40 Common Phrases for Effortless Business Telephone Calls in English
Can you drive a car?
If not, do you know several people who can drive?
You probably answered yes, and that’s because driving is easier than it seems.
Similar to driving, telephone conversations in English might also seem difficult if English is not your first language—especially business calls.
However, if you learn the key phrases that are commonly used over the phone, it becomes so much easier.
That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide of 40 must-know phrases for professional telephone conversations. Use our tips to learn these phrases, and soon talking on the telephone at work in English will feel as simple as driving down the street!
Why Learn How to Talk on the Phone Professionally
Talking on the phone may be an essential part of your job, or you may only have to make or answer phone calls in English from time to time. You may need to speak on the phone in English every day or even as part of an exam or job interview. Sometimes your job may even depend on a phone call!
Skyping (or video calling) in English involves the same skills as traditional telephoning, but with a webcam so will be seen by the other person.
You will discover that improving your telephone skills will also help with your speaking skills in general. What’s more, it will help you gain self-confidence and even improve your self-esteem—both when speaking English and your native language.
Tips for Learning Business English Telephone Phrases
The great thing about learning these telephone phrases is that you will actually get to use them in real life. Here are some tips for learning these new phrases:
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes
The first time you use some new phrases, you will probably make some mistakes. Everybody does when they learn something new; it’s completely normal.
Hopefully the people you talk to will be patient and understanding. However, some people who have never learned a second language don’t understand how difficult it can be. Don’t let them discourage you! Remind yourself: When you make mistakes, you are making progress.
Learn from your mistakes
Another great thing about mistakes is that you can learn from them. Every time you finish a phone conversation, write down the mistakes you think you made or the phrases you are not sure about.
You may even want to record your phone conversations if that’s possible and allowed where you work. Then you can listen later—by yourself or with a tutor—to look closely for new phrases you used correctly and where you need more practice.
Use three new phrases in your phone conversations every day
Once you read the phrases below, choose three every day to use in your phone conversations or whenever appropriate. If you don’t use the new words, they will no longer be fresh in your mind. They will be part of your passive vocabulary, which means you will probably recognize them when you hear them, but you won’t be able to use them yourself on the spot.
If you can’t find a way to include them in your real telephone conversations, try writing down imaginary phone conversations so you can use the new phrases. Remember: By using new words, you learn new words!
Practice new grammar concepts in phone calls
You can use the previous learning strategy with grammar as well, not just with new vocabulary. Every time you see a new grammar structure, write it down, make your own examples with it and then use it at work!
Here are some example topics, as they relate to phone conversations.
Could I ask who’s calling, please?
How may I help you?
Expressions followed by verbs ending in “-ing”
Do you mind waiting a few minutes?
Thanks for calling.
Expressions followed by infinitives
I’m calling to clarify…
I’d like to leave him a message.
When is a good time to call?
Role play with a friend
It may also help to read out the phrases below and practice making phone calls with a friend first. You will be less nervous if you practice with somebody you know. If you don’t have someone to practice with, you can practice on your own.
Reading aloud in English will help you improve your pronunciation. If you record yourself as you practice, you can even become aware of your own mistakes.
40 Must-know English Phrases for Business Telephone Calls
Taking a call
When you answer the phone at your job, you’ll want to always greet the caller professionally. Here are two formats you might use to do so.
- Hello/Good morning/Good afternoon. [Company name], [your name] speaking, how may I help you?
For example, if your name is Alice and you work at a company called Quick Translations, you might say:
Good morning! Quick Translations, Alice speaking. How may I help you?
This quickly tells the caller who you are, and then lets them explain why they’re calling.
- [Company name], [your name] speaking.
This second one is a shorter greeting: Quick Translations, Alice speaking.
You can also use “This is [your name]” as another way to say “[Your name] speaking.”
Making a call
Sometimes you are the one initiating (beginning) a phone call. You may have more time to prepare in this case. You can use one of the formats below for greeting people when you call them:
- Hello, this is [your name] from [company name].
For example, if you are Neil Jenkins and you work at ABC Travels, you might say:
“Hello, this is Neil Jenkins from ABC Travels.
You may want to include your surname (last name) if you know the caller doesn’t know you very well.
- Hi, it’s [your name] from [company name].
You may also say “Hi, it’s Neil Jenkins from ABC Travels” to start a phone conversation.
Asking for somebody
It’s important to know exactly who you want to talk to and you can use one of the options below.
- May I speak to [person’s name]?
This first phrase is a question, and slightly more polite than the next option. Here’s an example:
May I (please) speak to Mr. Smith?
- I’d like to speak to [person’s name], please.
For example, “I’d like to speak to Mr. Smith, please.” You may use this one when you’re quite sure the person is available to talk to you.
Giving reasons for calling
At the beginning of the phone conversation it’s best to clarify why you are calling. This helps both speakers talk about what’s relevant.
- I’m calling to ask about/discuss/clarify…
I’m calling to ask about your current printing promotion.
- I just wanted to ask…
I just wanted to ask if you need any more articles for next month’s magazine.
- Could you tell me…?
Could you tell me the address of Friday’s networking event?
Whenever you want to be friendly with someone, you can make small talk. You can ask them about their day, or you may be more specific if you remember details from your past conversations.
- Hi, [first name], how are you?
This one is more general and you can use it when you don’t remember anything specific to ask about.
- How are you getting on with…?
This second phrase is more specific and should be used if you remember certain details. This will make the other person feel good about talking to you and may even improve your relationship. For example, if you remember that a company will move to a new office building, you might ask:
How are you getting on with preparations to change office buildings next month?
If you answer a phone call and the caller wants to speak to someone who is unavailable, you should take a message. You can do that in any of the following ways:
- I’m sorry, she/he’s not here today. Can I take a message?
- I’m afraid he/she’s not available at the moment. Can I take a message?
This response doesn’t tell the caller why “he/she” is unavailable. However if you know why, and it’s okay to share that information, you might say something like this:
I’m afraid she’s in a meeting until 4 p.m. Can I take a message?
- Could I ask who’s calling, please?
You can use this phrase to politely find out who is calling.
- I’ll give him/her your message as soon as he/she gets back.
After you’ve written down the caller’s message, you can say this phrase.
On the other hand, when you make a phone call and the person you want to talk to is not there, you should leave a message for them. Here’s what you could say:
- Could you please take a message? Please tell her/him that…
Could you please take a message? Please tell her that Cindy from accounting called about Mr. Shapiro’s expense reports.
- I’d like to leave her/him a message. Please let her/him know that…
I’d like to leave him a message. Please let him know that tomorrow’s lunch meeting is cancelled.
Asking when somebody will be available
If you don’t want to leave a message, you can ask when would be a good time to call again:
- When is a good time to call?
- When is she/he going to be back?
Asking for information
When you ask people to give you information, it’s important to be polite. Using the modal verb “could” and a question is helpful in this case.
- Could I ask what company you’re with?
- Could you give me your mobile number, please?
Asking the other person to repeat information
Don’t worry if you can’t always understand people on the phone. It happens to native speakers all time! Just ask the person to repeat the information for you: “I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?”
If you have to write down names, it’s best to ask people to spell words out for you. You can use either of the following two phrases:
- Could you spell that for me, please?
- How do you spell that, please?
It’s always safe to repeat important information just to double check:
- Let me see if I got that right.
Let me see if I got that right. Your name is Barack Obama, O-B-A-M-A, and your phone number is 555-222-1111, correct?
Sometimes the connection is bad and it’s okay to ask the other person to speak more loudly:
- Would you mind speaking up a bit? I can’t hear you very well.
Whenever you don’t understand something, it’s best to ask. The information may be important, so just ask them to repeat it for you:
- I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your first name.
If you have to make arrangements, it’s important to be polite as you negotiate. Here are some phrases you might use:
- Shall we say January 20?
- How about the following week?
- Would the week of January 18 work for you?
Asking for suggestions
When you have to decide on times and places to do things, you can invite the other person to make suggestions. It can be seen as a sign of politeness.
- What would you suggest?
- Do you have a time/place in mind?
When you ask people to do things for you, it’s again essential to be polite. You can use the magic words “could” and “please” as seen below:
- Could you send me an email with the detailed offer?
- Do you mind sending me the report again, please?
When you promise action, you may want to add when something is going to happen. Remember that in English we don’t use the future tense after time expressions like “when” and “as soon as.”
- I’ll ask him to call you as soon as he gets back.
Notice that after “as soon as” we use “he gets back,” present tense.
- I’ll send you the report as soon as possible.
Saying you cannot help
There are situations when you can’t help the other person, and it may be hard to say so. Just be firm and polite:
- I’m afraid I can’t give you that information.
- Sorry, but I’m not allowed to give details about that.
Ending the call
Remember to thank the other person for calling or for helping you. You can do that in any of the following ways:
- Thank you very much for your help.
- Thanks for calling.
- Thank you for your time.
Once you learn some of these expressions to help you with phone calls, you will feel much better about your language skills. Don’t forget to practice them every day, and remember: People can’t always tell how long you’ve been studying English, but they can easily tell if you are smiling when speaking on the phone!