Your phone’s ringing.
You check your phone and your eyes widen.
It’s an important client, calling you out of the blue.
“Good afternoon,” you say a bit breathlessly.
Instead of a face-to-face meeting with your client, you’re now discussing your proposal over a phone call.
Welcome to the modern world, where so much of business communication has shifted to phone and video calls. Working remotely with someone from another country has become normal.
Phrases such as “hello” and “thank you” are among the first that we pick up when learning English, but what if you’re on a phone call with someone? There’s specific vocabulary for that too (and yes, although the other person can’t see you, they can still hear the smile or frown in your voice).
We’ll tackle the essentials of holding English phone call conversations, including the 40 top expressions and phrases for the most common phone call scenarios. In fact, for every English phone call that you make, you’ll be able to use at least a few of these phrases.
Ready to dive in? Let’s go!
Business Phone Call Basics
For business phone calls, you can get off to a good start by doing the following:
If possible, let the other person know first before calling
When you’re the one who’s going to initiate a professional phone call, it helps to let the other person know ahead of time that you’ll be calling. While it’s fine to make spontaneous phone calls to friends or to simply call up shops about their products and services, business calls often require more time and preparation for both of the people involved.
It’s also much more convenient. For example, you avoid having to make several missed calls or apologizing when the person picks up and it turns out they’re in the middle of a meeting. You can simply send a message asking them when it would be okay to call, and then you’re all set once they reply with their preferred time.
The other person will be almost completely focused on your voice, so speaking clearly is a must. Make sure that you’re in a quiet environment and they can hear your voice fine. It’s also okay to speak more slowly than usual, especially if you’re still considering the right words to say.
After all, your intonation shines through more clearly than ever on phone calls. Just as you would smile in person, you can also smile while talking on the phone–the other person will hear it in your voice, and it’ll convey warmth and friendliness.
One way to practice combining intonation, vocabulary, and body language is through the Creativa business meeting mastery course. It has engaging, high-quality video courses that go deep into what to say and how to act during meetings over call. Aside from learning important vocabulary, you’ll also hone your soft skills so you can make an impact even when you’re not face-to-face with the other person.
Curious about it? Check out this free video for a preview.
Get familiar with the platform
A lot of business phone calls are done traditionally through the telephone or through contacting you directly through your mobile number. Still, when you’re talking to someone who’s not in the same country, your phone calls will likely be online–through internet phone call apps such as Zoom, Skype, Slack, WhatsApp, and Telegram.
Whichever platform you’re using for phone calls, try to get familiar with its features. For example, you might have to transfer or put people on hold over the telephone, or you might have to switch to speaker mode on an app. Either way, you’ll know what to do rather than being caught by surprise on call.
Phone calls can be prone to technical issues, so it’s helpful to know how to handle these in English and then jump back into the call. Scroll down here to download a free PDF worksheet with tips and vocabulary exercises for talking through connection difficulties. Phone calls are rarely ever perfect, but you’ll be able to get back on track smoothly and communicate your message even if interruptions do happen.
Important Terms for English Phone Call Conversations
Before we dive into specific phrases and statements, here are some important terms for English phone call conversations that you should know about:
1. Hang up
To “hang up” simply means to end the call.
- I’m going to hang up now. Bye!
2. Put on hold
When you put a person on hold over call, they won’t be able to talk to you or hear you temporarily. This is done when you have to leave the phone for a few minutes or you’re going to connect the other person to a different number. The other person usually hears either silence or pre-arranged background music while waiting.
- I’ll just put you on hold for a bit while I look at the paperwork.
3. Transfer the call
Transferring the call means connecting the other person to a different number without them having to make a new call. Once you’ve transferred the other person successfully, you’ll get disconnected because they’ll be talking to someone else.
- Let me transfer the call over to our customer service department.
4. Bad / weak signal
This usually refers to your mobile signal during traditional phone calls. The only way to clear this up is by changing your location, which can range from moving to a different room to transferring several miles away if you’re in a remote area.
- I think I have a bad signal, can you wait for a few minutes as I move to the next room?
5. Weak connection
While bad signal is usually for traditional phone calls, a weak connection is mentioned more often in online calls because this refers to your internet connection.
- We might be having a hard time with the call because of a weak connection.
6. Lag / lagging / laggy
A lag means a delay or slowdown. In phone calls, you experience a lag when there’s a delay in the audio so it’s hard to hear each other properly.
- The call seems to be lagging on my end.
If you’re having technical issues, you might have to reconnect the call. This means ending the call and then calling again so the signal or connection will improve.
- Hold on, I’ll try to reconnect!
This is a phone call setting where your phone blasts out the other person’s voice so you don’t have to press the phone to your ear. It’s useful for when you have to multitask while calling, or when several people want to talk to the caller through your phone at the same time.
- I’ll put the phone on loudspeaker so you can hear everyone.
9. Mic is muted
During online calls, you turn on your app’s mic so your voice will be audible to the other person. When your mic’s turned off, there will be no sound at all from your end. The expression “your mic is muted” is often used when you’re trying to talk but forgot to turn on your mic.
- Oh, I think your mic’s muted–can you try turning it on?
10. Extension number
Companies have a main telephone number. Different people or departments within the company are assigned an extension number that can only be dialed after the main telephone number. A main telephone number can be (88) 888 888, with the extension number being 1111.
- This is the extension number that you have to dial to reach the library.
Essential English Phone Call Phrases
Whatever type of business phone call you’re making, you’ll find these professional English phrases and expressions useful:
Starting a Phone Call
If you’re the one who’s starting the phone call, greet the other person first, and then introduce yourself right away.
1. “Good morning / afternoon / evening! This is [name] from [company].”
While saying good morning is a standard greeting for professional conversations, you do have to be careful if it’s an international call – the two of you might not even be in the same timezone. Aside from your name, you’ll also be expected to bring up your company right away.
2. “Hello! This is [name] calling. I’m a [role] from [company].”
Sometimes you’ll want to be more specific by mentioning your role too.
Receiving a Phone Call
What if you’re the one who’s answering the phone? Regardless of who’s on the other end, you’ll still lead with the customary greetings and introductions.
3. “Good morning / afternoon / evening! This is [name] speaking from [company]. How may I help you?”
This is similar to what you’d say when you start a phone call, except there’s an additional line at the end: “How may I help you?” It’s a polite way to ask why the other person is calling.
4. “Hi! [Company], [name] speaking.”
For a shorter greeting, you can use this statement instead. This is especially appropriate when you’re answering calls for your company rather than calls to you as an individual.
Confirming the Identity of the Caller
Sometimes the caller may forget to say their name right away, or you need to log down additional information about them.
5. “Can I get your name and company please?”
In professional conversations, your name and company are considered your basic information. If you want to get additional details such as the other person’s contact details, you can ask for those later on in the call so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
6. “Thank you for calling! Can I take your name?”
Thanking the caller is an effective way to kick off the call on a positive note before you try to get their information.
Asking for a Specific Person
When you’re not sure if you’re talking to the right person, you can check with these phrases:
7. “Would it be possible to talk to [name]?”
Directly asking “Who are you?” can sound too abrupt, so you can ask about the person that you want to talk to instead. If that’s already the person on the end of the line, they’ll reply with: “Yes, speaking” or “That’s me.”
8. “Is [name] available?”
Although this is phrased as a question, native English speakers will immediately understand that you want to talk to that person, and they’ll pass the phone over if the other person is available.
Stating Your Purpose for Calling
When you’re the one starting the phone call, you should mention your reason for calling right after you introduce yourself. It gets straight to the point and saves the other person from having to wonder why you’re calling.
9. “I’m calling because…”
This phrase is flexible enough to use for any situation. For example: “I’m calling because I want to update you about changes on the client’s request” or “I’m calling because I might have to reschedule our meeting.”
10. “I was wondering if…”
You might be calling because you have a question for the other person. For example: “I was wondering if your software is also effective for startups.”
Making Small Talk
After doing greetings and introductions, you and the other person might make some small talk at first to lighten up the mood and ease into the conversation.
11. “How are you doing?”
This is a classic small talk starter, whether you’re on the phone or sitting face-to-face with someone. The other person can simply answer this with “I’m fine,” or they can give a more detailed response. They might also ask the question back to you as a form of pleasantry.
12. “Thanks for the call, it’s great to hear from you!”
You might use this statement when the caller is someone that you’ve been waiting to hear back from–maybe a client looking to buy your product or an employer offering you a job. It also works for people that you haven’t talked to in a while, similar to the expression “long time no see!” but over the phone.
Putting the Caller on Hold
Whether you’re just going to leave your phone for a moment or you’ll be redirecting the call, being put on hold can still be inconvenient for the caller.
13. “I’ll just put you on hold, will be back in a few.”
With this phrase, you’re alerting the caller that you’ll have to get off the phone temporarily.
14. “Can you wait for a few minutes so I can check on that?”
With this statement, you’re asking for permission from the caller to put them on hold. If they’d rather not wait, they might prefer to call you back some other time.
15. “I’m back! Thank you for waiting.“
Use this when you’ve returned to your phone and you’re ready to talk to the other person again. Don’t forget to thank them for their time!
Redirecting a Call
You’ll only usually have to redirect a call when you’re handling a telephone at work and the caller either calls the wrong number or is hoping to talk to a different person or department under your company.
16. “Please wait for a moment, I can transfer you to…”
Before redirecting the call, let the caller know first so they don’t get surprised when the line suddenly goes blank.
17. “Let me just dial the extension number of…”
You can also tell the caller about the extension number so they can dial it directly themselves next time.
When the Person Requested isn’t Available
It happens often enough that the person the caller wants to talk to isn’t available. You can offer helpful alternatives instead:
18. “[Person] isn’t available right now, maybe you can call at [time] instead.”
This is a proactive way to answer the caller. You’re giving them a specific date and time so when they do call, they’ll reach the person they’re looking for.
19. “[Person] isn’t here right now, but I can take a message for you.”
The caller will almost always agree with this. You can either relay a direct message (“Ms. Myers called to remind you about the launch later”) or simply inform the relevant person that someone called (“Mr. Kuegler was looking for you earlier over the phone”).
Asking the Caller to Reach You Later
Someone might also call you when you’re not available to talk. Here’s how you can answer:
20. “Sorry, I’m currently at [event]. Can you call back at [time]?”
With this phrase, you’re explaining exactly why you can’t take the call at the moment. Suggesting an alternative time for the call makes you sound more approachable, and the other person will appreciate it.
21. “I’m actually only free right now for [time].”
You might be able to pick up the phone, but you only have limited time–say, 5-10 minutes. This is a hint for the caller to keep the conversation short.
Dealing with Connection Issues
As convenient as phone calls are, connection issues also happen all the time. Instead of groaning out loud, you can handle it calmly with these statements:
22. “Sorry, the signal’s choppy right now so I didn’t hear you. Can you try calling again?”
If you’re not hearing the other person well, it’s best to tell them right away. Apologize first for the bad signal, then suggest reconnecting the call.
23. “Could you call me on [this app] instead?”
Maybe your internet connection’s slow, so you want to switch over to a traditional phone call instead. You can also switch between apps–for example, you might be having issues on WhatsApp, so you move to Zoom instead.
Scheduling and Coordinating
Deciding on a schedule over call can be faster than chat or email because you’re talking to the person in real-time. Just remember to write it down afterwards so you don’t forget!
24. “What about [time] at [location]?”
With this statement, you’re suggesting a time and location and asking for the other person’s feedback.
25. “Would [time] work for you?”
If you’re only trying to decide on the time, then you can turn to this statement. It’s an alternative way of saying, “Would you be available for this at [time]?”
You might not be sure that you heard the person correctly, or you’re confused about what exactly they mean. Before they can go any further, clarify with them first:
26. “Can you repeat that, please?”
Since it can be difficult to pick up on English when people speak it too fast or they mumble, you can ask them to repeat what they said. The “please” at the end makes it sound more polite.
27. “Let me just repeat back what you said…”
To clarify information, you can also repeat the other person’s words or phrase what they said in your own way. This confirms that you and the other person are understanding each other properly.
Promising to Call Again
When you can’t give the caller what they’re looking for just yet, you might have to call them another time.
28. “I don’t have that information right now, so I’ll call you back.”
Here, you’re telling the caller that you’ll need some time to look up the information. However, you’re also reassuring them that you’ll give them another call.
29. “I’ll still have to check that, let me get back to you later.”
This is similar to the previous statement, but the phrase “let me get back to you” is more flexible. You might text or email the other person instead of calling them back.
At the end of a professional call, saying “thank you” helps leave the other person with a positive impression of you.
30. “Thank you for calling, have a good day!”
This is a very common conversation-ender that you can use for practically every business call. When you’re talking to a one-time caller or someone that you don’t know well, it’s a great way to end the call warmly while staying professional.
31. “Talk to you again soon! Thank you, [name]!”
If you talk regularly to the caller or you work closely with them, you can be more familiar with your goodbye and mention their name.
While every business phone call is different, there are some consistent parts. You’ll always have to greet the other person, talk about the reason behind the call, and end it properly, just to name a few.
If you make phone calls regularly, you’re also going to run into connection issues often enough. Dealing with these confidently can save your conversation, not to mention impress the other person at the end of the line.
Scroll down for a free PDF worksheet that dives into practical tips and vocabulary phrases for handling call interruptions. Instead of getting flustered, you’ll be ready to take control and still get your main message across.
Phone call conversations can be a great way to practice your English because the focus is mostly on your speaking. Without facial expressions or gestures to support what you’re saying, can the other person still fully understand what you’re trying to communicate? There’s also more emphasis on your pronunciation and intonation, and filler words such as “um” and “uh” or pauses are much more noticeable over call.
When it comes to professional English conversations, there’s one resource that ties it all together: the Creativa business meeting mastery course. Its video episodes cover both vocabulary and body language, complete with detailed reenactments that will show you the exact intonation for many key phrases. You’ll find out how to present your best self in English so you can be persuasive and effective in different business scenarios.
To know more about it, here’s a free video straight from the course.