Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

50 Useful Phrases for Discussions in English

Being able to use only ten of these fifty phrases can improve your English by helping you communicate more effectively.

This post will give you fifty phrases that you can use when participating in a discussion in English. These phrases can be used when discussing both light and more serious topics.

Get more useful phrases in my eBook: 350+ Common English Expressions for Everyday Life

These fifty useful phrases are divided into nine categories based on their function. To skip directly to one of the categories, click on the link, and it will take you to that section.

The categories include useful phrases for:

  1. When you need more time to think
  2. Asking for help or inviting others to talk
  3. When you want clarification
  4. Adding information and making connections
  5. Telling what you heard
  6. Agreeing
  7. Disagreeing politely
  8. Revising or showing a change in your thinking
  9. When you don’t want to answer a question

Often, when learning a language, we remain silent when we aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. This can make having a conversation difficult and awkward. Luckily, there are phrases you can use to keep the conversation moving along and to show that you are a good listener.

If you really want to improve your English communication and speaking skills, try to begin using English in a functional and natural way. I recommend these 5 Practical English Questions for beginners and even intermediate students who want to increase their vocabulary while conversing in English. Once you are able to use those accurately, these fifty useful phrases will take your discussion skills to the next level.

50 Useful Phrases

1. When you need more time to think, you can say:

  • I’m not sure. What about you?
  • I need to think about it. What do you think?
  • I have to think about that. What are your thoughts?

Using the phrases above is a completely natural way to maintain the flow of a conversation and avoid awkward silences. They can be used when having a general discussion or when negotiating during a business meeting. Negotiations require collaboration, and asking about other people’s opinions is a good place to begin. In business negotiations, you can omit I’m not sure to appear more confident. Another expression you can use in negotiations is What do you propose?

Using the above phrases can decrease embarrassment and build confidence as they result in successful communication. Also, as you listen to what others have to say, ideas are likely to come to you, and then you can use a phrase from number four below to add information or make a connection to what someone else said.

2. When you want help or want others to talk, say:

  • Can you help explain?
  • That’s interesting. Tell us more.
  • Can anyone give an example?
  • Can someone think of an example?

If you are not a talkative person or do not want to be the center of attention, you can develop the skill of encouraging others to talk. You can be an important part of the conversation by including others and inviting them to contribute. You can listen more than you speak, but you can still participate and express interest by asking others to add to the discussion.

Of course, talkative types should also develop this skill and be careful not to hog the conversation.

To hog something is to take, keep, use, or do something in a way that prevents others from having, using, or doing it.
Adapted from the Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary

3. When you want clarification, you can say:

  • I have a question…
  • What do you mean by…?
  • In other words, …. , right?
  • So, you’re saying…
  • You mean…? (+ Is that right?)
  • I wonder if / what / how…

If you are not sure you understand something someone has said, it is important to communicate this in a helpful way. If you do not understand, there is a good chance that other people listening also do not understand. Using one of these phrases is a great way to show that you are listening and that you care about what the speaker has to say.

Asking for clarification doesn’t make you look stupid. It makes you look smart!

4. To add information and make connections, say:

  • I’d like to add…
  • That reminds me of…
  • That’s related to…
  • Another example is…
  • I can relate to that because…
  • Going back to what ___________ said…
  • Adding to what ___________ said…
  • What ___________ said made me think (of)…

Good conversations are organic. This means they develop naturally in a continuous process. What one person says leads to something else. This continues on and on as people add more information and continue to ask new questions. To do this, you have to listen well.

5. Useful phrases for telling what you heard:

  • A told me…
  • B said (that)…
  • C told me (that)…
  • I heard someone say (that)…
  • Someone said…

This is basic reported speech. During a conversation, you might remember something that someone else said that relates to the topic you are discussing. Sharing it is a great way to add to the conversation. It is also another way to show that you are a good listener.

People like good listeners. While nodding and using eye contact and rejoinders show you are listening, using reported speech shows that you listen to and remember what others say.

For more information on reported speech, check out my affiliate’s post Reported Speech (Part 1) – Statements. The information there is free, but if you decide to purchase one of their courses or e-books, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and services that I trust and wish I had created myself.

Good listeners are not completely silent listeners.

6. Useful phrases to show you agree:

  • Totally.
  • Absolutely.
  • That’s a good point.
  • I (totally) agree.
  • I completely agree.
  • That’s right.
  • That’s (so) true.
  • I couldn’t agree more.

When having a conversation, we often nod our head to show that we are listening. Nodding your head does not always mean that you agree. It just shows the speaker that you are following what they are saying. To show agreement, use one of the above phrases. If you want to hear these used by native speakers in context, I highly recommend YouGlish. I’ve entered absolutely into the search, but you can enter any word or phrase you are curious about. Of course, absolutely can be used in different ways, but you’ll hear it used to show agreement in some of the thousands of examples on YouGlish.

7. Useful phrases to disagree politely:

  • Actually, I think…
  • That’s a good point, but…
  • That’s interesting, but I think…
  • I see/know what you mean, but…
  • Yes, but (on the other hand)…
  • I know what you’re saying, but…
  • I see it differently because…
  • There is some truth to what you’re saying, but…

Believe it or not, disagreeing can be fun and exciting. However, it is important to do it respectfully and politely. To do this, first acknowledge the other person’s view. Then you can share your opinion. It’s also important to keep a calm tone. If you begin to get too emotional or upset, it might be best to agree to disagree and steer the conversation in another direction.

To agree to disagree is to agree not to argue anymore about a difference of opinion.
—Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary

It’s also important to note that many of these phrases can be used to introduce another viewpoint even when you agree with what someone has said. This skill can be used when engaging in dialogues to explore ideas and concepts. Acknowledging and considering other viewpoints helps us develop our own thinking and opinions.

8. To revise or show a change in your thinking:

  • I used to think…, but now I think…
  • I see___________ differently now because…
  • I view _____________ differently now because…
  • Actually, I’ve changed my mind. I no longer think… / I now think…

If you are open-minded, curious, and love to learn and explore ideas, you may find that a discussion changes the way you view something. This is a core aspect of learning. If we think we know everything and have all of the answers, we may not be open to new ideas that can lead to growth. By exploring ideas through discussions with people who have had different experiences or who view the world differently than you, your thinking about something might develop and change. If it does, the four phrases above will be useful.

9. Useful phrases for when you don’t want to answer:

  • I’d rather not say.
  • I’d prefer not to say.
  • So, ___________ was saying…
  • I’ll tell you later.

You don’t have to answer every question someone asks you. It can be awkward to encounter a situation where you are uncomfortable answering a question. Respectful people will respect your right to privacy when you use one of the phrases above. Don’t waste your time talking to people who don’t respect you. The last two expressions on the list are indirect ways to avoid a question. One redirects the conversation. The other shifts the focus away from you. Don’t worry, you don’t really have to tell anyone later. If someone says this, they might be willing to tell you later or they might just be indirectly avoiding a question. It depends on the context and situation.

In addition to these 50 useful phrases, you can use other practical English expressions like the ones below when you don’t understand a word, idea, or what someone said.

Useful Practical English Phrases

  • What does __________ mean?
  • Could you give me an example?
  • How do you say ___________ in English/Korean?
  • Could you repeat that?
  • What’s the difference between _________ and ___________? or How are they different/similar?

To learn more about these five practical English phrases, read Five Practical Questions to Help Increase Understanding next.

Useful phrases for conversation
If you are looking for more conversation skills, click on the happy face image for 19 posts about a variety of conversation skills.

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