Making a phone call in English to somebody if English isn't your first language makes a lot of people nervous. Some people get so scared that they avoid making them. But if you know what to say and what the other person will say to you at the start of the phone call, the rest of the phone call shouldn't be that difficult.

Although similar, what you say at the beginning of a phone call if you are calling somebody directly (you are calling their mobile/cell phone or their landline number) is different in some ways to if you have to call reception and ask to be transferred to them.

For both types of calls what you say changes if you know or have had contact with the person you are calling or not. If you don't know the person or had no contact with them before, you have to use more formal phrases and vocabulary when introducing yourself and speaking to them. If you have, then you can use less formal phrases and vocabulary, and (for direct calls) begin the conversation by asking how they are.

In addition, if you know the person and are calling their mobile/cell phone directly, you don't need to confirm the name of the person you are calling. If it is a landline phone you are calling, you may have to (if the person doesn't say who they are first).

In the below exercise on English telephone phrases, you will learn and remember phrases and vocabulary for what to say at the start of the conversation when calling somebody directly. You will not only learn what you can say depending on the situation (if you know the person well, not very well or never had any contact with them before), but you will also learn what the other person will ask you in 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 three following telephone conversations, a person is calling somebody directly. Although all three are very similar, there are differences in what the caller says depending on the amount of contact the caller has had with the person they are calling before.

In the first, the caller knows the person well. In the second, the caller doesn't know the person well. And in the third, the caller doesn't know the caller or had any contact with the person before.

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:

Simon:'Hello.'

William:'Hello Simon, It's William Smith from Tennessee Supplies.'

Simon:'Hello William, how are you?'

William:'I'm fine. Busy like always, but that's nothing new. And how are you?'

Simon:'Good. Just preparing for a presentation that I'm going to give in Boston next week.'

William:'They take a long time to prepare.'

Simon:'Yes they do. Anyway, how can I help you today?'

William:'The reason I'm calling is to ask you if you have thought anymore about what we spoke about last week.'


Telephone Call 2:

Nigel:'Hello.'

John:'Hello. Is that Nigel Robertson?'

Nigel:'Yes, it is.'

John:'Good afternoon, Nigel. My name's John Bridges and I'm calling from Trent Construction.'

Nigel:'Good afternoon, John. '

John:'I don't know if you remember, but we met each other about 6 months ago at a meeting in Nottingham.'

Nigel:'Of course I do. It was the meeting at the city council building, wasn't it?'

John:'Yes, it was.'

Nigel:'How are you?'

John:'I'm fine. And you?'

Nigel:'Good, thank you. How can I help you?'

John:'The reason I'm calling is that we received an email from your company on building equipment.'


Telephone Call 3:

Jim:'Jim Pritchard speaking.'

John:'Good morning. My name's John Smith and I'm calling from Orange Systems.'

Jim:'Hello John. How can I help you?'

John:'The reason that I'm calling is that we are thinking of placing an advertisement in your newspaper and we'd like to know about the prices that you charge.'



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 more polite way to say 'hi' which you use just before you tell the person you're calling who you are, is
         

Good afternoon:
(greeting) At the beginning of a phone call it is normal to greet the other person (to say 'hi', 'hello' etc...) just before you say who you are. If you don't know the person you are calling (or had little contact with them before) it is more polite to use a formal greeting to do this. An example of a formal greeting is 'good afternoon'.

If you know the name of the person you are speaking with (you knew it either before the call or they told you it when they answered), you can say the first name after saying the greeting (e.g. 'Good afternoon, Simon.'). If you are calling a customer you don't know, you should only use their surname and title (e.g. 'Good afternoon, Miss Smith', 'Good morning, Mr Howards' etc...)

A few people may see it as unprofessional to use their first name when speaking to them if they haven't given you permission to do so first or haven't already introduced themselves using their first name only. So unless they have done this, I would suggest that if you don't know the person it is probably best not to say their first name after the greeting. Just use the greeting.

'good afternoon' is one of three formal greetings that you can use with people (the other two being 'good morning' and 'good evening'). Which one you use depends on the time of day.

If you are calling in the morning (before 12pm/midday), you should use 'good morning'. If you are calling from 12pm/midday to just before 7pm, you should use 'good afternoon'. From 7pm, you should use 'good evening'.

Close

Good afternoon:

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 don't know the person or had little contact with them before, is
         

My name's John Smith:
(phrase) One of the first things you have to say when calling somebody directly is who you are. If you have never had any contact (or very little) with the person you are calling, 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 calling, 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').

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. When you tell the person that you have both met/spoken to each other before, you start by saying
         

I don't know if you remember, but:
(phrase) If you have had some contact (but not regular contact) with the person you are calling in the past, but you don't know them very well, you should tell them in the call that you've had contact before. It increases the trust the other person has in you and mean they'll probably speak to you for longer.

A good way to do this is by saying 'I don't know if you remember, but'. You then follow this by saying what the contact was (e.g. meeting them somewhere, speaking to them before, sending each other emails) and when this happened.

For example:

'I don't know if you remember, but we spoke together by phone about 6 months ago.'

You should say this after you have said who you are and where you work.

Close

I don't know if you remember, 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.

       

Close

4. A way to start to tell the person why you are calling them, is
         

The reason I'm calling is:
(phrase) When you are calling a person directly (no matter if it is somebody you know, don't know or had little contact with before), after you have told them who you are and where you work, you have to tell them why you are calling.

A phrase that you can use to start to tell them the reason for your call is 'the reason I'm calling is' or 'the reason that I'm calling is'.

When telling them the reason, you can either tell them directly what you want or explain to them a little about the situation for the reason and then tell them what you want.

For example:

'The reason I'm calling is to find out how much you charge for installing windows.'

'The reason I'm calling is that we are building two new properties for a client and we'd like to know how much you would charge for installing windows in them.'

If you don't know the person or had little contact with them, I would advise you to explain about the situation and then tell them what you want. If you know the person, you can use either.

In addition to this, it is polite to wait for the person to ask you why you are calling (e.g 'How can I help you?') before you tell them.

For example:

'How can I help you?'

'The reason I'm calling is to find out how much you charge for installing windows.'

Close

The reason I'm calling is:

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

5. A phrase you use to say which company or organisation you work for, is
         

I'm calling from:
(phrase) When you are calling somebody on a business call, you should tell them who you work for. You should do this directly after telling them your name.

If you know the person you are calling, after you have said your name you should say 'from' and then the name of the company or organisation you work for.

For example:

'It's Simon Pecker from Easy Software.'

If you don't know the person who you are calling (or have had little contact with them before), you need to say something more formal. After you have said your name, you should say 'and' and then 'I'm calling from' and then the name of the company or organisation you work for.

For example:

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

Close

I'm calling from:

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

6. If you know the person, what you say after you have told them how you life is going, is
         

And how are you:
(phrase) It is polite in the English-speaking world that when speaking to somebody you know (either face-to-face or on the phone), that you ask how each other is after the greeting (saying hello).

On a phone call, it is normally the person answering the call (who you are calling) who first asks how the other is. And normally they do this by saying, 'How are you?'.

After you have told them how you are (and maybe said an interesting things you've done recently), it is polite and necessary to ask them the same thing. You do this by saying, 'And how are you?' or 'And you?'.

For example:

'Hello Ruth, how are you?'

'I'm fine. Just come back from a 2 week holiday in Spain which was really good. And how are you?'

If you don't know the person you are calling or have had very little contact with them before, you don't need to do this.

Close

And how are 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.

       

Close

7. A phrase you can use to confirm the name of the person who has answered your phone call, is
         

Is that Nigel Robertson:
(phrase) In most companies and organisitions, when a person answers a phone call they will normally say who they are (e.g. 'Simon Ward speaking', 'Good Morning, Simon Ward. How can I help you?' etc...). But if they don't do this and you are unsure that the person who answered the call is the person you want to speak to (you've never spoken to them before or don't recognise the voice), you should ask them who they are.

A polite way to do this when calling somebody's phone directly, is to confirm with them if they are the person you want to speak to. To do this, you say 'is that' followed by their full name.

For example:

'Hello.'

'Is that Graham Smith?'

'Yes, it is.'

Although it is normal to have to do this when calling somebody on a landline phone, you can also do it if calling somebody on their mobile/cell phone.

Close

Is that Nigel Robertson:

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

It's William Smith:
(phrase) One of the first things you have to say when calling somebody directly is 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 in English when the other person knows you on phone calls, 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.'

If you know the person you are calling very well, you just use your first name (e.g. 'Simon') when telling them who you are.

For example:

'It's Simon from Easy Software.'

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






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.