25 Essential English Phrases

25 Essential English Phrases for conversation

Sometimes breaking the ice in your second (or third!) language can be difficult. Maybe you want to talk with people but you are nervous about how to start a conversation or how to reply to common questions. Here are four essential phrases that we often use when meeting a new person or starting a conversation with an acquaintance. These phrases will help you sound more natural when you greet people.

  1. Nice to meet you.
    Usually we say “nice to meet you” after someone tells us their name. Or you can say “it was nice meeting you” when the conversation is finished and you are leaving.
  2. How’s it going?
    This is a casual way of asking “how are you?” You can use it with friends, but don’t use it in formal situations like a job interview. Here are some possible answers to his question: Great! Pretty good. It’s okay. Not bad. Can’t complain!
  3. What’s up?
    This is also a casual greeting, but it is a little different from “how’s it going”. The speaker is asking what is happening but in a very general way. You don’t have to explain what you are doing in detail. Possible answers are: Not much. Just studying. I’m just waiting for my class.
  4. What do you do?
    This question means “what is your job?” Be careful: it does not mean “what are you doing?”
Keeping the conversation going
Do you ever start a conversation in English and find that it ends too quickly? If you want to keep chatting, it can help to show interest in other people’s opinions. Here are three phrases that will help you keep the conversation going so that you can practice your English and make new friends.
  1. What do you think about…?
    This is a general question that can be used in any situation. Most people like sharing their thoughts, so asking this question can help you to continue a conversation.
  2. How did you get into…?
    To ‘be into’ or ‘get into’ means to be interested in something. If you have learned something about a classmate or colleague, you can use this question to ask about their hobbies. For example, “How did you get into playing chess?”
  3. Check this out!
    This is a common phrase that you can use to ask someone to look at something. For example, “check out this view!” You can use this phrase to show your new friend something interesting or funny.
Ending the conversation
When it’s time to end the conversation, it’s best to do it in a natural and friendly way. Here are five phrases that will help you wrap up a conversation and say goodbye gracefully.
  1. That sounds good.
    You can use this phrase to agree to a suggestion or an idea. For example, if someone suggests watching a movie, going to a restaurant or taking a break, you can reply “that sounds good” if you agree. Sometimes people just say “sounds good!”
  2. That works for me.
    This is another phrase that you can use to agree to a suggestion. This phrase is a little bit different from “that sounds good” because “that works for me” is more useful for plans and arrangements. For example, if someone suggests meeting at 3:00, you can say “that works for me”.
  3. It was nice chatting with you.
    You can use this phrase to say that you enjoyed talking to someone. This can be a good way to start a friendship.
  4. Have a good one.
    This is a friendly and casual way of saying goodbye. It means “have a good day.”
  5. I’m heading home.
    Sometimes ‘heading’ means ‘going’. In this case, the sentence will usually include a place, like home or work. For example, I’m heading to work now. Sometimes when we need to end a conversation, we tell the other person that we need to go somewhere. For example, “It was nice chatting with you! I’m going to head to the gym.”
Useful questions for clarifying
When you are learning a new language, you will sometimes need to ask clarifying questions to make sure you understood. This includes asking people to repeat or to explain something.
  1. Could you say that again, please?
    This is a more natural way of saying ‘please repeat’.
  2. What does __ mean?
    If you don’t know the meaning of a word, you should ask “what does __ mean.” Be careful: it is not correct to say “what means __?”
  3. How do you spell that?
    This can be a useful question if you need to write a word. It can also help you remember a name that is unfamiliar to you.
Useful questions for polite interactions
When we ask a stranger or an acquaintance for help or for permission, there are different ways that we can ask politely to show respect. These three phrases will help you sound polite when asking questions in English.
  1. Do you mind if I…?
    You can use this expression to ask if an action would disturb someone. For example, “Do you mind if I close the window?” Or “do you mind if I smoke here?”
  2. I was wondering if…
    This is an indirect way of asking a question. For example, instead of asking “Can I borrow your notes?” you can say “I was wondering if I could borrow your notes.” When you use this phrase, you have to use the next verb in the past tense: “I was wondering if you wanted to watch the game with me.”
  3. Could you give me a hand?
    Give someone a hand means help someone, usually with something physical. If you need help, you can ask “Could you give me a hand?” If you see someone who might need help, for example someone is trying to move a heavy object, you can ask “Can I give you a hand with that?” When we are asking for help, we usually use ‘could’ because it sounds more polite than ‘can’.
Polite language
Sometimes we just need a simple, polite phrase for the appropriate situation. Here are four easy phrases that you can use to sound more natural in common social contexts.
  1. Excuse me.
    This phrase is useful in many situations. You can use it to apologize for something small, like bumping into someone by accident. You can use it to get someone’s attention before asking a question, like in a store. You can also use it to politely ask someone to move aside if you are trying to walk, for example on a sidewalk.
  2. I really appreciate it.
    When you want to say more than just ‘thank you’, you can add this phrase. For example, “thanks so much for helping me. I really appreciate it!”
  3. That’s really nice of you!
    This is another way to give someone an extra ‘thanks’. You can replace nice with other words, like generous or kind.
  4. I’m sorry to hear that.
    This phrase is useful when someone gives you bad news or tells you about something unfortunate that happened to him or her.
Useful replies
Here are three phrases that you can use when you don’t have the information that someone has asked for, but you plan to reply at a later time.
  1. I’ll let you know.
    This means “I will tell you.” You can use this phrase when you don’t have an answer immediately, but you plan to contact the person in the future to share some information. For example, “I will let you know when I book the flight.”
  2. I’ll get back to you soon.
    To ‘get back to’ someone means to reply to someone who is waiting for information. We usually use this expression for emails or phone calls rather than face-to-face conversations.
  3. I will call you back.
    Call back is a common phrasal verb. If you are talking on the phone with someone and you need to hang up and call the person again later, you can say “I will call you back.”