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 English Vocabulary for ESL learners 

Useful phrases and expressions

Useful phrases and expressions for general conversation and everyday situations.

Do you often wonder what to say in certain circumstances?
Here are some phrases and expressions that will help you deal with common situations like a native English speaker.

  • ADVICE: asking for and giving advice 

    1. Asking for advice:
      • I need some advice. I’ve no idea what to do.
      • What do you think I should do?
      • What would you recommend?
      • What do you suggest?
      • Have you got any ideas?
      • What would you do if you were me?
      • Do you think I should ...?
      • Would it be a good idea to ...?
      • How would you react in my position?
      • What would be the best solution?

    2. Giving advice: possible answers
      • You could always … (go to the shop and ask for an exchange).
      • My advice would be to ... (take it back and ask for a refund).
      • What you need to do is ... (make a copy in case the original gets lost).
      • One thing you could do is ... (read your speech/presentation to a friend).
      • Have you thought about/tried … (enquiriing at the reception)?
      • It’s generally a good idea to ... (read your answers again before handing in your paper).
      • If I were you I would ... (discuss the idea with my family/colleagues).
      • (Sending it to your parents'/ a friend's home))...... might be a good solution.
      • It would probably be better/safer/wiser to ... (ask for written confirmation).
      • I think your only option is to ... (talk to them before the announcement).
      • The sooner you ..........(call/write/confirm/cancel) the better.


    1. Agreeing:
      • I tend to agree with you.
      • That's a good idea.
      • I'm with you on that point.
      • I'll go along with that.
      • Absolutely! I agree with your point.
      • I totally agree with that idea/proposal.
      • I hold exactly the same view.
      • I couldn't agree more.
      • That's absolutely true.
      • That's just what I was thinking.
      • That's exactly my position.
      • That's how I see it too / how I feel too.

    2. Disagreeing:
      • I see things differently.
      • I tend to disagree with that idea.
      • I agree up to a point. However ...
      • You have a point there, but ...
      • Sorry, but I think you've missed the point.
      • You could be right. However ...
      • The idea is worth considering, but ...
      • Perhaps a weakness of this is that ...
      • Well, I'm not sure of that because ...
      • That might be acceptable if ...
      • I'm afraid I don't agree / I disagree.
      • I strongly / totally disapprove of the plan.
      • I'm absolutely against the proposal.

  • APOLOGIES: making and accepting apologies 

    1. Making an apology
      • I must apologise for ...
      • I'm terribly sorry for ...
      • Please accept my apoligies for ...
      • Excuse me for ... I'm so sorry.
      • Please forgive me for ...
      • I'm really ashamed of what I did.
      • I'd like to apologise for ...
      • I'm really sorry about what I said.
      • It's my fault. I shouldn't have ...
      • I owe you an apology for ...
      • I'm so embarrassed. I didn't mean to ...
      • That was rude of me. I'm sorry.
      • I hope you'll forgive me for ...

    2. Accepting an apology
      • There's no need. It's ok.
      • Forget about it. No harm done.
      • That's all right. It doesn't matter.
      • It's ok. Don't worry about it.
      • Never mind. I quite understand.
      • It's ok. You couldn't help it.
      • There's no need to. It's all right.
      • You're forgiven. It's ok.
      • Forget about it. I understand.
      • There's no need. Don't worry about it.
      • Never mind. It's forgotten already.
      • That's all right. Apology accepted!
      • Don't worry. You're forgiven!

  • BAD NEWS: announcing and responding to bad news 

    1. Announcing bad news
      • I've got some bad news I'm afraid.
      • I'm sorry to have to tell you this but ...
      • I'm afraid I've got something sad to tell you...
      • I don't know how to announce this but ...
      • There's no easy way to say this but ...
      • I feel really bad having to tell you this but ...
      • I've got something unpleasant to announce ...
      • Please don't take this too badly but ...

    2. Responding to bad news
      • How dreadful! I'm really sorry to hear that.
      • What a shame. / What a pity. / How awful.
      • My goodness! What a shock! It's hard to believe.
      • That's sad indeed. I can imagine how you feel.
      • What dreadful news! So sorry. If there's anything I can do ...
      • How unfortunate! That's really tough on you!
      • You must feel terrible. I'm sorry to hear that.
      • You have all my sympathy. I know how you must feel.
      • That's so sad ... and so unexpected. I'm really sorry.
      • It's hard to take but I understand your position.

  • CLARIFYING INFORMATION: checking that you've understood 

    • Does that mean … /  Do you mean … ?
    • If I understand correctly, you're asking me to …
    • Just to make sure that I’ve understood, what you would like is ….?
    • I’m not sure if I got that right. You would like us to …?
    • So, unless I’m mistaken, you're asking us to …
    • So, your idea would be to ...
    • Could you clarify what you mean by ...?
    • Sorry. Could you be more specific?
    • Do I understand you to mean that ...?
    • Just to be absolutely clear, you’re offering to... if we agree to ...?
    • To put it another way, you're suggesting / you're saying that …
    • So, correct me if I'm wrong. What that means is …
    • In other words you agree with my proposal?
    • So, to be perfectly clear, we both agree to …
    • Am I right to conclude that …?
    • I appreciate the clarification. It makes more sense to me now.
    • Would you mind confirming that in writing?

  • CONVERSATIONAL EXPRESSIONS: Expressions regularly used in everyday conversations. 

    • After all (considering what has happened).
      “We don’t have to invite them to our wedding. After all, they didn’t invite us!"
    • As a matter of fact (actually, in fact).
      “I keep in touch with Carla. As a matter of fact we had lunch together today.
    • By the way (incidentally).
      By the way, don’t forget to send me a copy.”
    • Come to think of it (I’ve just realized something).
      Come to think of it, it would be much simpler to pay by bank transfer.”
    • In other words (to put it/to say it another way).
      “I see. In other words you’ll come if Jack can come too – is that it?”
    • If you ask me (if you want my opinion).
      If you ask me, she’s looking for a compliment!”
    • If all else fails (if nothing else succeeds).
      If all else fails we can stay here and order a pizza.”
    • So to speak (in a manner of speaking).
      “The new recruit has passed his entry test so to speak.”
    • That reminds me (something (said) makes me think of…).
      That reminds me … it’s time to start sending out the invitations.”
    • With one thing and another (I’ve had so many things to do).
      “Sorry. With one thing and another I completely forget to call you back.”

  • DISAPPOINTMENT: Ways to express disappointment 

    • Oh, that’s too bad / That’s a shame/ What a pity/ How disappointing!
    • What a let-down! / What a disaster!
    • To be honest I was a bit disappointed.
    • That was such a disappointment!
    • I’ve never been so disappointed in my whole life!
    • That really didn’t live up to expectations, did it?
    • It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.
    • It wasn't all it was cracked up to be!
    • It wasn’t at all what we had been led to expect.
    • I was so looking forward to it. What a let-down!
    • It promised more than it delivered
    • It was an absolute waste of money.
    • I left before the end of the show. It was total rubbish!
    • The whole thing bored me to tears!
    • Well, frankly, the event turned out to be a damp squib!
      (damp squib = small firework that does not go off properly)


    • Hang in there! / Stay at it / Keep at it!
    • Go on/come on! You can do it! Give it a try!
    • Go for it! Just do it! What have you got to lose?
    • Give it your best! / Give it a shot! / Give it your best shot!
    • That's a good effort. Keep up the good work!
    • That's a real improvement. Well done!
    • The whole team is 100% behind you.
    • No matter what happens I'm on your side.
    • Go ahead. It's a good opportunity. You've got my backing.
    • If you need any help you can count on me/you can trust me.
    • Do what you think is best. I'll support you either way.

  •  EXPRESSING CONCERN: enquiring about someone and offering help 

    • Are you alright? / Are you ok?
    • How are things? / How are you getting on?
    • How have you been keeping?
    • What’s the matter? What’s up?
    • You look a bit off-colour. Are you feeling alright?
    • You look worried. Is everything ok?
    • Why such a sad face? Is there something wrong?
    • Why the long face? Bad news? Do you want to talk about it?
    • You look upset. Has something happened?
    • You look a bit down. What's the matter?
    • Is there anything I can do?
    • Can I help in any way?
    • Do you need a shoulder to cry on?
    • Come and have a drink. You look like you could do with one.

  • GET WELL SOON: other ways of wishing someone well 

    • I hope you’ll feel better/feel well again very soon.
    • Wishing you a speedy recovery.
    • Warmest wishes for a quick recovery.
    • Our warmest thoughts are with you as you recover from your accident.
    • You are in in our thoughts and prayers. We wish you a quick recovery.
    • I hope it won’t be long before you’re on your feet again.
    • I hope you have a swift recovery and start feeling better very soon.
    • We pray you return to full health very soon.
    • Hope you feel a little better every day.
    • Hope you’ll be back to your old self in no time.
    • Hope it won’t be long before you’re out of hospital.
    • Hope it helps to know that we’re all thinking of you.
    • We all miss you and wish you a speedy recovery.
    • Take extra good care of yourself until you make a complete recovery.
    • Sorry to hear you’re not well. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.
    • Really sorry to hear of your illness. Hope your recovery will be a speedy one.
    • Wishing you a super fast recovery. Life isn’t the same without you!
    • We wish you a speedy recovery. If you need anything, just let us know.


    1. Inviting
      • Will you join us for coffee?
      • I'm going out for a bite to eat. Would you like to join me?
      • Could we have lunch together one day?
      • Would you like to come to the cinema with me tonight?
      • We're all going to watch the parade later on. Care to join us?
      • We're having a party next week-end. Would you like to come?
      • How about coming to the barbecue at the tennis club on Saturday?
      • I've got two tickets for a concert on Friday. Would you like to come?
      • How about a game of tennis at the weekend?
      • Would you like to play a round of golf this weekend?

    2. Accepting or Refusing
      • I'd love to thanks. / Sorry. I'm afraid I don't have time.
      • I'd be happy to . Thanks. / Sorry. I'm meeting a friend for lunch.
      • With pleasure. / I'd love to but I'm very busy at the moment.
      • Sure, I'd love to. / Sorry, I can't. I've got other plans.
      • Sure! Good idea! / Nice of you to ask me but I've got an appointment.
      • I'd love to. Thanks. / What a pity! I'm away next weekend.
      • Sure! That should be fun! / Sounds great but I'm afraid I'm not free.
      • Super! I'd love to. / I'm tied up on Friday - sorry.
      • Yes, I'd like that. / Sorry. Maybe some other time.
      • That would be great. Is Saturday ok? / I'd like to but I'm not free this weekend.

  • POLITE REQUESTS - accepting or refusing 

    • Can I have a copy of this letter please?
      • Sure. Here you are.
      • I'm afraid that's not possible.

    • Can I borrow your pen please?
      • Yes. Go ahead. No problem.
      • Sorry. I'm afraid I need it.

    • Could you help me with this please?
      • Yes, of course. | Just a second. I'll be right with you.
      • I'm afraid I can't. Sorry.

    • Could I have some more tea please?
      • Yes of course. I'll get some.
      • Sorry. There is no tea left.

    • ('May' is more polite than 'can' or 'could'.)
      May I sit here?
      • Sure. Please do.
      • Sorry. That's Carla's seat.

    • May I use your phone?
      • Yes, of course.
      • Sorry. The line is out of order.

    • Will you join us for dinner?
      • Yes. With pleasure.
      • I'm afraid I can't - sorry.

    • Would you translate this for me please?
      • No problem. I'll do that straight away.
      • I'm sorry. I don't speak ....

    • Would you care to join us for lunch?
      • With pleasure.
      • Sorry. I've got an appointment.

    • Do you mind if I open the window?
      • No, not at all.
      • I'd rather you didn't.  I feel a bit cold.

    • Do you mind if I read your newspaper?
      • Please do.
      • I'm afraid it's not mine.

    • Would  you mind if I opened the window?
      • No, of course not.
      • I'd prefer if you didn't. It's rather cold.

    • Would you mind closing the door?
      • No problem.
      • I'm afraid I can't. It's blocked.

    • Is it ok if I use your dictionary?
      • Yes, that's ok.
      • Sorry. I need it for the moment.

    • Do you think I could borrow this book?
      • Sure. Go ahead.
      • Sorry. It must be left here.

    • It is all right if I park here?
      • Yes. That's fine..
      • No. That's the manager's space!

  • WAYS TO SAY "THANK YOU" - expressing gratitude 

    • Thank you very much / so much/ thanks a million.
    • Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.
    • Thank you. That’s very kind of you.
    • I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve been so kind.
    • I can’t thank you enough for your help.
    • A big thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    • Thank you for helping us out. We are so grateful.
    • Thank you for thinking of us / joining us today.
    • Thank you for coming. We appreciate your presence today.
    • Thanks for everything you’ve done / for all your help.
    • Thank you so much for your contribution.
    • I don’t know how to express my gratitude. You’ve been so kind.
    • Thank you. Your kind words have been so comforting.
    • I appreciate your visit. Thank you for taking the time to come by.
    • Thank you for sharing this special day with us.
    • Your assistance has been invaluable. We are so thankful.
    • No words can express how thankful I am.


    • What a bore! How boring! How dull!
    • I’m bored to tears / bored to death / bored silly / bored stiff.
    • I can’t say that I find this very interesting.
    • I must say that I don’t share your enthusiasm.
    • It’s so dull. I can’t see what all the fuss is about!
    • Quite frankly the performance leaves me cold.
    • I’ve never watched anything so boring. I’m falling asleep!
    • This ceremony is so long! It could go on forever!
    • When is the fun going to start? I’m bored to distraction!
    • I’m bored out of my mind – there’s nothing happening!
    • What a boring film! Wake me up when it’s over.
    • The match is so slow I’m falling asleep!
    • There’s no action in this film. It’s a real yawner!
    • Do we have to watch this? It’s starting to wear on me.
    • What a dull performance! Tell me when it’s over!
    • This is so uninteresting - I‘m dying of boredom.
    • This is about as exciting as watching paint dry!


    • It’s not as easy as it looks.
    • It’s quite difficult actually.
    • It can be quite tough. / It can be tough at times.
    • It’s quite tricky. / It’s quite complicated.
    • The training course is fairly demanding.
    • The job is not for the faint-hearted.
    • It requires a bit of/a lot of experience.
    • It’s not for the inexperienced.
    • It can be quite daunting for some people.
    • It looks easy but some find it quite challenging.
    • It may look straightforward but it’s tricky to get it right.
    • It’s not a walk in the park by any means !
    • You need to keep your wits about you while you’re doing it.
    • It can be a nightmarish experience for some.
    • It’s not easy. In fact it’s often an uphill battle all the way.


    • There’s nothing to it. It’s dead easy.
    • Nothing to worry about. It’s a cinch.
    • Anyone can do it. It’s not rocket science.
    • It’s so easy to do – it’s child’s play.
    • It’s a walk in the park.
    • It’s a doddle.
    • It’s a breeze.
    • It’s as easy as a,b,c.
    • You could do it with your eyes shut !
    • You could do it in your sleep !
    • I could do that blindfold!
    • I could do that standing still !
    • I could do it with one hand tied behind my back !
    • It’s a piece of cake. / It’s as easy as pie.
    • It’s easier than drinking water through a straw !


    • I’m afraid I don’t know.
    • I wish I knew, but I’ve got no idea!
    • I haven’t got the faintest/the slightest/the foggiest idea!
    • To be quite honest I haven’t got a clue!
    • I must admit I don’t know much about that… but let me find out for you.
    • I don’t know, but I can make a few enquiries.
    • I’m not sure I can answer your question. I need to think about it.
    • That’s a good question but I’m afraid I can’t answer it.
    • Quite frankly it’s a mystery to me!
    • I have to say it’s beyond me. I simply don’t know!
    • I‘d love to be of help but unfortunately I don’t have the answer.
    • I don’t know, but let me get back to you with the answer.
    • I’m not sure, but off the top of my head I’d say …
    • Well, I don’t really know, but here’s my hypothesis for what it’s worth…
    • I can’t answer that but I'll look into it and tell you what I find.
    • I'm not the best person to answer that. I suggest you talk to …
    • Here’s what I know, but Tom may be able to give you more information.


    • Instead of ‘AMAZING', use:
      ‘astonishing’, ‘incredible’, unbelievable’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘fabulous’:

      • Obesity has increased at an astonishing rate.
      • We had dinner in a small restaurant that served incredible food.
      • The size of the pizzas was unbelievable.
      • It’s not often you get such an extraordinary opportunity.
      • Travelling across the Unites States was a fabulous experience.

    • Instead of ‘GREAT’, use:
      ‘brilliant’, ‘remarkable’, ‘splendid’, ‘superb’, ‘outstanding’:

      • The actor gave a brilliant performance.
      • The teacher said that Alex had made remarkable progress.
      • We visited one of the most splendid monuments in Europe.
      • From our room we had a superb view of the mountains.
      • She handled the situation with outstanding ability.

    • Instead of ‘INTERESTING’, use:
      ‘captivating’, ‘engrossing’, ‘fascinating’, ‘gripping’, ‘intriguing’:

      • The story he told was so captivating that nobody made a sound.
      • The second half of the book was the most engrossing.
      • He wrote a gripping account of his adventures.
      • She was one of the most fascinating women of her time.

    • Instead of ‘REALLY’, use:
      ‘genuinely’, ‘truly’, ‘indeed’, ‘undoubtedly’, ‘unquestionably’:

      • She seemed genuinely sorry to have caused trouble.
      • Having an interpreter with us was truly an advantage.
      • The negotiators were indeed happy to have reached an agreement.
      • She was undoubtedly the most talented member of the group.
      • He was unquestionably the best candidate.

Please note that British English spelling is used on this website.

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