We've all been in a situation where you either don't agree or don't understand something that has just been said. So, what do you do? Wait until the person has finished talking before asking or do you interrupt?

Although it is not polite to do so, interrupting happens all the time in both social and business situations. But there are ways in English to make it sound less direct and less rude.

In this online exercise you will learn different ways to and phrases for interrupting people and more importantly, different ways of dealing with interruptions in business English. First, read the below dialogue/conversation and then do the quiz/test at the end to learn how to both use the vocabulary and say/pronounce it perfectly.

Although the focus here is on business meetings, many of the phrases here can be used in other situations as well.

Click here to see more of our free online exercises on business meeting vocabulary


Exercise: Interruptions in a meeting

Read the following part of a department performance meeting where Steve and Jill are making recommendations to the Customer Service Department for changes to be made in their department.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Steve:'Over the last four weeks, myself and Jill have gone over the performance statistics for the customer service department, the response rates, closing down enquiry'

Fred:'Excuse me for interrupting, but who asked you to do this? I'm the Customer Service Manager and I wasn't aware that this was taking place.'

Steve:'It was the Sales and Service Director.

So, as I said we have looked at the different performance statistics and we have found that although the majority of teams are meeting their targets, they are doing it by manipulating the statistics rather than providing a good level of customer service.'

Fred:'Just a minute!, how can you say that? I haven't seen you down here reviewing my team!'

Steve:'Do you mind if I finish?

As I was just saying, our review has shown that the level of customer service isn't up to the appropriate standard. We came to this conclusion by monitoring a random selection of responses to customer emails and customer phone calls to the service desk.'

Sally:'Sorry to butt in, but may I just ask what the percentage of this random sample was?'

Steve:'Well, the sample covered the whole service desk and'

Jill:'If I can just come in here Steve. I was responsible for doing the monitoring. And over a period of two weeks, we monitored on average 5% of customer calls and 3% of emails.'

Sally:'To be honest I don't think that monitoring 5% of customer calls and 3% of emails gives a fair representation of the quality of service the customer service department is providing.'

Steve:'You may have a point there and it is something that we have thought about. But it's the standard random sample size we've used before.

So, as a result of our review we have come up with a number of recommendations that we feel should be implemented to the customer service department as soon as possible. The first of these is restructuring the teams to specialize on specific customer issues rather than on geographical areas, we'

Fred:'Hang on a minute! Have you thought about how long that will take and'

Jill:'I think you should let him finish!'

Steve:'Fred, let me come back to that later! As I was just saying,'

Fred:'I'm sorry, I don't think you have thought this through.'

Steve:'May I just finish! You'll have an opportunity to make any comments shortly.'



Quiz: How to interrupt & how to respond

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. A different way to say 'sorry to interrupt, can I ask', is
         

Sorry to butt in, but may I just ask:
(phrase) This structure is used when you have a question. The use of 'butt in' means that although this sentence is polite, it isn't formal. Non-native speakers will probably not understand the meaning of 'butt in', so it is better to use 'interrupt' when speaking with them. In Spanish: "siento interrumpirte, pero permítame decirte".

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Sorry to butt in, but may I just ask:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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2. When another person asks the person that has interrupted to stop and let the speaker continue, is
         

I think you should let him finish:
(phrase) This is a very polite way to ask the person that has interrupted to 'shut up' or 'be quiet'. A more direct way to say the same would be simply 'let him/her finish.' In Spanish: "creo que deberias dejarle terminar".

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I think you should let him finish:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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3. A very impolite way to interrupt somebody, is
         

Just a minute:
(phrase) This is rude, but is still commonly used. It is the same as saying 'hang on a minute'. It is often used when the person interrupting doesn't agree with what they have just heard, e.g. 'Just a minute, that doesn't make any sense'. In Spanish: "un momento".

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Just a minute:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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4. A direct way to say 'can I continue what I was saying' when you are interrupted by someone, is
         

May I just finish:
(phrase) This is very direct and although it's not as rude as saying 'can you shut up', it does suggest that you are not happy with them interrupting you. It has the same meaning as 'do you mind if I finish', which is a lot politer. In Spanish: "¡puedo terminar! ".

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May I just finish:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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5. A way to tell somebody that has interrupted you that what they have said is possibly valid, is
         

You may have a point there:
(phrase) In this polite phrase you are agreeing that the opinion or suggestion that somebody has made is possibly correct. It is often followed with 'I'll look into it'. This is not only used with interruptions, but also in other situations where questions are asked. In Spanish: "tal vez tengas razón".

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You may have a point there:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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6. A very polite way to interrupt somebody, is
         

Excuse me for interrupting, but:
(phrase) This polite phrase is often used when the person interrupting has a question to ask or doesn't agree with what they have just heard. In this second situation, it has a similar meaning to 'just a minute', e.g. 'Excuse me for interrupting, but what you said doesn't make any sense'. In Spanish: "perdone que le interrumpa, pero".

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Excuse me for interrupting, but:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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7. A way to say 'going back to where I stopped before the interruption', is
         

As I was just saying:
(phrase) This is the perfect phrase to inform the people listening that you are going to continue from where you were stopped when you were interrupted. It's used so people don't get lost. In Spanish: "como iba diciendo".

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As I was just saying:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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8. A polite way to deal with an interruption by saying you'll answer their question later, is
         

Let me come back to that later:
(phrase) This is a very polite response when somebody interrupts you with a question. It is sometimes used when the person speaking wants time to think about the answer. In Spanish: "dejeme hablar sobre eso mas tarde".

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Let me come back to that later:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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9. A polite way to say 'can I continue what I was saying' when you are interrupted by someone, is
         

Do you mind if I finish:
(phrase) This is a polite request, it's almost like asking their permission to continue with what you were saying. It has the same meaning as 'may I just finish', which is very direct and maybe a little rude. In Spanish: "te importaria se teminara".

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Do you mind if I finish:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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10. A phrase of interruption that a colleague uses when they want to add something to what you have said, is
         

If I can just come in here:
(phrase) This is a polite interruption. This is used for two main reasons. The first, is when someone is struggling to explain/answer something and a colleagues wants to help them. The second, is when a colleague wants to add some additional information to what has been said. In Spanish: "si puedo contestar/añadir".

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If I can just come in here:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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Practice

Now that you understand the interrupting in a business meeting vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences in English with the new words/phrases.