There may be more than 250,000 words in the English language, but most of us only use a few hundred of them every day.
You can use this to your advantage, by learning the most common phrases in English first. In this article, we’re exploring some of the most common phrases in English—how to use them, where you’re likely to hear them most often, and how to practice so your new phrases become second nature in no time.
Are you ready?
Common Phrases In English: Let’s Learn
“Hi. My name is Lisa.”
This is an informal way of introducing yourself to a group, so it’s good when you’re addressing a team you know at work or at school.
You: Hi, My name is Lisa, and I’m here to talk to you about the rainforest.
This is an informal way of introducing yourself, so it’s great for casual group and one-on-one settings. When someone is introduced to you at a party or gathering, this phrase is well suited.
John (speaking to you): Have you met Barry?
You: No, I haven’t. Hi! I’m Lisa.
Barry: Nice to meet you, Lisa.
A variation on any introduction is to say your name and follow it up with nice to meet you.
John (speaking to you): This is Barry.
You: Lisa. Nice to meet you.
Barry: Nice to meet you, too, Lisa.
In a more formal situation, you could use your first and last name instead, as Lisa Simpson, nice to meet you.
Manners and Etiquette
“Please… / Can you please…”
This is the universal way to ask for anything in English. You can add this word on to any request to instantly make it more polite—and therefore make people more likely to do your bidding. Please can also be used as an exclamation, but we’ll explore that in another post.
Instead of: Tell me where the toilet is.
Try: Can you please tell me where the toilet is? Or where is the toilet, please?
Instead of: Be quiet, I can’t concentrate.
Try: Please be quiet, I can’t concentrate.
This is the ultimate way to show gratitude in English. When you are given a compliment or gift, or someone does you a favor, or shows you a courtesy—effectively any time someone does or says something positive—you can use this phrase as is.
John: That’s a great dress.
You: Oh, thanks!
John: Here, wear this coat over it.
You: Ok. Thank you.
Variations include thanks, thanks a lot, thanks very much, or thanks so much.
You can also use thank you in the negative, as in no, thank you—ideal if someone offers you something you really don’t want.
John: Do you want to wear these boots with your dress?
You: No, thank you.
Pro Tip: Thanks a lot can also be used sarcastically. If in doubt, skip this one.
“You’re welcome / My pleasure.”
This is the default response to thank you. If you open the door for someone, and they thank you, you’re welcome is a reasonable response on its own. It works for every situation where the thank you is in response to a positive—it doesn’t work if someone says no, thank you. The proper response to no, thank you is silence or OK.
Greetings and Farewells
“Hi / Hello / Hey”
This standard greeting works in any informal setting—with friends and family, with colleagues, and when out shopping or traveling.
A default morning greeting that works in any formal or informal setting—it can be used for family and friends, colleagues, your employer, government officials, and shopkeepers.
Good afternoon and good evening are more formal. They are best reserved for official settings or when talking to your utility company.
You: Yes, good afternoon, I’m calling about my power bill. It looks really high.
“See you later.”
This is a casual farewell that works best for family and friends. Bye is better suited to a formal situation, although goodbye is not used much in verbal conversations. Many native English speakers use great seeing you or great talking to you as a form of farewell. Similarly, It’s been so nice seeing you again can be used as a formal farewell if you pair it with the appropriate body language.
Out and About
“Oh, really? I thought…”
This is a great way to offer a conflicting opinion politely.
Instead of: No, you’re wrong!
Try: Oh really? I thought the sign pointed this way.
“How can I help you?”
This is a polite, professional phrase in a work situation where a colleague or customer needs your attention. A variation of this is what can I do for you? This question can move a conversation forward when someone clearly wants to talk with you.
“Do you have plans for…”
This is a casual way to ask someone what they are doing on a certain day or at a specific time. This can be followed up with an invitation, if you like.
You: Do you have plans for Friday night?
John: Not really.
You: I was thinking of having a BBQ. You should come!
“Can you please repeat that?”
During your English learning journey, you are likely to come across phrases that you don’t understand. You may also struggle to understand an English dialect or accent. If you do, simply ask them politely to repeat themselves. You’ll soon realize how willing people are to help you learn their language.
“What does that mean?”
Sometimes, it’s not that you misheard the phrase—but that you don’t know it at all. Again, people most likely want to help you learn, so ask what the word or phrase means and take note of it.
John: Well, it is what it is…
You: What does that mean?
John: Nothing. I have nothing constructive to say but I’m not ready to stop talking.
Common Phrases in English: Let’s Practice
The key is to practice until the phrases form naturally. For many of us, learning to form English sounds in our mouths—like the TH of father and theater, the R of rice and rhythm, or the TCH of stretch—can be more difficult than learning English vocabulary. This is why you should practice your speaking and comprehension by talking to others. Doing that at least 1 hour per day will give you tremendous results!
Try these simple tips for rehearsing your common phrases in English:
- Practice phonetically—by sounding out the phrases alongside a video / YouTube or by speaking to others in our Discord Server.
- Repeat them. Repetition is a large part of getting used to common English phrases.
- Test them. Find another English learner (or English speaker) to practice on. Using your common phrases in a real world situation helps it to feel more natural.
- Write them. Although many of us learn English orally—by speaking it—seeing the words written down can help to solidify them in your mind.
- Look for them. Listen to how different people say the phrase on TV, on streaming channels, and in videos.
Got a favorite common English phrase we’ve left off this list? Let us know!