To make it easier to speak on the telephone in English, before you learn what you need to say (phrases which are used like, 'May I ask who is calling, please?'), it's very important to understand what the meaning is of some commonly used telephone vocabulary. Vocabulary that is used when both talking on the telephone and talking about telephone calls.

In this first of two online exercises on English telephone vocabulary, you'll first learn 11 important words and phrases which are connected to speaking on the telephone in English by reading a text. After this, you'll use these 11 words and phrases in a quiz/text, to both make sure you know what they mean and to remember them.

To learn some commonly used phrasal verbs and expressions used when making and receiving phone calls, do the 'second part of this exercise on essential telephone English vocabulary' after you have done this exercise.

In addition, to practise and learn what phrases you can both say and hear on different types of phone calls in English, look at our other exercises on telephone English vocabulary.


Exercise:

In the following conversation between two work colleagues (Peter and Juan), Peter explains to Juan the meaning of some commonly used English vocabulary for telephone calls.

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.

Peter:'Did you call Mrs Smith this morning?'

Juan:'Yes, I did. But I didn't speak to her.'

Peter:'Why?'

Juan:'I think there was a problem.'

Peter:'Was there a problem with the phone or with the line?'

Juan:'The line?'

Peter:'The connection between your phone and hers?'

Juan:'I don't know how to explain what happened in English, but there was a problem.'

Peter:'Ok. Let's start from the beginning. On what type of phone did you ring her from?'

Juan:'Ring?'

Peter:'It means to call. I had a problem with my phone here in the office this morning. My line was dead, so I couldn't make or receive any phone calls. Did you call/ring from one of the landline phones here in the office?'

Juan:'No I didn't ring from my phone in the office. I was outside when I rang her. '

Peter:'So, it couldn't be a landline because it's impossible to make calls on it outside. So, you called her outside on your mobile?'

Juan:'Yes, I did. I was walking to buy some food. But I thought a phone you can carry with you was called a cell phone?'

Peter:'It's called a cell in North America, but a mobile phone in most other countries.'

Juan:'Ok.'

Peter:'If it was from a mobile, it could have been a problem with the reception. Did you have a good call signal on your mobile when you called her?'

Juan:'The reception on my mobile was good. My phone had a 100% signal and before the call I rang my wife and the quality of the call was perfect.'

Peter:'Did you dial the right number for her? Tell me what number you dialled?'

Juan:'I dialled 0871 7656 2390.'

Peter:'That's the right number. So what happened when you called her?'

Juan:'She didn't answer. I think the reason why is that she was speaking to somebody else on another phone call when I called her.'

Peter:'So, her line was engaged or busy. Did you leave a message in her voicemail asking her to call you back?'

Juan:'Yes, I did.'

Peter's landline phone starts ringing. He answers it.

Peter:'Hello Mrs Smith. Thank you for calling us back. Can you hold the line a minute, please. Thank you.

I have Mrs Smith on the phone calling for you. What extension are you on here in the office so I can transfer her call to your landline phone?'

Juan:'I'm on extension 1567.'

Peter:'Hello Mrs Smith, I'll transfer you through to his extension now.'


Click to see more telephone English vocabulary and phrases exercises


Quiz:

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. 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. When you call somebody's phone, but you can't speak to them because they are already on another call, is
         

Line was engaged:
(phrase) This means that the person you are calling is speaking to somebody else on another call. When a 'line is engaged', you will hear a different sound to normal (beeps) when you are connected to their phone number.

For example:

'Did you speak to Sarah?'

'No. Her line was engaged when I called her.'

Another way to say 'the line is engaged' is 'the line is busy'.

Close

Line was engaged:

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. A phone which you can carry with you, is called in North America a
         

Cell:
(noun) A 'cell phone' or 'cell' is the name for a phone which you can carry with you (e.g. an iPhone). It is called a 'cell' in North America (i.e. America, Canada etc...) and some African countries (e.g. South Africa). In most English-speaking countries outside of North America (e.g. Britain, Ireland, Australia etc...), it is called a 'mobile' or 'mobile phone'.

Close

Cell:

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. The signal that a mobile/cell phone gets, is often called the
         

Reception:
(noun) Also called 'signal'. This means how strong or weak the signal is for making/receiving calls is on a mobile/cell phone. This is shown with the little bars in the top right hand corner of the screen, like this:



If the 'reception' on your mobile/cell phone is good, then the quality of the phone call should be good (you can hear everything very clearly). If the 'reception' is bad or poor, than the quality of the phone call will be bad (you can't hear everything very clearly) or you can't make the phone call.

When there is no signal, you would say there is 'no reception' or 'no signal'

For example:

'Sorry I didn't call you earlier. I've been walking in the mountains and there was no reception on mobile until now.'

Close

Reception:

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. The service on phones where you can leave spoken messages for the people you call, is called
         

Voicemail:
(noun) This is a service on both mobile/cell and landline phones where if a person doesn't answer a call, the caller can leave a voice message.

For example:

'She didn't answer her phone. So, I left a message in her voicemail.'

Close

Voicemail:

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. The connection between two phones, is often called the
         

Line:
(noun) When talking about telephone calls, the word 'line' is commonly used to mean the connection between two phones. With this meaning, it is used to talk about the quality of the connection (i.e. is it good or bad).

For example:

'I think think there is a problem on the line. I can't hear what you're saying.'

or

'I was talking to him and then the line just went dead.'

In addition to this, the word 'line' is also used when you say that when you called somebody's phone you couldn't speak to them because they were on another call ('his line was engaged'). It is also used when you want to say that a telephone number can't make or receive calls ('his line is dead').

Close

Line:

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 different way to say 'call' somebody by phone, is
         

Ring:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to ring'. This verb has two different meanings when talking about telephones. The first meaning is 'to make a phone call'.

For example:

'Have you spoken to Peter?'

'Yeah, I rang him yesterday and he said he was ok.'

The second meaning is when a telephone is making a sound because somebody is calling it.

For example:

'Your phone is ringing. Are you going to answer to it?'

Close

Ring:

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 phone which you can't carry with you and can only be used in a house or an office, is called a
         

Landline:
(noun) Also called a 'landline phone'. This is the name for a traditional type of phone. For example:



'landlines' are phones which only work when used in a specific location (e.g. in your house, in an office etc...). Most 'landline' phones have a cable connected to them.

Close

Landline:

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 phone in offices and companies, is often called an
         

Extension:
(noun) Phones in an office or company are often called 'extensions'. In most offices and companies there are often lots of landline phones used by the people who work there. As a result, they normally have an internal telephone network where people can call somebody internally direct by dialing just a 4 (or less) digit number. These are called 'extensions'.

For example:

'Simon, I have Peter Jennings on the phone. He wants to talk to you.'

'Transfer him through to my extension.'

Close

Extension:

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 you can't make or receive phone calls because there is a problem on the line/connection, it could because the
         

Line was dead:
(phrase) This basically means that a phone cannot make or receive calls. The phrase 'the line's dead' is used in two situations. The first is when there is a technical problem which stops a person making or receiving calls on their phone. You will know this if when you try to make a call, there is no 'dial tone' (the sounds you hear on the line when making a call when your phone is working correctly).

The second situation is when a telephone number is no longer in use. This could be because the person hasn't paid their bill or doesn't want to use the telephone number any more. In this situation, when calling the number you will hear a message like 'this number has been disconnected'.

Close

Line was dead:

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

10. A phone which you can carry with you, is called outside of North America a
         

Mobile:
(noun) A 'mobile phone' or 'mobile' is the name for a phone which you can carry with you (e.g. an iPhone). It is called a 'mobile' in most English-speaking countries outside of North America (e.g. Britain, Ireland, Australia etc...). But in North America (i.e. America, Canada etc...) and some African countries (e.g. South Africa), it is called a 'cell' or 'cell phone'.

Close

Mobile:

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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11. A verb that means to press/enter somebody's phone number on your phone, is
         

Dial:
(verb) The infinitive is 'to dial'. This basically mean to enter the number of a telephone that you want to call. You only 'dial' when you have to enter the phone number manually (i.e. you have to press each number) when making a call to somebody on your phone.

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Dial:

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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Now that you have completed this exercise, do the second part of this exercise to learn more essential English telephone vocabulary.



Practice

Now that you understand this telephone vocabulary, practise it by making sentences in English with the new words/phrases.