This article is a guide to many interesting and sometimes surprising ways of answering the phone that exist round the world, written for language learners and anyone who is interested in cultural differences. A more general guide to cultural differences in telephone calls will also be available on this site from November 2016, and there is an article on starting English phone calls here https://www.usingenglish.com/articles/how-to-start-phone-calls-in-english.html.
The first use of the word “Hello” as a greeting was on the phone, and it only later became something that English speakers say face to face (having previously only be used to get someone’s attention). For that reason, internationally variations on the word “Hello” are the most common thing to say when you answer the phone even when the local face-to-face greetings are completely different, e.g. in France, Russia, Vietnam and Brazil. There are also countries which use a local equivalent, like “Moshi moshi” in Japanese (which means something like “Hello? Is anyone there?”) and “Yoboseyo” in Korean (which means something like “Hello! Over here!”, like “Excuse me sir!”)
However, there are many other ways of answering the phone, both in English and in other languages. This article will look at all the different possibilities for what to say when someone phones you, starting with the English variations.
Answering the phone in English
Answering your home phone in English
“Hello?” is still the most common way of answering the phone in English, especially with your home phone. Some people answer using their phone number instead (“098 7776 7654” etc), but this is a little old-fashioned. Even more outdated is answering with the name of the household (“Smith residence”, “Case household”, “Jones family”, etc), something that is mainly only used as a joke nowadays. Using your own name to answer your home phone (“Alex Case”, “Alex Case speaking”, etc) is also rare.
If you have caller ID on your home phone and know the person who is phoning (well), it is possible to answer with “Hi John” etc, the same as answering your mobile (see below). However, if people might not expect you to have caller ID it is often better to start with a standard “Hello” and let them introduce themselves the traditional way, even if you actually already know who they are.
Answering your mobile phone in English
If someone’s name comes up on your mobile and you know them well, it is most common to answer with a greeting and name, e.g. “Hi Steve”, or a more informal equivalent like “Alright Steve”, “Hiya Steve” or even “Hi Honey”. This can also be made slightly longer, e.g.
- “Hi Steve. How’s it going?/ What’s up?”
- “Hi Steve. Thanks for calling me back/ Thanks for getting back to me (so quickly).”
- “Hi Steve. I was just about to call you.”
- “Hi Steve. Are you nearly here?”
- “Hi Steve. I’m just on the other side of the road. Can you see me?”
Some people use even more informal greetings like “Yo!” or “What’s up?”, but they are too informal for most situations.
(Only) if you are in a real rush, you can also get straight down to business as soon as you answer the phone, for instance:
- “Sorry Steve, can I call you back?”
- “Sorry Steve, I’m nearly there”
If you don’t know the person phoning (well), for example if no name comes up on your screen because they have never phoned you before, the most common way of answering your mobile is with the standard “Hello?” However, it is a work mobile or you think it’s probably a work call, you can use one of the longer phrases below.
Answering your work phone in English
When you know or guess it is an internal work call (e.g. from a colleague in another department), just “Hello?” is again fairly standard. However, if the call could be someone from outside such as a client, you usually have to use a longer phrase, for example:
- “Good morning. ABC Limited. HR department. Training section. Alex Case speaking. How may I help you?”
- “Good afternoon. ABC Limited. Alex Case. How can I help you?”
- “Good evening. ABC Limited. Training section. How may I help you?”
- “HR department. Alex speaking. How can I help you?”
Note that all these examples follow the common English order of “greeting + company name + department/ division/ section name + receiver’s name + offer of help”, with all variations just being leaving out or changing the language of one of those parts. Some people also add “thanks for calling”, usually just before the offer of help, but that is more common in answerphone messages.
Rarer variations on “How can/ may I help you?” include “How may I be of assistance?” and “How may I direct your call?” The second one is only used when you are sure you need to put them through to someone else, e.g. in the rare situation that your workplace still has a secretary or receptionist and that is your job. In that case, you could also say “Who would you like to speak to?”
Another rare and old-fashioned way to answer the phone is with an extension number, e.g. “(Good morning), extension 767”. This can also be used when you answer someone else’s phone, for example if the phone on the next desk keeps ringing when your colleague isn’t there. However, in that case it is much more common to say “Harold Bloom’s phone/ desk/ office”, usually in the place of giving your own name in the phrases above, as in “Good morning. ABC Limited. Harold Bloom’s desk. How can I help you?”
If you have caller ID on your work phone you can also use the mobile phrases above.
Answering the phone in other languages
As mentioned above, many non-English speaking countries use versions of “Hello” (maybe without the “h” sound, as in the French “Allo”). However, there are plenty of places where completely different words are used. The most interesting variations are listed below, but please note that these have been described because they are different, not necessarily because they are the most common or only ways of answering the phone in that country (something that you can easily search for online with “Answering the phone in Portuguese”, “Telephoning in French”, “Russian telephone phrases”, etc if that is what you need to know).
Different ways of answering the phone
- “Hi” (e.g. “Oi” in Brazilian Portuguese)
- “(I’m) listening” (e.g. “Klausau” in Lithuanian, “Sooham” in Polish, “Slushayu” in Russian, and “Oigo” in Spanish)
- “(Yes), please go ahead” (“Prosim” in Slovak, “Oriste” in Greek or “Ja, Bitte” in German)
- “Hello? Who’s that?/ Who’s speaking?/ Who’s on the line, please?” (e.g. “Si? Quien habla?” in Spanish, “Chi parla ?” in Italian, or "Qui est a l"appareil?" in French)
- “Please” for “Who’s speaking, please?” (e.g. “Parakalo” in Greek)
- “Ready!” (“Pronto” in Italian, apparently originally meaning the line is ready to speak on)
- “I am (here)” (“Estou” in Portuguese)
- “Speak (to me)” (e.g. “Diga(me)” or sometimes “Hable” in Spanish, “Fala” in Portuguese and “Digui” in Catalan)
- “Well”/ “So?” (“Bueno” in Mexican Spanish)
- “Yes? (What is it?)” (as in when someone shouts to you from across the room, e.g. “Efendim” in Turkish)
- “Yes?” (e.g. “Da” in Romanian)
- “(You are speaking) with…” (e.g. “Met…” in Dutch/ Flemish)
- “… is on the phone” (“C’est…à l’appareil.” in French)
- Just family name (e.g. in German)
- (Company) name then greeting (the opposite way round to English, e.g. "ABC AG, Schmidt, guten Tag" in German)
- “Peace” (“Shalom” in Hebrew)
- “Can I help you?” (“Est-ce que je peux vous aider?” in French)
- “At…” (e.g. “Bei Schmidt”, meaning “At the Schmidt’s” when you answer someone else’s phone in German)
How not to answer the phone in English
None of the phrases in the previous section above are considered correct ways to answer the phone in English. You might occasionally hear people in movies answering the phone with “Yes?” or just their family name. However, just “Yes” is very rude in English, meaning something like “Yes? What do you want? Don’t you know that I’m busy?” and just “Smith” is very old-fashioned. It’s also impolite to ask who is calling straightaway without waiting for the caller to speak first. Although even native speakers sometimes slip up and use it, the yes/ no question “May I help you?”/ “Can I help you?”/ “May I be of assistance?” doesn’t make much sense on the phone, because there is no chance they can say “No, that’s okay, thanks” (unlike in the shopping situation where a negative response is okay). Other possible mistakes are explained below.
“Good night” is never used when you answer the phone, because it only means “Goodbye”, for example when someone is going home or going to sleep.
In English, “This is Alex Case” is used by the caller, not by the receiver. Therefore, “This is Alex Case” shouldn’t be used to answer the phone. You can use the longer version “(Good morning. ABC Corp.) This is Alex Case speaking. (How can I help you?)”, but it seems unnecessary when the rest of the answering the phone phrase is already quite long. “I’m Alex Case” isn’t used in this situation.
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