out these examples of the prepositional phrase in action:
- At your earliest convenience, please return my call.
- I would like to discuss the project proposal at your earliest convenience.
- Could you please print and file that report at your earliest convenience?
- She said that she’d complete the transaction at her earliest convenience.
- At my earliest convenience, I’ll send those reports via email.
We use “at your earliest convenience” to describe a time in the future that is relative to “now.” In the first example, the speaker expects the listener to return their phone call sometime soon. In the second example, the writer anticipates a discussion with the reader.
In both cases, there is not a strong sense of urgency. Of course, these tasks are necessary, but there isn’t a sense that you should do them right now. Instead, “at your earliest convenience” implies plenty of time and flexibility to complete them as long as you do it in the near future.
You can also see that we can use any possessive pronoun in place of “your.” So, we can do things at our earliest convenience, or your friend can complete a task at his earliest convenience.
That personal possessive pronoun should always match the subject of the sentence. Take another look at the example sentences above and see how the personal possessive pronouns shift in each case.
What Can You Use Instead of “At Your Earliest Convenience”?
“As soon as possible” is more common than “at your earliest convenience.” Other popular replacements include “whenever it’s convenient,” “when you have time,” “at your earliest availability,” and “in the next few days/weeks/months.”
Here are some other phrases that you can use instead of “at your earliest convenience”:
- As soon as you can
- In the shortest possible time
- At the earliest opportunity
- As soon as practicable
- By tomorrow / by next week / by the 15th of November
For more information about using prepositional phrases to describe deadlines, check out our article What Does “By Tomorrow” Mean?
A prepositional phrase always includes a preposition and a noun or noun clause (source). Prepositions are words that describe the relative location, position, or time. Each preposition defines how two objects, times, or positions relate to one another.
For example, when you say, “The cup is on the table,” you are using a prepositional phrase to describe the physical location of the cup relative to the table. In the same way, you can say, “The cat is sleeping under the table.” You know the cat’s position relative to the table, thanks to the preposition “under.”
Or, you can use the prepositional phrases “on Thursday” or “in a minute” to describe a time relative to “now.” Here, “on” and “in” are the prepositions. Notice that the preposition always comes first in a prepositional phrase.
Every prepositional phrase includes a preposition and the object of the preposition. The object of the preposition is a noun (or noun clause) that gives the reference point; the object of the preposition explains who, what, or what time the preposition is describing (source).
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
For instance, in “at your earliest convenience,” the preposition is “at,” and the preposition’s object is “your earliest convenience.” So, the task or request’s timeline is relative to the availability of the listener; their schedule and availability will determine when the work is finished.
“At your earliest convenience” is a popular prepositional phrase in professional and academic settings. We use this phrase to make a request, ask a favor, or assign a task to someone. It adds a level of politeness and formality to the request and gives responsibility for the timing of the task to the other person.
You can use “at your earliest convenience” with your boss, professor, or teammates to show that you respect them and their time. It’s also a great way to promote flexibility and understanding among classmates, group project partners, or coworkers. However, it may sound strange if you use “at your earliest convenience” in casual or friendly situations.