Telephone phrases

Speaking on the telephone can be difficult because you can't see the other person. Here are some tips to help you on the phone:

Learn standard phrases

Phrases like "Speaking!" (when someone asks for you), or "Hold on please" (to ask someone to wait) help you to communicate your message in a few words. These phrases are very common, and you will hear them a lot on the phone.

Say "please" after you ask for something

For example, "Can I speak to John please?"
"Is Jane there please?"

There are two reasons to use "please". Firstly, it's polite to say "please" when you ask for something.

Secondly, because you say "please" at the end of your question, it shows the other person that you have finished speaking.

When you want the other person to do something (connect you to another person, take a message, etc) use can or could:

Can you put me through to David, please?
Could you take a message for me, please?

Don't say too much

A common mistake is to speak for too long, or give a lot of information. Decide what you want to say before you make the phone call. Use standard phrases and keep your sentences short.

Be prepared to give the spelling of your name or company

If the other person asks you to spell your name, company name, or give your address, make sure you know how to give the spelling! In English, you can use any word for the alphabet, including names, places, objects and concepts:

a for apple
b for Bertie
c for carrot
d for Denver
e for elephant
l for love

(and so on).

There's more help with spelling and giving your telephone number in our page Telephoning in English.

Useful telephoning phrases

These are standard phrases for the beginning of a conversation: how to answer the phone, ask for someone on the phone, and say that someone isn't there.

Answering the phone

When you pick up the phone, you can say:

Hello!
Good  morning / afternoon.
Sarah Jones speaking. (In a company)

Asking for someone

When you call a number and someone answers, you can ask to speak to someone with these phrases:

Can I speak to Sarah please?
Could you put me through to Sarah please? (put me through to = connect me with)
Is Sarah there please?
Is that Sarah? (When you think that the person answering the phone is the person you want to speak to.)

Replying

Here are ways that the person can reply:

You: Is that Sarah?
Person (Sarah): Yes, speaking!

You: Can I speak to Sarah please?
Person: One minute please. / Hold on please. / Just a minute.

Saying someone isn't there

I'm afraid Sarah isn't here at the moment.
She's away from her desk at the moment.
I'm sorry, but Sarah isn't in the office today. (Can I take a message?)
I think she's in a meeting.
Her line's engaged. (= She's on the telephone to another person.)

Practise your listening!

Listen to eight telephone conversations. You can also read the tapescript as you listen.

Conversation 1: Asking to speak to someone

ABC Company, Good morning.
Good morning. This is John from Supaprint. Can I speak to someone in the sales department please?
Just one moment…

Conversation 2: Asking to speak to someone

Hello, ABC Company
Could you put me through to Bill Smith please?
One moment please.

Conversation 3: Confirming your name

Can I speak to Sarah please?
Speaking.
Oh, hello Sarah. I'm calling about the order…

Conversation 4: Saying someone isn't there

Can I speak to Jenny please?
I'm sorry, but she isn't here at the moment.
Oh OK. I'll call back later.

Conversation 5: Saying someone isn't there

Can I speak to Jenny please?
I'm sorry, but she's out of the office.
Oh OK. I'll call back later.

Conversation 6: Saying someone isn't there

Can I speak to Jenny please?
I'm sorry, but she's away from her desk.
Oh OK. I'll call back later.

Conversation 7: Saying someone isn't there

Can I speak to Jenny please?
I'm sorry, but she's in a meeting.
Oh OK. I'll call back later.

Conversation 8: Saying someone isn't there

Can I speak to Jenny please?
I'm sorry, but her line's engaged.
Oh OK. I'll call back later.


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