Telephone Vocabulary

Here are many of the words and terms we use to talk about telephones and using them. With example sentences and special meanings related to landline phones, mobile phones and smartphones. You can check your understanding by doing the Telephone Vocabulary Quiz.
Word Example sentence Meaning
answer verb I phoned the shop but nobody answered so I guess they're closed. to take the call and speak after a phone has rung
answering machine noun Leave a message on the answering machine and I'll call you back when I can. a recording device a caller can leave a spoken message on if their call isn't answered
busy (AmE) or engaged (BrE) adj If the line's busy and you can't get through, call again later. already being used, of a telephone line or number
busy signal (AmE) or engaged tone (BrE) noun Mum's always on the phone after dinner, so I'll get a busy signal if I call now. the sound you hear if you dial a landline number that's already being used
call noun I'm sorry, but I really have to take this call. the act of telephoning someone, or a telephone conversation
call verb If you need a lift home, call me and I'll come and get you. to try to contact someone by phone, either by dialling their number or finding their name in the list of contacts on a mobile or smartphone
caller noun I spoke to hundreds of callers every day while I was a receptionist. the person who calls a telephone number
charge or recharge verb Don't forget to charge your phone before you go camping. to connect a smartphone, tablet computer, digital camera, etc. to an electricity source to add power to its battery
conference call noun I'm having a conference call with some old friends tonight. a telephone call in which three or more people can hear and speak with one another
cordless phone noun Have you seen the cordless phone? I had it in the bathroom but it isn't there now. a landline telephone receiver you can carry for short distances while using
dial verb Are you sure you dialled the right number? to press numbers on a landline phone or touch numbers on a smartphone keypad to call someone
dialling tone (BrE) or dial tone (AmE) noun I think the line's dead. There's no dial tone when you pick up the phone. the sound a landline phone makes when you pick it up
hang up verb Someone called, but as soon as they heard my voice they hung up. to end a telephone call
hotspot or Wi-Fi hotspot noun Why don't we use that free Wi-Fi hotspot at the public library? a place where people can get Internet access either for free or by using a network access password
icon noun The icon for email on my phone is a white envelope on a blue square. a graphic symbol or picture on a smartphone or computer screen that represents an application or file and opens it when touched
landline noun We've all got smartphones, so do we really need a landline in the house? a physical telephone line, or a telephone that uses one
line or connection noun The line was really bad so I called again to get a better connection. a telephone connection used to make a voice call
missed call noun I check my missed calls every night in case I've missed an important one. a call that wasn't answered
mobile phone (also cell phone or feature phone) noun Oh no! I left my mobile phone in the taxi. a portable phone with a SIM card for network connections, with more features than a landline phone but fewer than a smartphone
pay phone or phone booth noun There aren't many pay phones left these days. a public telephone that takes coins or phonecard payment for each call made
pick up verb The phone rang and everybody stared at it. Then Maria slowly picked it up. to answer a landline phone by lifting the receiver
receiver noun The phone rang and John picked up the receiver and said "Hello?" the part of a landline telephone set you pick up and speak into
return a call or call sb back verb He didn't return my call, so I knew something was wrong. to telephone someone who tried to telephone you
ring verb The phone was in the bathroom so I didn't hear it ring. (of a telephone) to make the sound that tells you someone is calling
ringtone noun I should change my ringtone. I'm sick of hearing this one. one of many sounds a smartphone can make when someone is calling
robocall noun Most people hate getting robocalls, don't they? an automatic call that plays a recorded message, usually to sell something or get votes in an election
save verb Don't forget to save his number if he calls again. to keep a phone number, text message, e-mail or other digital data on a smartphone or computer
SIM card noun You can use any mobile phone that's got your SIM card in it. a small card with a microchip that's sold by a network provider and inserted into a mobile phone
smartphone noun We were on the bus watching video clips on my smartphone. a small hand-held computer with a touchscreen that can be used as a mobile phone, web browser, media player, digital camera, etc.
telephone directory (also directory or phone book) noun Do you have to pay to have your number in the telephone directory, or is it free? an alphabetical list (online or in a book) of people and businesses with telephone numbers
text message or text noun He sent me lots of text messages after I told him our relationship was over. a Short Message Service (SMS) text-only message or a multimedia message (MMS) with digital images, videos, sound content, etc.
text verb We don't call each other much, but we're always texting each other. to send an SMS or other text message from a mobile phone, smartphone or computer
touch screen or touchscreen noun My grandma says she has trouble using the touchscreen on her phone. a screen that allows a smartphone, tablet computer, game console or similar device to be controlled with the touch of a finger
voicemail noun If I can't answer your call, leave a message on voicemail if you like. a system that records and stores spoken messages left by people whose phone calls aren't answered
Wi-Fi or WiFi noun We have Wi-Fi throughout the building, so you can use your smartphone or computer anywhere you like. a technology that allows smartphones, personal and tablet computers, video-game consoles, smart TVs, etc. to access a wireless local area network
wireless network or network noun Your phone can hook into networks in other countries if your service provider has deals with them. a system of radio-frequency cell towers that transmit phone calls and other digital data within a limited service area