AFK Meaning and Use Cases

Learning updated on  February 20, 2024 4 min read

AFK is an abbreviation for “away from keys” or “away from keyboard.”

Sometimes you need a quick and easy way to let someone know you have to go. When you type "AFK" or “afk,” it lets the person or people you’re talking to know that you’re away from your phone or computer for some length of time and probably won’t answer right away.

What is the origin of AFK?

According to the Dictionary.com listing for the term, the AFK acronym became a thing in the late 1980s. People began typing it in Internet Relay Chat to let those they were talking to know they wouldn’t be responding for a while.

Dictionary.com explains, “AFK, frequently written as the lowercase afk, can be found as early as 1989 when the online newsletter Fidonet listed it along with a few other old-school internet acronyms such as brb and lol.”

AFK meaning in text

When you’re texting, you’re usually on the go. That’s the whole point of a mobile phone, right?

When you text someone “AFK,” you’re letting them know that you’re taking a brief break from the conversation. Although AFK stands for “away from keyboard,” you usually always have your cellphone keyboard on or around you, so it kind of takes on a slightly varied meaning.

You might not be literally away from your keyboard, but you’re unable to respond in a timely manner, and you’re just letting the other person know so they aren’t hanging around waiting for a response right away.

Examples: AFK in text
I'm helping Joey with his homework, AFK.
afk, battery's gonna die
Going to be AFK for a bit, heading into doctor's appointment

AFK meaning in gaming

For online gamers, AFK is an easy way to let their gaming buddies and teammates know when they have to step back from the game for a moment. Whether the gamer is having an offline conversation, facing connectivity issues, or needs to go do the dishes, AFK is a simple way to communicate and ensure their gaming team isn’t left hanging.

The abbreviation’s frequent use in the gaming community has led to a second AFK meaning: a person who is away from their keyboard a lot might also be called "an AFK."

Examples: AFK in gaming
Player 1: Play soon? Maybe 3 PM? Player 2: Can't, AFK today. Next time.
vacation tmrw, will be afk
He AFK'd but came back after 30 minutes.

AFK meaning in chat

AFK can be used in a variety of other situations involving a keyboard.

You might need to drive your kid to school when they missed the bus, so you’d message your manager over Slack that you’ll be “AFK for 20 mins.” You might be sending memes in a group chat on Instagram when your grandma arrives and rings the doorbell: “AFK, family’s over.”

Whatever the case may be, AFK is used as a courtesy toward whoever you’re talking to. If you were on the other side of things, you’d want your conversation partner to let you know when they can’t talk.

Imagine speaking to someone face to face and they suddenly walk away without any warning. That’s what it’s like not using AFK or some other signifier that you’ll be gone for a period of time.

Examples: AFK in chat
Repairman just got here - AFK while I show him the problem
afk, going to soccer practice
I'll be AFK all afternoon for a family reunion

When not to use AFK

Let’s face it: not every conversation held online is casual. More people than ever are working from home, conducting interviews over the internet, and having important conversations through email.

Abbreviations are better left for casual conversation. More formal conversations require correct capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and fully-typed phrases and sentences.

These are a few examples of when you’ll make a much better impression by not using AFK:

  • When talking to your teacher or professor
  • When giving a job interview through a chat platform
  • When setting an away message for your email
  • When talking to an older person who may not understand the acronym

Some settings have made the away-from-keyboard acronym unnecessary. One example is Zoom, which lets you indicate you’re gone by setting your status to “Away.”

Writing without AFK

An abbreviation like AFK can be just what you need at times. But when you have to write a more complete message in correct English for those job interviews, work chats, and emails, you need something more. You might say, “I’ll be right back” or “I need to step away for a few minutes.”

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Is there an abbreviation for returning to your keyboard?

The most common abbreviation for returning to your phone or computer seems to be BAK, which is short for “back at keyboard.” However, it’s not used anywhere near as often as AFK.

What is the meaning of AFK in Roblox?

During online games, communication that’s short and easy to type is most efficient. Gamers use AFK to let each other know they’ll be “away from keyboard,” meaning they won’t be playing or responding for a while.

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Hannah Skaggs

Along with Paige Pfeifer

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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