In the context of a telephone call via an operator-assisted service, is it fact that in AmEng, if the operator asks the service user (caller) if they are through, what is meant by that is, are you done/finished with your call?

Thing is, considering that AmEng and BrEng share the idiomatic put someone/something through [to someone], which has the exact same meaning on both sides of the pond (i.e. to connect someone/transfer someone's call [to someone]), I can't seem to figure out why from the perspective of AmEng, the phrase are you through, Sir/Ma'am when used in such context, would mean anything different than are you connected, Sir/Ma'am?

This is what it's all about:

Are you through? (telephone)

(UK) = are you connected

(U.S) = are you finished/completed with your call

Selected Vocabulary Differences Between British and American English

Another Americanism which is by now quite well known in Britain, though it can still mislead if you are on the telephone and the American operator asks, Are you through? If you say 'Yes' (because you are connected) you are likely to be cut off.

You Can't Say That! English Usage Today

FYI, these are not the only resources I've found that support a BrEng/AmEng difference in meaning of the phrase are you through in the context of telecommunications.

Fact or baloney?

  • 5
    I can't remember when I last spoke to a telephone operator.
    – ab2
    Mar 21, 2016 at 21:44
  • 1
    It's the heading of your question so I'd take it to mean that that is specifically what you're asking about, Elian. Ambiguous to a BrEng speaker? Probably. Nonsensical question to BrEng and AmEng speaker? Probably. Mar 21, 2016 at 22:25
  • 3
    I don't believe American operators would ever ask "are you though, sir?" I've never had a telephone operator ask me whether I've finished talking. For the last fifty years, Americans have signaled to the telephone company that they've finished talking by hanging up. Mar 21, 2016 at 22:48
  • 1
    @KristinaLopez I agree with your, ab2's and Peter's comments here. I too can't remember when an operator, even in the days when there were operators, ever asked me whether I was connected, or whether I was finished. The only thing I would say is that in Britain we seldom, if ever, use the verb to be through (Are you through with using the photocopier) as meaning to be finished. That is almost entirely American - in my experience. We might, however, say Are you done with the copier.
    – WS2
    Mar 21, 2016 at 23:24
  • 2
    @Elian this is some very old, and I suspect not well researched stuff that has got in here. Telephone operators? My children in their thirties wouldn't know what they were!
    – WS2
    Mar 21, 2016 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


I think through with the first connotation you are suggesting is present mainly in the expression:

To get through:

  • to be connected to a place by telephone:
    • *I couldn’t get through – the line was engaged. get through to: I finally got through to Warren on his mobile.*

To be through both in AmE and BrE means:

  • having finished an activity or piece of work.
    • I’m not sure what time he’ll be through with his meeting. Only one more letter to write. I’m nearly through.

(Macmillan Dictionary)

  • 1
    These are denotations (even if to a degree metaphorical), not connotations. The definitions are agreed; the confusion arises because there is more than one definition. Mar 21, 2016 at 23:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.