100 common telephoning mistakes

100 common telephoning mistakes

Typical telephoning errors with grammar, functional language, pronunciation, formality, etc.

Telephoning is full of phrases that make communication easier once you start using them, but also full of difficulties like confusions between similar phrases, common mistakes with those phrases that can make them rude or difficult to understand, and cultural differences. This article explains a hundred of the most common mistakes during phone calls, with corrections and some short explanations. “X” indicates a phrase which is wrong for reasons of grammar, politeness, meaning, who should say it, when it should be said, what the speaker is replying to, etc. For over 400 pages of practice of the most useful correct telephoning phrases, see https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/telephoning/ and https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/teaching-telephoning/.


Common mistakes with starting phone calls

Common mistakes with answering the phone

  1. Mixing up answering your home phone (“Hello?”) and answering your work phone (“Good morning/ afternoon/ evening. ABC Limited. Sales. Alex Case speaking. How can I help you?”)
  2. Saying “Hello?” in a way that sounds like you are annoyed and/ or too busy to speak
  3. Saying “Yes?” when you answer the phone (something that is only seen in movies, and even then usually said by aggressive people)
  4. Using old-fashioned or excessively formal ways which you might have heard in movies like “Case residence”
  5. Not knowing when to switch between “Good afternoon” and “Good evening” (usually around 5 p.m.)
  6. Using “Good night” X instead of “Good evening” (wrong because “Good night” means “Goodbye” or that the other person is going to sleep)
  7. Mixing up the order of the information you give when you answer the phone in “Good morning. Alex Case speaking. Sales. ABC Limited. How can I help you?” X (it should be biggest thing first to smallest last, e.g. company, then department or division, then section, then finally your own name)
  8. Using just your family name in “Good morning. ABC Limited. Sales. Case. How can I help you?” X or even just “Case” X (instead of your full name)
  9. Saying “Alex Case is speaking” X instead of “Alex Case speaking” (which is actually short for “This is Alex Case speaking”)
  10. Using “This is…” in “Good morning/ afternoon/ evening. ABC Limited. Sales. This is Alex Case. How can I help you?” X (“This is…” is for the caller, although “This is Alex Case speaking” is okay for the receiver)
  11. Using a yes/ no question in “Good morning/ afternoon/ evening. ABC Limited. Sales. Alex Case speaking. Can I help you?” X instead of “Good morning/ afternoon/ evening. ABC Limited. Sales. Alex Case speaking. How can I help you?” (wrong because the caller can’t possibly say no in a phrase like “No, just browsing, thanks”, unlike face to face in a shop)
  12. Asking for names too soon with something like “Good morning/ afternoon/ evening. ABC Limited. Sales. Alex Case speaking. Who’s calling, please?” X (bad because it makes it sound like you will only speak to particular people and that caller might not be one of those important callers)
  13. Translating answering the phone expressions from other languages (“Speak to me” X, “Alex Case on the phone” X, “I am here” X, etc)

Common mistakes with small talk at the beginning of phone calls

  1. Using “How are you?” even when more casual/ friendlier questions like “How’s it going?”/ “How are you doing?”/ “How are things?” would be more suitable and get more detailed and interesting answers
  2. Grammar mistakes with small talk questions like “How are you going?” X, “How it going?” X, and “How’s your business?” X
  3. Not asking a small talk question back (even when there is no reason to rush to get down to business)
  4. Always asking the same small talk question back (just “How about you?”/ “What about you?”/ “And you?”) instead of a different but related question (“How was your weekend?” “Great. I finally finished renovating the kitchen. How about you? Did you do anything special?”)
  5. Answering friendly/ casual small talk questions that need longer answers with just “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” (instead of “Great. I went… How about you? Did you have a good weekend?”, etc)
  6. Too much small talk
  7. Silence at the end of the small talk before someone gets down to business

Common mistakes with getting down to business in phone calls

  1. Getting down to business without reacting to what the other person said, e.g. saying “Not too good. My cat died” “Anyway, what can I do for you today?” instead of “Not too good. My cat died.” “I’m really sorry to hear that. That’s terrible news. So, what can I do for you today?”
  2. Using “Anyway” in a way that makes it sound like the small talk was off-topic and/ or a waste of time (“So” or “Well” being safer choices)
  3. Mixing up the standard phrase “Anyway” with the casual form “Anyhow” and the super casual “Anyhoo”
  4. Using “By the way, have you got a minute to talk?” X (which would mean you are going off topic) instead of “So/ Well/ Anyway, have you got a minute to talk?”
  5. Using “Are you free?” to mean “Are you free to talk?” (whereas “Are you free?” would actually mean to meet up face to face, for example if I came to your office now)
  6. Mixing up getting down to business with “What’s up?” (super informal), “What can I do for you (today)?” (slightly informal) and “How can I help you (today)?” (standard and formal)

Common mistakes with giving the reason for calling

  1. Grammar mistakes with giving your reason for calling like “I call about…” X (which would mean that I often call) instead of “I’m calling about…” and “I’m calling for talk about…” X instead of “I’m calling to talk about…”
  2. Using telephoning as a verb in “I’m telephoning…” X instead of “I’m calling…”, “I’m phoning…” or possibly “I’m ringing…”
  3. Using super-formal written language like “I am calling with regards to…” when standard business-level phrases like “I’m calling about…” would be fine and more standard

Other common mistakes with starting phone calls

  1. Using insincere apologies which you can’t possibly know are true like “Sorry to disturb you” and “Sorry to interrupt” (although ones like “Sorry to phone at such a busy time” might be okay if that is definitely true)
  2. Grammar mistakes in thanking at the start of the call phrases like “Thanks for phone me back” X instead of “Thanks for phoning me back” and “Thanks for getting back me so quickly” X instead of “Thanks for getting back to me so quickly”
  3. Mixing up “My name is…”/ “I’m…” (used when the other person doesn’t know you) and “This is…” (used when the other person knows who you are, usually because you have spoken before)
  4. Using names when they aren’t necessary, as in “Good morning. My name is Alex Case. I’d like to know what time the next train to London leaves from Brighton” X
  5. Mixing up formal responses to “This is John Smith from CDE Corp” (“Good morning Mr Smith. How may I help you?”) and informal responses (“Hi John. How’s it going?”)


Common mistakes with asking to speak to someone

  1. Giving commands (“Please put me through to…” X, “Please connect me to…” X) when you should use requests (“Can I speak to…?”, “Could you connect me to…?”)
  2. Using the wrong forms of the name in examples like “Good morning. Can I speak to Mr Alex Case, please?” X instead of “Good morning. Can I speak to Mr Case, please?” or “Good morning. Can I speak to Alex Case, please?”
  3. Using “I need to speak to…” when there is no need to be so forceful

Common mistakes with checking who you are speaking to

  1. Using rude phrases to ask “Who’s calling, please?” like “Who are you?” X, “What’s your name?” and “And you are?” X (the last of which would be fine face to face)
  2. Asking “Who’s speaking?” X instead of “Who am I speaking to, please?” (if you are the caller) or “Who’s calling, please?” (if you are the receiver)
  3. Asking “Are you Kim Grant?” X instead of “Is that Kim Grant?”
  4. Grammar mistakes in checking who you are speaking to like “Are you right person to speak to about…?” X instead of “Are you the right person to speak to about…?”

Common mistakes with putting someone through

  1. Using rude phrases to ask “What is it concerning?”/ “Can I ask what it is concerning?” like “What’s it about?” X and “Why do you want to speak to…?” X
  2. Mixing up answering with “Sure” (which is very casual), “Of course” (standard business level) and “Certainly” (super formal)
  3. Mixing up “and I’ll…” and “while I…” by saying “Please hold the line and I connect you” X or “Please hold the line while I’ll connect you” X instead of “Please hold the line while I connect you” or “Please hold the line and I’ll connect you”

Common mistakes with asking people to wait

  1. Mixing up “Please hold (the line)” (which means not to hang up, and often that the receiver will press the “Hold” button on the phone and the caller will hear music) and “Hold on (a second)” (which means “wait” more generally, as in “Hold on a second, I’ll just find a pen”, and is quite casual)
  2. Using the wrong phrase to show that the wait is finished such as “Just a moment while I find your file. Okay. Please” X instead of “Just a moment while I find your file. Okay. Please go ahead”
  3. Using “Sorry to keep you waiting so long” when it hasn’t been so long and so “Sorry to keep you waiting” would be enough

Common mistakes with negative answers to requests to speak to someone

  1. Mixing up “I’m afraid…” and “I’m sorry but…” to make “I’m afraid but…” X (which would mean “I’m sorry but but” X)
  2. Using general reasons why someone’s not available (“He’s not here” X, “She’s not available” X) instead of detailed and specific ones (“She’ in a meeting until twelve”, “He’s on a business trip to India”, “She’s not at her desk”, etc)

Common mistakes with taking and leaving messages

  1. Saying “Can I take your message?” X instead of “Can I take a message?”
  2. Mixing up offers and requests in questions like “Would you like to take a message?” X and “Can you leave a message?” X instead of “Would you like to leave a message?”/ “Can I take a message?” from the receiver or “Can I leave a message?”/ “Could you take a message?” from the caller
  3. Using non-standard questions like “Do you have a message?”
  4. Asking the non-standard question “Has she your number?” instead of the more standard “Does she have your number?” or “Has she got your number?”
  5. Forgetting polite language when replying to “Can I take a message?”, for example saying “Yes. Can you tell him…?” X instead of “Yes, please. Can you tell him that…?”
  6. Too direct answers to “Does he have your number?” like “Yes” X instead of “Yes, I’m pretty sure he does” or “Yes, I think he does” or “No, he doesn’t” X instead of “No, I don’t think so” or “Possibly, but I’ll give it to you just in case”
  7. Saying “I think yes” X instead of “I think so”
  8. Using commands to leave messages like “Please tell him…” X instead of “Can you tell him…?”
  9. Using “Can you tell him to…?” X (which means “Can you command him to/ order him to…?”) instead of “Can you ask him to…?” or “Can you tell him that…?”
  10. Mixing up how to pronounce English letters by saying “ah” instead of “ei” for “A”, saying “koo” instead of “kyoo” for “Q”, mixing up “J” and “G”, pronouncing “B” and “V” the same, etc
  11. Pronouncing telephone numbers like big numbers (“Extension one hundred and thirty four” X) instead of individual numbers (“Extension one three four”)
  12. Splitting up telephone numbers in the wrong way by not pausing at the right place, or using words like “brackets”, “space” or “dot” instead of just pausing between parts of the phone number
  13. Using non-standard ways of talking about punctuation in email and website addresses like “at mark” X instead of “at” for “@”, “hyphen” instead of “dash” for “-” (not usual in this situation, even though it is technically more correct) and “underbar” X instead of “underscore”
  14. Using non-standard ways of pronouncing endings of emails addresses such as “dot C, O, M” instead of “dot com” for “.com” and “dot ack uck” instead of “dot A, C, U, K” for “.ac.uk”
  15. Grammar mistakes in the last step like “Okay, I’ll make sure that she will get your message” X instead of “Okay, I’ll make sure that she gets your message” and “I’ll pass your message on him. I’m sure he will back to you soon” X instead of “I’ll pass your message onto him. I’m sure he will get back to you soon”

Common mistakes with checking/ clarifying on the phone

  1. Asking “Do you understand?” to check if they got what you are saying (which could sound as if you are checking if they are intelligent enough to comprehend)
  2. Using imperative in checking/ clarifying questions like “Please repeat that more slowly” X when you should make requests like “Can you spell that for me, please?”
  3. Using and repeating vague checking/ clarifying phrases like “Sorry?” and “I didn’t catch that” when more specific ones like “Could you repeat the last word?”, “Did you say… or…?” and “Is that… as in…?” would be more useful and efficient
  4. Saying “One more” instead of “Can you say that one more time?”
  5. Mixing together “Can you repeat that?” and “Can you say that again?” to make “Can you repeat that again?”, which would mean to say something for the third or fourth time, not just for the second time
  6. Saying “What is the spell of…?” X instead of “How do you spell…?” or “Can you spell…?”
  7. Misunderstanding “Can I check that back?”/ “Can I read that back to check?” to mean “Can you repeat that?” (when actually it is kind of the opposite, because it means the receiver will repeat the message that they just heard)
  8. Saying “Can you check that back?” when you mean “Can I check that back?”/ “Can I read that back to check?”
  9. Replying to “Can I check that back?” with “Yes” X or “Please” X instead of “(Of course). Please go ahead”
  10. Correcting people with direct language like “No, that’s wrong. It should be….” X instead of “Actually, it should be…” or “There is just one little mistake. It should be…”
  11. Grammar mistakes with confirming you’ve got down a message like “Understand” X and “I get it” X instead of “Okay, got it (now), thanks”
  12. Confirming that you’ve got down a message with “I see” (which might mean that you are unhappy about the message) or “I understand” (which might mean that you reluctantly accept that information), instead of “Okay, got it now, thanks”

Common mistakes with other reactions to someone not being there

  1. Forgetting polite language in negative answers like “No, I’ll call back later” X instead of “No, that’s okay, thanks. I’ll just call back later”
  2. Using the direct question “When will she be back?” X instead of indirect questions like “Can you tell me when she will be back?” and “Do you know when she will be back?”
  3. Saying “Can you help?” X instead of “Perhaps you can help. (I…)” or “Is there anyone else I can speak to (about…)?”


Common mistakes in the body of the phone call

Common mistakes with active listening on the phone

  1. Listening in silence instead of using active listening phrases like “Of course”, “Sure”, “I understand”, “Got it”, “Really?” and “Yeah”
  2. Using the same active listening phrases or noises such as “Mmm hmm” “Mmm hmm” “Mmm hmm” X (which make it seem like you aren’t really listening or can’t be bothered thinking of more interested-sounding ways to react)
  3. Not using enough varied intonation and so actually sounding bored when you say “Really?”, “That’s interesting”, etc.


Common mistakes with ending phone calls

Common mistakes with giving reasons for ending phone calls

  1. Giving very general reasons for ending the phone call like “Well, I have something to do” X, “I am very busy” X or “Well, I have to get going” instead of more detailed and specific ones like “Well, this has been really useful, but I have a meeting in ten minutes, so I’ll email you later.”

Common mistakes with checking that the other person has finished and responding to that

  1. Going straight to “Thanks for calling” without checking if the other person has finished
  2. Using impolite phrases to check if the other person is finished like “Is that it?” X, “Anything else?” X or “Is that all?” X instead of “Can I help you with anything else?” or “Is there anything else (that) I can help you with?”
  3. Flat intonation or wrong stress like “Can I help you with anything ELSE?” making it seem that you don’t want to help them with anything else or think there have been too many questions already
  4. Using meetings language like “Is there anything else that we need to discuss?” even when it wasn’t really a discussion (although this is common in scheduled teleconferences)
  5. Waiting for the receiver to say “Can I help you with anything else?” (perhaps in silence or saying “Weeeeeelll”), instead of just saying “Well, I think that’s all for now, thanks”
  6. Mixing up casual phrases for saying you are finished like “No, that’s it, I reckon” with more standard or polite ones like “No, that’s all (for now), thanks”
  7. Very directly adding extra topics with “Yes, I also…” X instead of being more apologetic with phrases like “Actually, there is just one more thing” and “Sorry, I also need to know…”

Common mistakes with thanking at the end of phone calls

  1. Saying “Thanks for your calling” X instead of “Thanks for calling” or “Thanks for your call”
  2. Saying “Thanks for your help” when they actually couldn’t help you at all (which could possibly sound sarcastic), instead of just “Thanks” (or maybe “Thanks anyway” in a very short call in situations like “I’m sorry, he doesn’t work here anymore and I don’t have a new number for him”)
  3. Just saying a basic thanking phrase like “Thanks” or “Thanks for calling” when you have more to thank them for, for example if the caller helped the receiver
  4. Responding to “Thanks for calling” or “Thanks for your help” with a responding to thanks phrase like “You’re welcome” even when there is something that you could thank them back for
  5. Using “Thanks in advance” at the end of calls (which is sometimes okay in emails, but in a phone call sounds like a nagging “Don’t forget…”)
  6. Using “Thanks for your cooperation” at the end of calls (which is rare even in emails, as it ends commands/ orders/ instructions)

Common mistakes with mentioning future contact at the end of phone calls

  1. Mixing up “call back” (which should mean the receiver calling next time) and “call again” (which means the same person phoning a second time)
  2. Mistakes with future time expressions in mentioning future contact like “I’ll call again two days later/ after two days” X instead of “I’ll call again in two days”, “I’ll email you until close of business on Friday” X instead of “I’ll email you by close of business of Friday” and “See you on this Friday” X instead of “See you on Friday”
  3. Other grammar mistakes in mentioning future contact like “If you will have any more questions, please call again” X instead of “If you have any more questions, please call again” and “I look forward to hear from you” X instead of “I look forward to hearing from you”

Common mistakes with parting greetings on the phone

  1. Saying “Bye bye” when “Goodbye” or “Bye” would be more suitable

Copyright © 2020

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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