Conversation Starters: English phrases for small talk

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Do you have difficulty speaking English? Sometimes the hardest part is simply starting a conversation. Here are some good conversation starters that native English speakers use in various real life situations – formal or informal, at work, school, or other contexts!

These aren’t especially “deep” conversation starters like you might want to use on a first date, when you’re interested in getting to know someone extremely well. Instead, they are more suited for “small talk” – casual conversation about topics of general interest.

Conversation starters with a friend:

With close friends, you can use informal conversation starters like these:

  • What’s up?
  • How’s it going?
  • What’s new?

The correct answer to “What’s up?” is “Not much.” You can then add a detail about what’s happening in your life at the moment. If someone says “How’s it going?” you can answer “Good” or “Not so good” and then say why.

Conversation starters with colleagues:

In the office, use slightly more formal English, like these common expressions:

  • Hi, John. How are you doing?
  • How’s your day going?
  • We’re sure having a busy/slow day today.
  • Have you heard the news about ________?
  • (on Friday): Have you got any plans for the weekend?
  • (on Monday): How was your weekend?
  • I saw the funniest thing on social media… [then show or describe it]
    (for a more casual moment, like on a break from work)

You can talk about projects you’re working on, hobbies you have outside work, a favorite TV show, etc. Current national and international news can also be a conversation starter. Another good question is to ask about the other person’s weekend – either the most recent weekend or the upcoming weekend.

Conversation starters with a friend who you haven’t seen in a long time:

Here are some common conversation starters with someone you see after a long separation:

  • Hi Paula! How have you been?
  • Long time no see!
  • So, what have you been up to lately?
  • How’s your family?
  • Are you still working at ABC Company?

In this case, you can ask about news in your friend’s work, study, family, and hobbies. The friend will probably ask you about recent developments in your own life, too.

Conversation starters at a party or wedding:

  • I don’t think we’ve met – I’m Shayna.
  • Are you from New York?
  • So, how do you know Mary?
  • Have you tried the chocolate cake? It’s delicious!
  • Having a good time?

If you’re at a party or wedding, you can start a conversation by asking how the person knows the host of the party (or the people getting married). You can also comment about the food and drinks, or about the music.

Conversation starters at a conference or work event:

  • I don’t think we’ve met – I’m Shayna.
  • So, where are you from?
  • What did you think of the speaker?
  • That was an excellent workshop – I learned a lot. How about you?

The expression “I don’t think we’ve met” can be used in professional situations too. You can ask about the person’s job, what company they are from, and their opinions about the conference events.

Conversation starters with someone you have just been introduced to:

  • Nice to meet you!
  • How do you two know each other?
  • So, what do you do for a living? (= what is your job?)
  • What are you studying?
  • How long have you been (a journalist / doing yoga / interested in music)?
  • How did you get into it?

Imagine you have a friend, Nora, who introduces you to her friend Ryan. You can ask about how they know each other, and about Ryan’s job. If Nora says Ryan is a student, you can ask about his area of study and what year of college he’s in. If Nora introduces Ryan as a journalist, or a friend from yoga class, or a musician, you can ask about how long he has done that activity, or how he first got interested in it. His answer will then provide material to continue the conversation.

Conversation starters with someone you meet outside:

  • It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
  • It looks like it’s going to rain/snow.
  • Can you believe all this rain/snow we’ve been having?
  • Sure is a hot/cold one today!
  • Your dog is so cute! What’s his name?

If you’re in a park, on the street, etc., conversation starters often involve talking about the weather or other things you can easily observe in the area.

Conversation starters with a stranger in other situations:

The secret to starting a conversation with someone you don’t know is to make a comment about the current social context. Here are a few examples of how to do this:

  • At an art gallery: “That’s an interesting painting. What do you think of it?”
  • At a bar: “This is a great song – I love Latin music. How about you?”
  • At a sports game: “Wow, that was a great play! So, who’s your favorite player?”
  • At a coffee shop:  “Boy, do I need some caffeine!”
  • At a concert or event: “What a great turnout! Have you ever been here before?”
  • At a playground: “My kids are sure full of energy today!

As in the example of the coffee shop and playground, conversation starters don’t necessarily need to be direct questions. You can simply make a comment to the other person, and this is like an invitation for the other person to comment, too. This can then begin a conversation.

Now go ahead and take the next lesson, on how to keep a conversation going.

Learn more: 250 conversation starters

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