Sometimes when you phone people you won't have their direct phone number or cell/mobile number. In these situations, when you call them you will have to ask somebody else (often a receptionist) to connect/transfer your call through to them.

What you say when making these type of phone calls is different in some ways to what you say when calling somebody's phone directly. In addition, what you say when asking to speak to someone changes if you know or have had contact with the person you are calling for before or not. Although you say the same types of things when starting these phone calls (who you want to speak to, who you are and why you are calling), how you say it is different.

Do you know the person?

If you don't know the person or have had no contact with them before, you have to use more formal phrases and vocabulary both when asking to speak to them and when actually speaking to them. If you have, then you can use less formal phrases and vocabulary.

Although it is difficult to make phone calls in English if it isn't your first language, if you already know what to say, how to say it and what people will say to you, it makes them a lot easier to do.

In the below exercise on English telephone phrases, you will learn and remember phrases and vocabulary you can use when asking to speak to somebody (either somebody you know or you don't). In addition, you will learn what people will ask you on these types of telephone conversations.

Although the below examples are business calls, you can use and hear the phrases in them when you make calls for non-business reasons (e.g. to contact your bank etc...) as well.


Exercise:

In each of the two following telephone conversations, a person (the caller) is asking to speak to somebody in a company. Although both are very similar, there are differences in what the caller asks for.

In the first, the caller want to speak to somebody in a specific department. In the second, the caller gives the reason why they are calling.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are and when you should use them in a telephone call. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Telephone Call 1:

Receptionist:'Good morning. Ward Computers. How can I help you?'

Caller:'Good morning. Can I speak to Peter Thomas, please.'

Receptionist:'Who is calling, please?'

Caller:'It's William Smith from Tennessee Supplies. He knows me.'

Receptionist:'May I ask what it is regarding?'

Caller:'It's about some issues with an order we recently made with yourselves.'

Receptionist:'If you'd just hold the line for a minute, I'll see if he is available.'

Caller:'Thank you'


Telephone Call 2:

Receptionist:'Good morning. The Housing Corporation. How can I help you?'

Caller:'Good morning. I'd like to speak to Sue Perkins, please.'

Receptionist:'May I ask who is calling?'

Caller:'My name's John Smith from Leeds City Council and I'm returning her call.'

Receptionist:'If you'd just hold the line for a minute, I'll see if she is available.'

Caller:'Thank you.'



Click to see more telephone English vocabulary exercises



Quiz:

Below is a definition/description of each of the 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. 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 reason you can give for calling the person, is
         

I'm returning her call:
(phrase) This is a reason you give for calling and means the person rang/phoned you earlier but you didn't speak to them then.

When you ask to speak to someone it is normal to explain the reason why you want or need to speak to them. You can either tell them the reason yourself when you give them your name and where you work or after they have asked you why you are calling.

Normally to explain the reason you would start by saying 'it's regarding', 'it's concerning', 'it's about' or 'I'm calling about' and then give the reason. But for some reasons you don't have to do this. You can just give the reason.

'I'm returning his/her call' is one these reasons where you can do this.

For example:

'May I ask what it's regarding?'

'I'm returning his call.'

Another reason where you can also do this is 'I spoke to him/her earlier'.

Close

I'm returning her call:

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.

       

Close

2. A way to tell the person your name if you have never had contact with the person you want to speak to, is
         

My name's John Smith:
(phrase) When you are asking to speak to somebody, you will always be asked after you have said who you want to speak to, who you are. If you have never had any contact (or very little) with the person you want to speak to, you should use formal vocabulary and phrases when speaking (especially at the beginning of the call).

A formal way to say who you are, is to say 'my name's' and then your full name (first name and surname).

Normally if it is a business call you are making, directly after you have given your name you should say which company or organisation you work for. When you use 'my name's' to say your name, you follow it by saying 'and I'm calling from' and then the name of company/organisation you work for.

For example:

'My name's Simon Pecker and I'm calling from Easy Software.'

If you know the person you are asking to speak to, you can use less formal vocabulary and phrases on the call. And a less formal way to tell the person who you are is to use 'it's' and then your name (e.g. 'it's Simon Pecker'). But even if you know the person, you can still use 'my name's' if you want.

Close

My name's John Smith:

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.

       

Close

3. How you say who you want to talk to when you know the person you are calling for, is
         

Can I speak to Peter Thomas, please:
(phrase) The first thing you say on a phone call (after the greeting (i.e. say hello)) when asking to speak to somebody, is to say who you want to talk to. If you know the person you want to speak to, you don't have to use formal vocabulary and phrases on the phone call (but it is no problem if you do).

A non-formal (or normal) way to say who you want to speak to, is to say 'can I speak to' and then the person's full name and then 'please'.

For example:

'Can I speak to Patricia Jones, please.'

Although it sounds more formal, it's no problem to use 'I'd like to speak to...' instead of 'can I speak to...' if you know the person you want to speak to.

Close

Can I speak to Peter Thomas, please:

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.

       

Close

4. What you say after the person tells you they are going to check if the person you are calling for is available, is
         

Thank you:
(phrase) When you have said who you want to speak to, who you are and why you want to speak to them, the person who you are speaking to will have to check if the person you are calling for can or wants to take your call.

When this happens, they will put you 'on hold' (where you will normally hear music). Before they put you 'on hold', they will tell you something similar to 'If you'd just hold the line for a minute, I'll see if she is available'.

It is polite when they say this to you, that you repond/reply by saying 'thank you'.

For example:

'If you'd just hold the line for a minute, I'll see if she is available.'

'Thank you.'

Close

Thank you:

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 the person that you have had direct contact with the person you are calling for before, is
         

He knows me:
(phrase) Although it is not necessary, you can say that you know the person who you are calling for. And you do this by saying 'he/she knows me'.

If you do this, you would say it after you have told them your name and who you work for.

For example:

'It's Simon Pecker from Easy Software. She knows me.'

Close

He knows me:

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. When you explain to the person the reason why you are calling, you can start by saying
         

It's about:
(phrase) When you are calling a company or organisation, one of the first things they will ask you is why you are calling. One phrase that you can use to start explaining the reason is 'it's about'. You would follow this by saying the reason.

For example:

'May I ask what it's regarding?'

'It's about an invoice that we still haven't received payment on.'

In addition to 'it's about', you can also use 'it's regarding', 'it's concerning' or 'I'm calling about' as a way to explain the reason you are calling for. All of these have the same meaning, but 'it's about' and 'I'm calling about' sound less formal and than either 'it's regarding' or 'it's concerning'. But all are perfectly fine to use in most business calls.

Close

It's about:

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.

       

Close

7. A way to tell the person your name if you know the person you want to speak to, is
         

It's William Smith:
(phrase) When you are asking to speak to somebody, you will always be asked after you have said who you want to speak to, who you are. If you know the person you want to speak to, you don't have to use formal vocabulary and phrases when speaking (but it is no problem if you do).

A non-formal (or normal) way to say who you are, is to say 'it's' and then your full name (first name and surname).

Normally if it is a business call you are making, directly after you have given your name you should say which company or organisation you work for. When you use 'it's' to say your name, you follow it by saying 'from' and then the name of company you work for.

For example:

'It's Simon Pecker from Easy Software.'

Although it sounds more formal, it's no problem to use 'my name's' to say who you are when asking to speak to somebody you know.

Close

It's William Smith:

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.

       

Close

8. How you say who you want to talk to when you don't know the person you are calling for, is
         

I'd like to speak to Sue Perkins, please:
(phrase) The first thing you say on a phone call (after the greeting (i.e. say hello)) when asking to speak to somebody, is to say who you want to talk to. If you have never had any contact (or very little) with the person you want to speak to, you should use formal vocabulary and phrases when speaking (especially at the beginning of the call).

A formal way to say who you want to speak to, is to say 'I'd like to speak to' and then the person's full name and then 'please'.

For example:

'I'd like to speak to Patricia Jones, please.'

If you know the person you are asking to speak to, you can use less formal vocabulary and phrases on the call. And a less formal way to tell the person who you want to speak to is to use 'can I speak to...' instead of 'I'd like to speak to....'.

Close

I'd like to speak to Sue Perkins, please:

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.

       

Close






Practice

Now that you understand the vocabulary, you need to use it. So imagine you are making a phone call to somebody and say the phrases.