This is a guest post by Gabriel Clark. He is an online English teacher for www.clarkandmiller.com, which provides Skype English lessons with high-quality teachers.
Gabriel is from Brighton in the UK and has taught English in England, Russia, Turkey and Bulgaria. Feel free to send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you often ask yourself, “Oh no! What do I say in this situation?!”
Or do you always use the same phrase for the same situation again and again?
What you need is these 21 useful phrases to keep in your pocket so you can deal with common situations in English like a pro.
1. Giving advice
There are lots of ways to give advice. The classic is “you should.” But this can start to sound boring if you use it again and again. Here are some more interesting ways to give advice…
What you need to do is + verb
This is very good for practical things like fixing a computer, or giving directions.
“What you need to do is go down this street, take a right and take the third left”.
If I were you I’d + verb
This phrase is a lot less practical and a lot more personal. Maybe you would say this when giving advice to friends or family.
“If I were you, I’d talk to him about how you feel.”
You’d* better + verb
*”you’d = you had”
This phrase has a sense of authority to it. A boss might use it with an employee, or a mother might use it with her child.
We sometimes add “or…” after this phrase to make it more threatening.
“You’d better be home before 8 o’clock, or no more computer games for a week.”
2. Greeting people
When you see a friend, what do you say? If you just say “Hello” or “Hi,” then perhaps you need a few more phrases in your pocket.
Hey, how’s it going?
This is quite informal. We can use it with friends, but it’s probably a good idea not to use this with your boss unless you work in a very relaxed office.
This is VERY informal. It’s fun to use, but make sure you’re VERY comfortable with the person you’re speaking to. If not, then you may sound a bit lazy.
Heya! How are things?
This phrase sounds quite sincere because you’re really asking someone about their life. Make sure that you want to hear what news the person who you’re speaking to has!
3. Offering help
You see an old lady having problems with her shopping bags. What do you say? One of your friends is moving house and has a lot of boxes to carry. What do you say to her? We have different phrases we use to offer help to people. It depends on who you’re speaking to. Here are some common ones.
Wanna hand with that?
This is the short version of “Do you want a hand with that?” “A hand” can mean “some help” in informal English.
This is quite informal. Use this with your friend who’s moving house, not the old lady with the shopping bags.
Let me give you a hand.
This is a more polite version of “Wanna hand with that.” It’s a direct offer of help and can be used in most situations (formal or informal).
Can I help at all?
If you’re not sure that the situation you’re in is informal enough, this phrase is the safest. Use this with the old lady and her shopping bags.
4. Making suggestions
So you’re in a meeting. And it’s in English. You have a great idea and you’d like to contribute to the conversation.
Or you’re just with a group of friends and you’re deciding what to do over the weekend.
There are different ways we can make suggestions. Which one to use sometimes depends on what part of the conversation you’re in.
How about + -ing
Use this phrase when you’re “brainstorming” ways to solve a problem.
Have you tried + -ing
This phrase is similar to “How about…” but may be better after you’ve already tried several ways to solve the problem.
Why don’t you/we + verb
This phrase is more direct. Use this one when you’re confident that the person you’re speaking to probably hasn’t thought of this idea.
A: This document isn’t printing. It’s driving me crazy!
B: How about restarting the printer?
A: No, I tried that. It didn’t work.
B: Have you tried restarting the computer?
A: Yes. I tried that, too.
B: Hmm… Why don’t you call the helpline?
A: Yeah. Good idea.
Interrupting can be quite difficult in a foreign language. Every culture has different rules about it. In English (especially in England), it’s always good to be indirect, and to say “sorry.” This “softens” the interruption.
Sorry to cut in but + sentence
Using sorry at the beginning helps soften the interruption. Using the phrasal verb “cut in” also sounds lighter than saying “interrupt.”
Can I just stop you there for a moment?
This is a good example of being indirect. When you say this, you’re asking permission from the person who you’re interrupting.
Sorry Desmond, but…
This is a little less soft, but if you feel more comfortable with the person, this can be an honest and more direct way to interrupt by saying their name.
Like interrupting, disagreeing can also be sensitive. When you’re disagreeing, it’s also a good idea to say “sorry” or “I’m afraid.”
Sorry, I’m not with you on that.
Saying “I’m not with you” feels more polite than “I disagree.” It’s more objective and less personal.
I’m afraid I disagree.
“I’m afraid” is another way of saying “I’m sorry.” Like “sorry,” it makes the disagreement softer.
Sorry, but I think you’ve missed the point.
Use this phrase when you want to tell someone that they haven’t completely understood what you mean. This can be a little direct, so make sure that you’re comfortable with the person who you’re talking to when you use it.
7. Expressing regret
Think about the last time you made a mistake. Was it a big mistake or a small one? Did you feel like the whole world was ending? Or was it just a silly, little accident?
In English we have different ways of expressing regret. Some of them are for the big mistakes, some for the small ones.
I shouldn’t have + past participle
We say this when we made a mistake in the past and we now feel bad because of it. We can use the positive form to talk about the opposite (when we DIDN’T do something in the past, and we feel bad because of NOT doing it).
“I shouldn’t have eaten all those free cakes. I should’ve just eaten the salad.”
I wish I + past simple / past perfect / could
OK, there’s a little grammar to this. In “unreal” situations, like wishes, English grammar moves one step to the past.
How does that work?
Well, let’s look at some examples.
After “I wish…”
|Present:||“I’m not happy”||becomes past:||“I wish I was happy.”|
|Past:||“I ate too much”||becomes past perfect:||“I wish I hadn’t eaten too much.”|
|Can:||“I can’t fly”||becomes “could:”||“I wish I could fly.”|
You can use “should’ve” for mistakes you’ve made, but you can use “I wish” much more generally. It can be about anything, especially things that you can’t control.
“I wish I had enough money to travel the world and then buy a house in Iceland.”
If only I + past / past perfect / could
This phrase has the same grammar rules as “I wish.” The meaning is very similar, too. The difference? This phrase is stronger. When you say it, you REALLY feel the regret.
“If only I hadn’t spent all our money on shoes. Now we can’t pay for the bus home.”