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21 Useful English Phrases

For Different Situations

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 gabriel@clarkandmiller.com

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.

For example:

What you need to do is go down this street, take a right and take the
third left.

IF I WERE YOU ID + 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.

For example:

If I were you, Id talk to him about how you feel.


YOUD* BETTER + VERB
*youd = 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.

For example:

Youd better be home before 8 oclock, 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, HOWS IT GOING?
This is quite informal. We can use it with friends, but its probably a
good idea not to use this with your boss unless you work in a very
relaxed office.

HI, WASSUP?
This is VERY informal. Its fun to use, but make sure youre VERY
comfortable with the person youre speaking to. If not, then you may
sound a bit lazy.

HEYA! HOW ARE THINGS?


This phrase sounds quite sincere because youre really asking
someone about their life. Make sure that you want to hear what news
the person who youre 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 youre 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 whos 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. Its a direct
offer of help and can be used in most situations (formal or informal).

CAN I HELP AT ALL?


If youre not sure that the situation youre in is informal enough, this
phrase is the safest. Use this with the old lady and her shopping bags.

4. MAKING SUGGESTIONS
So youre in a meeting. And its in English. You have a great idea and
youd like to contribute to the conversation.

Or youre just with a group of friends and youre 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 youre in.
HOW ABOUT + -ING
Use this phrase when youre brainstorming ways to solve a
problem.

HAVE YOU TRIED + -ING


This phrase is similar to How about but may be better after youve
already tried several ways to solve the problem.

WHY DONT YOU/WE + VERB


This phrase is more direct. Use this one when youre confident that
the person youre speaking to probably hasnt thought of this idea.

For example:

A: This document isnt printing. Its driving me crazy!


B: How about restarting the printer?
A: No, I tried that. It didnt work.

B: Have you tried restarting the computer?


A: Yes. I tried that, too.

B: Hmm Why dont you call the helpline?


A: Yeah. Good idea.

5. INTERRUPTING
Interrupting can be quite difficult in a foreign language. Every culture
has different rules about it. In English (especially in England), its
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, youre
asking permission from the person who youre 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.

6. DISAGREEING
Like interrupting, disagreeing can also be sensitive. When youre
disagreeing, its also a good idea to say sorry or Im afraid.
SORRY, IM NOT WITH YOU ON THAT.
Saying Im not with you feels more polite than I disagree. Its
more objective and less personal.

IM AFRAID I DISAGREE.
Im afraid is another way of saying Im sorry. Like sorry, it
makes the disagreement softer.

SORRY, BUT I THINK YOUVE MISSED THE


POINT.
Use this phrase when you want to tell someone that they havent
completely understood what you mean. This can be a little direct, so
make sure that youre comfortable with the person who youre 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 SHOULDNT 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 DIDNT do something in the past, and we feel bad because
of NOT doing it).

For example:

I shouldnt have eaten all those free cakes. I shouldve just eaten the
salad.

I wish I + past simple / past perfect / could


OK, theres a little grammar to this. In unreal situations, like wishes,
English grammar moves one step to the past.

How does that work?


Well, lets look at some examples.

After I wish

Present: Im not happy becomes past: I wish I was happy.

becomes past I wish I hadnt eaten too


Past: I ate too much perfect: much.

Can: I cant fly becomes could: I wish I could fly.

You can use shouldve for mistakes youve made, but you can use I
wish much more generally. It can be about anything, especially
things that you cant control.

For example:

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.

For example:

If only I hadnt spent all our money on shoes. Now we cant pay for
the bus home.

Check out more fun illustrated lessons on the Clark and Miller
blog!