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When I was learning English at school, I was taught that one ought to answer the phone saying "X speaking". In films however, I sometimes see people answering any phone with a simple 'hello' and, in family homes, with "the Smiths' residence" (or something similar), possibilities that 'teaching books' omit (for example, "Hello" will always be used together with "X speaking" or similar) . Recently, I've surveyed a book for teaching non-native speakers who says the phone should be answered by saying the number of the phone followed by "X speaking"

So I'm wondering: is there a general rule for answering the phone (outside work situations)?

I'm mostly interested in American and British 'rules', since that's what students usually ask about, but variants from other countries will always be interesting and welcome for comparison.

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Nobody says “X speaking”. We just say “Hello” usually. For holidays we will often answer the phone with “Happy Easter” or “Happy Independence Day” or whatever. If we’re at work we might sometimes say “Hi, this is X”. –  tchrist Jul 5 '13 at 16:39
    
'Should' is a word implying a moral responsibility. I'd recommend: 'Hello - John Smith' which starts with a polite greeting and then supplies the vital information of who is answering. I wouldn't miss out the 'Hello', which would make the response slightly more abrupt (though not 'wrong'), or add 'speaking' (which is obvious - though again not wrong). Adding one's number is irrelevant if the person recognises you - if there seems to be confusion, you can give it next. 'The Smith residence' sounds pompous unless you're a butler (or perhaps visitor). –  Edwin Ashworth Jul 5 '13 at 16:43
    
I've also noticed a difference between "Hello?" and "Hello." (or "Hello!) Haven't yet picked up whether that's a matter of AmE vs BrE, or personal choice, or something else. But that is something else to consider. –  nxx Jan 13 at 21:52

3 Answers 3

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A simple "Hello" seems to be the most common way for Americans to answer our phones. I have known a few families whose members would answer the phone with the "[family name] residence" phrase. However, had the last name been Smith, they would have said, "Smith residence," as opposed to. "the Smith's residence," leaving off the possessive "s".

As for answering the phone saying "X speaking," I've only known that to be done when one has been called to the phone by someone else who answered it. In other words, say my roommate had answered the phone and the caller asked for me. When I came to the phone, I might say, "Sarah speaking," or "This is Sarah," skipping the "hello". This is very common, though some would precede those phrases with "Hi" or "Hello".

I have never known a person to answer the phone by stating the number. That is common though on outgoing voicemail messages, yet, I've never heard the number alone stated first. Instead, the message will begin, "You have reached xxx-xxxx," and be followed by something like, "Sorry I missed your call. Please leave a message and I'll call you back."

These observations are based on common practices using home landline phones. In my experience, most Americans also most commonly answer their cell phones with, "Hello."

However, since most cell phones indicate who the caller is, one can and often does adapt the greeting based on that knowledge. If it it my husband calling, I might answer with, "Hi honey."

Imagine I was planning to meet my sister at the park. I am there and she is late. My cell phone rings, and I see that it's her. I might answer with, "Where are you?" Obviously, countless other opening phrases tailored to the caller and the circumstances are possible and common.

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There is no particular rule for how to answer a telephone. Is there one in Portuguese or certain other languages? Maybe that is why the books you mentioned, said that. It could be the case that because there is such a rule in certain other languages, speakers of them have assumed that there must also be one in English.

"Hello" will always be used together with "X speaking" or similar

That is not always the case. If people add "X speaking", that's a personal choice and not done generally or always.

In the UK at least, people generally answer with a simple hello. It is simple and sufficient. The other ways that you mentioned such as "X speaking", "the Smiths' residence" and by saying the number of the phone, are also possible. They are not really necessary because they are more than is sufficient but, are used by some people. It's just down to personal preference or possibly, the way that some people were brought up, not any rules.

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In Portuguese (at least in my area) everyone answers the phone with a simple "Estou?" (meaning: "I am (here)" and implying "you can start speaking now"). –  Sara Costa Jul 5 '13 at 17:12

I answer the phone differently (as, I suspect, do many others) depending on context. At home or on my personal cell, merely "Hello" or "Hi". The variation "The Jones residence" appears from movies to be the way that butlers answered the phone, back when the upper class had butlers, but it's also how I answer the phone in someone else's house (say, if the host can't come to a ringing phone and asks me to pick it up) as a clue that I am not a resident. That way the caller doesn't figure he has a wrong number hearing an unfamiliar voice. When visiting my parents, I go even a little further, "The Lazarus residence; Andrew Lazarus speaking [or this is Andrew Lazarus].", because not only do I no longer live there, some callers can not distinguish me from my father and brother over the phone.

Reciting the number of the phone was more common back when operators manually connected the parties. I suppose there were more wrong numbers then.

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