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Telephone English - Important Phrases

There are a number of phrases and idioms that are only used when telephoning. Let's first take a look at an example dialogue: Here are the most common:

  • Operator: Hello, Frank and Brothers, How can I help you?
  • Peter: This is Peter Jackson. Can I have extension 3421?
  • Operator: Certainly, hold on a minute, I'll put you through...
  • Frank: Bob Peterson's office, Frank speaking.
  • Peter: This is Peter Jackson calling, is Bob in?
  • Frank: I'm afraid he's out at the moment. Can I take a message?
  • Peter: Yes, Could you ask him to call me at . I need to talk to him about the Nuovo line, it's urgent.
  • Frank: Could you repeat the number please?
  • Peter: Yes, that's , and this is Peter Jackson.
  • Frank: Thank you Mr Jackson, I'll make sure Bob gets this asap.
  • Peter: Thanks, bye.
  • Frank: Bye.

As you can see, the language is rather informal and there are some important differences to everyday English. Look at the chart below for key language and phrases used in telephone English:

Introducing yourself
This is Ken.
Ken speaking

Asking who is on the telephone
Excuse me, who is this?
Can I ask who is calling, please?
Asking for Someone
Can I have extension 321? (extensions are internal numbers at a company)
Could I speak to...? (Can I - more informal / May I - more formal)
Is Jack in? (informal idiom meaning: Is Jack in the office?
Connecting Someone
I'll put you through (put through - phrasal verb meaning 'connect')
Can you hold the line? Can you hold on a moment?
How to reply when someone is not available
I'm afraid ... is not available at the moment
The line is busy... (when the extension requested is being used)
Mr Jackson isn't in... Mr Jackson is out at the moment...
Taking a Message
Could (Can, May) I take a message?
Could (Can, May) I tell him who is calling?
Would you like to leave a message?

By Kenneth Beare, About.com Guide