Here are some useful tips and phrases for telephoning in English.
Spelling on the phone
If you need to spell your name, or take the name of your caller, the biggest problem is often saying vowel sounds:
‘a’ is pronounced as in ‘may’
‘e’ is pronounced as in ’email’ or ‘he’
‘i’ is pronounced as in ‘I’ or ‘eye’
‘o’ is pronounced as in ‘no’
‘u’ is pronounced as ‘you’
‘g’ is pronounced like the ‘j’ in ‘jeans’
‘j’ is pronounced as in ‘DJ’ or ‘Jane’
‘w’ is pronounced ‘double you’
‘x’ is pronounced ‘ex’
‘y’ is pronounced ‘why’
‘z’ is pronounced ‘zed’ (rhymes with ‘bed’ in British English), or ‘zee’ (rhymes with ‘sea’ in American English).
Tip: Keep a note of how you say these letters by your telephone.
Saying telephone numbers
Here’s a phone number: 0171 222 3344
And here’s how to say it:
“Oh-one-seven-one, triple two, double three, double four.”
“Zero-one-seven-one, triple two, double three, double four.”
When you say a seven digit number, separate the number into two blocks of three and four, pausing after each block.
Each digit is spoken separately, unless it’s a double or triple. If the second part of the number was ‘5555’, you’ll probably find it easier to say ‘double five – double five’.
Saying email addresses on the phone
@ is pronounced ‘at’. For instance, email@example.com is “clare, at, gmail, dot, com”.
/ is “forward slash”.
– is called a “hyphen” or a “dash”.
_ is an “underscore”.
Example telephone conversations
Here are examples of typical telephoning language:
You: “Can I speak to (Mr Smith), please?” or “Is (Mr Smith) there, please?”
Receptionist: “May I ask who’s calling?” or “Could I have your name, please?”
You: “Yes, this is Tom McIvor speaking.”
Many people don’t identify themselves when they make or receive a phone call. Even at home, they normally pick up the phone and say “Hello”. But they won’t be offended if you ask for their name.
Leaving or taking a message
“I’m afraid Mr Smith is…
… out of the office today.”
… off sick today.”
… in a meeting.”
… on holiday.”
or “I’m afraid his line is engaged.”
“…Would you like to leave a message?”
You: “Could you ask him to call me back?” or “Could you ask him to return my call?”
Receptionist: “Does he have your number?” or “What’s your number, please?”
The receptionist uses “I’m afraid” or “I’m sorry” if he or she can’t connect you.
If the receptionist doesn’t offer to take a message, you can ask to leave one.
You: “Could I leave a message, please?”
Receptionist: “Yes, certainly.” or “Yes, of course.”
Social talk on the phone
If you know the person, or have spoken before, it’s normal to chat for a few seconds before saying why you are calling.
You: “Hello, this is (Tom McIvor) speaking.” or “Hello, this is (Tom McIvor).”
You might also want to add your company name: “This is (Tom McIvor) from (McIvor Worldwide).”
The other person: “Hello, how are you?”
You: “Fine, thanks. And you?”
The other person: “Very well, thanks.”
or “Not bad.”
or “Can’t complain.”
or “A bit busy” etc.
You: “Oh good.”
or “Oh right.”
or “Glad to hear that.”
If someone asks you how you are, respond (positively!) and return the question. This social talk can be extended. You could ask about a project you know the person is working on, or a mutual friend, or the person’s family.
You: “Hello, this is (Tom McIvor). How are you?”
Other person: “Fine, and yourself?”
You: “Fine, thanks. How’s the restructuring going?”
Other person: “Well, we’re pretty busy, as you can imagine.”
You: “Yes, I can! Anyway, I’m calling about…”
To introduce the subject of your call, you can use words such as ‘anyway’, or ‘well’, or ‘right’.
Remember, if you haven’t spoken to the person before, or don’t know them, then social talk is inappropriate – get straight to the reason for your call.
Telephoning in English – calling someone you don’t know
Perhaps a colleague has asked you to call someone. You don’t know the person, so you should introduce yourself and mention your colleague’s name.
You: “Hello, this is (Sarah Brown) calling, from (McIvor Worldwide).”
Other person: “Hello, what can I do for you?”
or “Hello, how can I help you?”
You: “I’m calling on behalf of (Tom McIvor)…”
or “(Tom McIvor) suggested that I call you.”
or “(Tom McIvor) asked me to call you.”
Telephoning in English problems
Here are some things you can say if you have problems during the phone call:
When you can’t hear someone
“I’m sorry, could you speak up, please?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you very well.”
“I’m sorry, the line’s bad – could you repeat what you just said?”
When you don’t understand what someone says
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that please?”
“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” (Or, for example, “I didn’t catch your surname” when you want someone to repeat their name for you.)
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Could you say it again, please?”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you. Could you repeat it, please?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand. Would you mind explaining it again, please?”
When you want to correct what the other person has said
“Actually, it’s 16, not 60.” (Stress the two words where there is confusion – in this example the 16 and the 60.)
“I’m sorry, but I think there’s been a misunderstanding. The payment’s due next week, not next month.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not quite right..” (When you refer back to what someone has just said. You then go on to say what IS right.)
Checking that you understand something
“So if I understand you correctly…”
“When you say… do you mean…?”
Telephone English tips
* try to speak clearly and don’t be afraid to speak more slowly than normal.
* think about what you want to say before calling.
* don’t be afraid to ask your caller to repeat themselves if you don’t understand.
For more help with telephoning, check out Telephone Phrases.
Check out our video!
Try our telephoning in English quiz!
Level: Pre-intermediate and above
- @ = 'at'
- ''Double three'' is fine, and ''three three three three'' is also fine. ''Four three'' could mean 43.
- Say ''please'' at the end of your request. Firstly, because it's polite, and secondly, because the other person knows you have finished speaking.
- ''Who's there?'' sounds impolite. When you give your name, say ''speaking'' after giving your name (not ''I am'' or ''My name is''.)
- Say ''speaking'' when someone asks for you by name.
- After ''I'm afraid'' you don't need ''but''. (You can use ''but'' in ''I'm sorry but...'')
- Either, ''Could I leave'' or ''Could you take'' ... a message, please.
- Hello, this is (name) / Hello, this is (name) speaking (from company name)
- Remember: ''repeat that'' (because ''that'' refers back to what the person said)
- ''I didn't catch...'' is a useful phrase if you didn't understand or hear the other person.
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