How To Understand English Phone Calls

Phone calls can be difficult because you can’t see the other person. But they’re also difficult because we often use phrasal verbs in English phone calls.

Here are ten common phrasal verbs which will help you understand the other person – and sound more natural – when you’re on the phone.

Put someone through

This means “connect someone”. If you call a company and want to speak to a particular person, you can say:

“Can you put me through to (name of person) please?”

Then you might hear the receptionist say:
“Just putting you through!”

Call back / Ring back / Phone back

This means “return someone’s call”. If you want to speak to a person who isn’t there, you can ask:

“Can you ask him / her to call me back please?”

We also use this phrasal verb when we call a person with the information they wanted. For example:
“I’m just calling you back about …”

Hold on / Hang on

This means “wait!” If you need to get some information or put someone through you can say:

“Hold on just a minute – I’ll get him / her for you” Or
“Hang on a sec!” (“Sec” = “a second”)

Hang up

When you “hang up” you finish the call. For example, if the line is bad and you can’t hear the other person, you might decide to stop the call and start a new call – maybe the line quality will be better. So you say:

“I’m going to hang up and call you back.”

Get through

This means that you’re able to connect on the phone. Maybe you try a phone number lots of times – but it’s always busy / engaged, or the person never answers. You can say:

“I’ve been trying to get through to (the doctors) all morning!”

Cut off

“Cut off” is when the line goes dead. You can say “cut someone off” or “we were cut off”. For example, when you call the other person back you can say:

“I think we just got cut off.”

Also, your phone company will cut you off (disconnect your service) if you don’t pay your phone bills!

Switch off / Turn off

When you switch off or turn off your phone (or any electrical device) then you disconnect the power so it doesn’t work.

“Please switch your phone off in the cinema.”

You can say “switch off your phone” or “switch your phone off”.

Tied up

When you’re tied up, you’re busy. So if you can’t speak to someone, it could be because they are very busy at the moment. For example:

“I’m afraid that (name of person) is tied up in meetings all day.”

Speak up

You can say this if you can’t hear the other person. Maybe their voice is faint, or it’s a bad line. Say:

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. Could you speak up a bit please?”

Put the phone down on someone

When this happens, the other person closes the phone call without saying good bye. Maybe they’re angry with you!

“I can’t believe it! He put the phone down on me!”


Join My New Phrasal Verb Training Program!

Want to use phrasal verbs confidently in business situations?

Join my 3-week training program to help you understand and use phrasal verbs to talk about products and services and when you communicate with your customers.

The first edition of this training program has now closed for registration. Join the waiting list below to be the first to hear when it’s open again!