English for the Office: 38 Phrases for Your Business Encounters
Here’s a new way to think about English for office professionals.
In the office, we’re constantly meeting new people, working on projects, sending emails and even just hanging out in the break room. All of these things have their own expected dialogues.
We’ll give you the script you can use to master all of these office encounters. Below, you’ll find common office English expressions for greetings, telephone conversations, small talk and more.
Throughout this post, we’ll be using brackets—which look like this: [ ]—to indicate parts of a sentence you should fill in with your own information.
- Meeting People at the Office
- Business Related Idioms
- Telephone Use at the Office
- Writing Emails at the Office
- English for Office Small Talk
- Ending a Business Discussion
Meeting People at the Office
Meeting people can be a stressful experience if you’re not sure what you should say. Thankfully, there are many key phrases and office English conversation starters you can memorize to make meeting new people a pleasant and easy activity.
When you’re approaching someone new, it’s nice to start the conversation with a polite greeting. Some common phrases you might use are:
Hi, how are you today?
It’s generally polite to introduce yourself to new people and learn their names as well. Here are some phrases you can use to tell someone your name and to learn his or hers:
I’m [your name], what’s your name?
I’m [your name], I don’t believe we’ve met.
My name is [your name], I don’t believe we’ve met.
After you’ve learned a new person’s name, it’s nice to indicate that you’re happy to have made introductions. For example:
It’s nice to meet you.
Pleased to meet you.
To keep the conversation going with someone new, it’s a good idea to ask some broad questions about his or her background. Some common questions (and ways to respond) are:
Where are you from?
Reply: I’m from [your home country].
Where did you go to school/college/university?
Reply: I graduated from [university you attended] in [year you graduated].
When it’s time to end an office English conversation with someone you just met, it can be nice to reiterate that you’re glad to have met them:
It was nice to meet you.
I enjoyed meeting you.
Thank you for introducing yourself.
You can also say “goodbye” to your new friend in a few different ways, such as:
Have a nice day/morning/afternoon/evening.
I hope you have a pleasant day.
Business Related Idioms
There are endless English idioms (expressions that don’t translate easily) used in the office. Some common ones you’re likely to encounter include:
In the red (In debt/operating a loss)
Keeping your eye on the ball (Staying focused on your goal)
Steep learning curve (Difficult/requires lots of effort to learn)
Back to the drawing board / Back to square one (Both of these idioms mean you have to start your goal/project over from the beginning.)
Some other terms you’ll need to be familiar with are used to shorten words or expressions.
For example, “24/7” means “all the time” and “ASAP” is an acronym that stands for “As Soon As Possible.”
It’s important to become familiar with these sayings so you aren’t left confused when you hear them in the office.
Telephone Use at the Office
Answering the Phone
The first impression you make with someone might be over the phone. It’s a good idea to use a professional greeting if you’re not sure of your audience beforehand:
Hello, this is [your name] speaking.
Hello, you’ve reached [your company’s name], this is [your name] speaking.
Common Phrases for the Phone
During a phone call, you’ll likely need to identify the caller and find out how you can help him or her. Sometimes, you’ll have trouble understanding what has been said and other times you may get interrupted by another call.
These are some useful phrases to memorize so that you’re prepared to tackle phone calls with professionalism.
May I ask who’s calling?
How may I help you?
Excuse me a moment, I’m getting another call.
I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
Ending Your Phone Call
Ending a phone conversation on a pleasant note is easy with phrases such as these in your vocabulary:
It was nice speaking with you.
Have a nice day.
Have a nice afternoon.
Thank you for calling.
Writing Emails at the Office
The funny thing about email is that sometimes it needs to be perfectly formal and other times it may need to be more casual. It’s very important to know the purpose and audience of your email as you’re writing it to make sure that you present yourself properly.
If you’re sending an email to a potential employer you would want to use a formal format. However, to send a quick note to a coworker about a project, a more casual approach is likely best.
Common Parts of Business Email
As I mentioned above, make sure you know the intended purpose of your email as well as your audience so that you can choose the proper format for things like the greeting and closing phrase.
Dear Mr. Smith: (Formal)
Hi, John, (Informal)
Sincerely, [your name] (Formal)
Thank you, [your name] (Formal or informal)
You can also simply leave your name at the end of an email, which is considered a more informal closing.
The biggest email mistake you might make is, as I mentioned above, using either an overly formal or overly casual tone for your intended audience.
Some other problems you may run into involve spelling errors and word usage that even native speakers struggle with. A common issue when writing in English is confusing similar words, such as:
Their, They’re or There
It’s or Its
It can also be easy to mess up your subject-verb agreement:
“The projects announced at last month’s meeting is on track.” (Incorrect)
“The projects announced at last month’s meeting are on track.” (Correct)
Another common mistake when writing in English is to confuse the words “effect” and “affect.” Generally, “effect” should be used as a noun while “affect” is used as a verb.
“The advertising campaign had a positive effect on sales.”
“I walk to work every day, so my schedule isn’t affected by traffic jams.”
An exception to this rule is made when saying, “We effect change.”
Lastly, be sure to avoid “texting” language, such as TTYL (talk to you later) or slang terms, such as gonna (going to).
English for Office Small Talk
It’s always nice to make some work friends. You want to sound comfortable around them, so using some more casual greetings will make you seem more at ease.
How’s it going?
How’ve you been?
Long time, no see. (It’s been a long time since we saw each other.)
If you don’t know exactly what you should talk about, these are some easy conversation starters for a casual chat:
Did you see the [sports team] game last night?
How about this weather we’ve been having?
Did you do anything fun last weekend?
Got any exciting plans for the week?
And when you’re parting ways, keeping that conversational flow going is a breeze with phrases like these memorized:
See you later.
Nice chatting with you.
See you around.
Ending a Business Discussion
Sometimes a simple “bye” isn’t enough when speaking with your boss or coworkers. Perhaps you need to indicate that you’ll follow up on your discussion or that you value the time they’ve spent speaking with you.
If you need to take further action on your own or look into something, you can end the conversation by saying:
I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow/next week/next month.
That means you’ll pick up the conversation again in the future.
To show you appreciate the conversation, you can say:
I’m glad we could discuss this.
Being unsure of what to say in new situations can feel intimidating. However, with a strong idea of what English office phrases and words to use you can feel confident in your interactions at work every day.
It also helps to see examples from native speakers in office settings, such as movies and YouTube videos.
On the FluentU program, English-language videos like movie trailers and news clips come with interactive subtitles. These captions show definitions and images to help you understand business English phrases in context.