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Telephone Terms

Here are some English words and terms that we use to talk about telephoning. Each term is given with meaning and example sentence.

answer
to say "hello" into the phone when it rings
I phoned the shop but nobody answered so I guess they're closed.

answering machine
something that you can record a message on if the person you are calling isn't home
Please call me anytime, and if I'm not in leave a message on my answering machine.

busy signal (AmE), engaged tone (BrE)
a beeping sound that tells the caller that the other person is already on the phone with someone else
Why do I always get the engaged tone every time I call you? Seems like you must live on the phone!

call
a telephone conversation (or an attempted one); to telephone
There was a call for you from that company you applied to. They want you to call for a phone interview.

caller
the person who telephones
The local health help line gets hundreds of callers every day.

call back, phone back
to call someone who called you first
Thanks for calling. I'm in a meeting right now. Can I call you back in thirty minutes?

call display
a screen that shows you who is calling
If I don't recognize the number on the call display I just don't answer.

cell phone, cellular phone
a telephone that you can take with you away from your house; mobile phone
Can I borrow your cell phone to call home? My battery's flat.

cordless phone
a phone that is not attached to the wall (you can walk short distances with it at home or in the garden)
Have you seen the cordless phone? I had it in the bathroom but it's not there now.

dial
to press the buttons on the phone
In the UK you dial 999 for the emergency services.

dialling tone (BrE), dial tone (AmE)
the sound the phone makes when you pick it up
I think the line must be dead — there's no dial tone when you pick up the phone.

directory, telephone directory, phone book
a book that alphabetically lists local phone numbers of people and businesses
Do you have to pay to have your number in the phone book or is it free?

hang up
to put the receiver down and end a call
Someone called but as soon as they heard my voice they hung up.

operator
a person who answers telephone-related questions when you dial "0"
It's a pretty old hotel. You still have to make calls through the operator.

pager
a small machine you wear that makes a noise (or vibrates) when someone wants to contact you
I can't take my phone to work but if you contact my pager I'll call you back as soon as I can.

phone
a telephone; to telephone
I wanted to phone you but I'd forgotten my phone—sorry.

phone booth, pay phone
a place where you can pay to use a public telephone
If you haven't got a mobile there are pay phones on every corner.

pick up
to answer the phone
The phone rang and everbody stared at it. Then Maria picked it up.

receiver
the piece on the phone that you speak into and listen from; the handset
The phone rang and John picked up the receiver immediately.

ring
the sound a phone makes when somebody calls; to make that sound
The phone rang and she answered it on the first ring.

ringer
the sound-piece that alerts a person that a call is coming through; the bell
Sorry I didn't hear your call. The ringer on my phone is broken.