When you call a company or organisation and ask to speak to somebody (either when you have a name of somebody you want to speak to or you don't have one), often the person or somebody won't be able to talk to you when you call.

If this happens, it can be very confusing if your first language isn't English. Not only can there be a number of different reasons why the person or somebody can't speak to you (the person is not there, they are speaking to somebody else on the phone etc...), but there are also a number of different things that you can do or be asked by the person you are speaking to about what you want to do (e.g. call them back later, leave a message for them etc...).

But if you are prepared for these situations before you call, you'll know both what you could be asked and (more importantly) what to say. Making you more confident before you make any phone call in English.

To help you know what to say when the person you call isn't there or can't speak to you, I have created two online exercises on English telephone phrases for you. In these you will learn different phrases and vocabulary that are used for this situation. In addition, you will learn and remember what you can say when this happens.

This exercise is the first of two exercises on what to say if the person you call isn't there. In the second part of this exercise, you will learn what to say when you want to leave a message.

This exercise focuses on helping you know what to expect and say in these situations, so the beginning of each telephone conversation is not included. To learn what you need to say in English to start a telephone conversation, do the following exercises:


Exercise:

In each of the two following telephone conversations, a receptionist tells a caller that the person who they are calling for can't speak to them. In the first conversation, the person they are calling for is not there. In the second, the person is speaking to somebody else on a another call.

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:'I'm afraid he is out of the office at the moment.'

Caller:'Ok. Do you know when he'll be back?'

Receptionist:'I think he'll be back later this afternoon. '

Caller:'Could I take his mobile number?'

Receptionist:'I'm afraid I can't give you that, sir. Would you like to leave a message and I will pass it onto him?'

Caller:'No, it's ok. I'll call back later.'

Receptionist:'Ok. Sorry I couldn't have been of more help.'

Caller:'That's ok. Bye.'

Receptionist:'Bye.'

Telephone Call 2:

Receptionist:'I'm afraid his line is busy at the moment. Would you like to wait on the line until he is available?'

Caller:'Yes, I'll wait.'

Receptionist:'Putting you on hold.'

Caller:'Ok.'

Five minutes later

Receptionist:'I'm afraid he's still on another call. Would you like me to ask him to call you back?'

Caller:'Not really. It's urgent, I need to speak about this now. Is William Smith available?'

Receptionist:'I'll check to see if he is available. '

Caller:'Thank you.'

40 seconds later

Receptionist:'He is available to talk with you. I'll put you through to him now.'

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 phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one 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 phrase (how and when it is used). 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 phrase you use to tell the person you are speaking to that you will try to contact the person by phone later in the day, is
         

I'll call back later:
(phrase) This phrase is commonly used when the person you want to speak to or people who can help you are not available and you say that you will call again later in the day.

Normally, before saying this you would ask 'Do you know when she/he'll be back?' or 'Do you know how long I'll have to wait?' depending on the situation.

Instead of using 'call', you can also use 'phone' and outside of America 'ring' in this phrase without any change in meaning.

For example:

'I'll ring back later.'

Close

I'll call back 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.

       

Close

2. When you ask to speak to another person, you would say
         

Is William Smith available:
(phrase) When the person you want to speak to can't speak to, if you know someone else there, you can ask to speak to them instead. To do this, you can say this phrase. Obviously, you would change the name in it to the name of the person you want to speak to.

If you don't know the name of another person where you are calling, you can ask to speak to another person to help you by saying 'is there anybody else I can speak to?'.

Close

Is William Smith available:

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. A phrase you use when you say you are willing to stay on the phone call until the person or a person is available to talk to you, is
         

I'll wait:
(phrase) Normally, if the person you want or need to speak to is there but can't speak to you at that time, you'll be asked by the person you are speaking to if you want to wait, leave a message, call back later or have the person call you later. If you want to wait for them, you simply say 'I'll wait' when you are asked this question.

For example:

'Would you like to leave a message?'

'No, I'll wait.'

Close

I'll wait:

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. When the person you are calling for isn't there, a polite way to be told this, is
         

I'm afraid he is out of the office at the moment:
(phrase) If the person you have asked to speak to isn't in the building/office when you call, this (or a variation of it) is what you will be first told. Instead of using 'out of the office', they may explain where the person is (e.g. 'he is visiting a client', 'she is at lunch' etc...), but this is less common.

After they have said this, you can ask when they will return by saying: 'Do you know when they'll back?'. If you don't say this, the person you are speaking to will normally ask you if you want to leave a message, call back later etc...

This phrase is only used if the person is expected to return later in that day. If the person is not going to return that day or is away for more days, they will say something different (e.g. 'she is on holiday at the moment', 'he is on a business trip' etc...).

Close

I'm afraid he is out of the office at the moment:

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. When the person you are speaking to offers to ask the person you are calling for to phone you later, they would say
         

Would you like me to ask him to call you back:
(phrase) After you have been told that the person you are calling for isn't there or is busy, the person you are speaking to should (and normally will) offer to do something for you (e.g. take a message, try to help you themselves etc...) or make a suggestion (e.g. call back later etc...).

'Would you like to ask him to call you back?' is one of these. If you say you would, the person will tell the person you called and ask them to call you back.

If you agree to do this, you will then have to tell them who you are (name and who you work for), your phone number (if they don't have it) and when you'll be available to (e.g. 'I'm in the office until 5pm').

Close

Would you like me to ask him to call you back:

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. A polite way to ask for a person's cell/mobile phone number, is
         

Could I take his mobile number:
(phrase) If the person you want to speak to is out of the office or the place you are calling, you can ask for their mobile ('cell' in North America) phone number to contact them. Although you can do this, most companies and organisations won't give the mobile/cell phone numbers of its employees out to people calling in. So, it is likely that the person you are speaking to will say they can't and ask you to leave them a message and contact details and then they will contact them.

For example:

'Could I take his mobile number?'

'I'm afraid I can't give you that, sir. Would you like to leave a message and I will pass it onto him?'

Close

Could I take his mobile number:

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. When the person can't connect you to the person you want to speak to because they are already speaking to someone else on the phone, they will say
         

I'm afraid his line is busy at the moment:
(phrase) This phrase basically means the person you want to speak to is there, but is speaking to somebody else on the phone. You may also hear somebody say 'he/she is on another call at the moment', which means the same thing.

After they say either of these, the person will normally ask you if you want to wait. If after waiting for 2 to 5 minutes the person is still on the phone, they will ask you if you want to leave a message, call back later or be called back by the person you want to speak.

Close

I'm afraid his line is busy at the moment:

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. When the person you are speaking to offers to give a message from you to the person you want to speak, they would say
         

Would you like to leave a message:
(phrase) After you have been told that the person you are calling for isn't there or is busy, the person you are speaking to should (and normally will) offer to do something for you (e.g. try to help you themselves etc...) or make a suggestion (e.g. that you call back later etc...).

'Would you like to leave a message' is one of these. They will tell the person you called, what you are calling about and if you ask, tell them to call you back.

If you agree to leave a message, you will then have to tell them who you are (name and who you work for), your phone number (if they don't have it) and what you want to tell them (e.g. 'the order has been delivered'). You can also ask the person to call you back if you think it is necessary and until what time you'll be available to speak them to (e.g. 'I'm in the office until 5pm').

Close

Would you like to leave a message:

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

9. When the person you are calling isn't there, you use this phrase to ask when they will return
         

Do you know when he'll be back:
(phrase) If the person you are calling for is not there, you use this phrase to ask when they will be back. If it is a woman you are calling, you obviously change 'he' with 'she'.

You would use this after you have been told that the person you want to speak to is not currently there.

For example:

'I'm afraid she is out of the office at the moment.'

'Do you know when she'll be back?'

If the person is there but busy, you would use either of the following two phrases instead: 'Do you know when how long she will be?' or 'Do you know when he'll be available?'.

Close

Do you know when he'll be back:

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




Now that you have done this exercise, I recommend that you do the second part of this exercise. In this second part, you'll learn more vocabulary that you will hear and could use and what to say when you want to leave a message for somebody in English.




Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.