A Pronunciation Guide to English Manners

Excuse me! Here’s our guide to English manners, cheers.


Greetings /ˈgriːtɪŋz/

When you meet someone, “Hello/ˌheˈləʊ/, “Hi/ˈhaɪ/ and “Hiya/ˈhaɪə/, are the obvious places to start. The higher you begin, the more enthusiastic you sound. It’s often followed by an interrogative question like “How are you”, “Alright?”, or “How do you do?/ˈhaʊ də ju ˈduː/ if you’re meeting aristocracy /ˌærɪˈstɒkrəsi/.

“Good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good evening” are all appropriate at certain times of day and they can be shortened to simply “morning/ˈmɔːnɪŋ/afternoon/ˌɑːftəˈnuːn/evening/ˈiːvnɪŋ/, but confusingly “goodnight” isn’t a greeting, it’s only used when you’re going to bed. Again, this can be reduced to “night” or “nighty night”.

If you meet someone for the first time, you might say “Nice to meet you” or “It’s a pleasure to meet you”, to which one might reply “the pleasure’s all mine”. Liar /ˈlaɪə/.

Goodbye /ˌgʊdˈbaɪ/

“See you”, “see ya”. “goodbye”, “bye”, “cheerio/ˈtʃɪriəʊ/, “so long”, “catch you later” all do the job. In the North they might say “ta-ra/təˈrɑː/ or “ta-ta/təˈtɑː/. “Farewell/ˌfeəˈweɫ/ is quite old-fashioned and dramatic, “toodle-pip/ˈtuːdɫ ˈpɪp/ is just old-fashioned. The Italian “ciao/ˈtʃaʊ/ has come into English too, and sounds continental and trendy.

Touching /ˈtʌtʃɪŋ/

The English don’t touch much in public, though presumably they do behind closed doors. A hand shake with the right hand is the universal greeting for both men and women, a few firm seconds is the norm. Beyond that it’s a bit complicated – it’s increasingly common to give one kiss on the cheek, it really depends on the company, so probably best to wait and see what your host does first. Hugging /ˈhʌgɪŋ/ is common among friends and family, but not elsewhere.

Giving & Accepting Thanks /ˈgɪvɪŋ ən əkˈseptɪŋ ˈθæŋks/

Thank you/ˈθæŋk ju/, “thanks” and “many thanks” work well in most scenarios. “cheers/ˈtʃɪəz/ can be used informally instead, and the more posh you are, the more it will sound like “chairs/ˈtʃeəz/. Go on, have a go “Cheers!”. More formal options are “much obliged” /ˈmʌtʃ əˈblaɪdʒd/ and “much appreciated” /ˈmʌtʃ əˈpriːsieɪtɪd/, up North they might say “ta/ˈtɑː/.

In response to somebody thanking you, you have the opportunity to say something horribly British like “Not at all”, or “the pleasure’s mine” /ˈpleʒəz/ but “You’re welcome”, or “no probs” /ˈnəʊ ˈprɒbz/ will also do perfectly well, thank you very much.

Offering & Requesting /ˈɒfərɪŋ ən rɪˈkwestɪŋ/

It rarely translates into other languages, but in English, it’s common to use ridiculously long modal introductions like “Could I interest you in a glass of wine?” or “Would you mind if I opened the window” and  “You wouldn’t be able to pass me the butter, would you?”. This might seem a preposterous /prəˈpostʃərəs/ waste of time, and it probably is.

Grabbing Attention /ˈgræbɪŋ əˈtenʃn/

If you need to grab someone’s attention,“Excuse me!/ɪksˈkjuːz mi/ with ↘↗ fall-rising intonation works well, “sorry/ˈsɒri/ is also used, which is confusing because it’s the same word used for….

Apologising /əˈpɒlədʒaɪzɪŋ/

But here we’ll use a more sincere ↘ falling intonation, “sorry”, which can be amplified with “terribly/ˈterɪbli/, “awfully/ˈɔːfəli/, or simply “I AM sorry.” – just in case the listener thought you weren’t /ˈwɜːnt/. Don’t forget to say sorry, even if someone has trodden on your toes, it’s like a reflex action in English.

Terms of Endearment /ˈtɜːmz əv ɪnˈdɪəmənt/

We don’t always call people by their names, substitutes are: “madam/ˈmædəm/, “sir/ˈsɜː/, “dear /ˈdɪə/, “dearie/ˈdɪəri/, “darling/ˈdɑːlɪŋ/, “honey/ˈhʌni/, “sweetheart/ˈswiːʔhɑːt/, “lad/ˈlæd/, “mate/ˈmeɪt/, “bro/ˈbrəʊ/, or even “babe/beɪb/ if you’re fortunate enough to be in Essex /ˈesɪks/. In the North, someone might call you their “pet”, whilst in the Midlands this could be “me duck” to which you should reply… “quack quack/ˈkwæk ˈkwæk/. Actually the origins are from the Anglo Saxon “duke /ˈdjuːk/ not the waterbird with the webbed feet. In the West, if you are called “me lover” – it’s probably not meant literally.

Qeueuing /ˈkjuːɪŋ/

The most English of all manners? An orderly queue has been a cornerstone of English behaviour since food rationing /ˈræʃənɪŋ/ in World War 2, and now has almost mythological /ˌmɪθəˈlɒdʒɪkɫ/ status. Queue for the bus, queue for the toilet, queue for your shopping, and queue for a ticket to Wimbledon /ˈwɪmbɫdən/. And if you see a queue, but you don’t know what it’s for, probably best to join it, regardless.

Idioms /ˈɪdiəmz/

A few idioms surround English manners, the famous “Stiff Upper Lip/ˈstɪf ʌpə ˈlɪp/ refers to not showing emotion, don’t let that top lip tremble now.  “Mind your Ps & Qs” is often drilled into children so that they’ll remember to say “please” – they’re the ‘Ps’ and “thank yous” they’re the ‘Qs’!

You may also be interested in 7 ways to say “hello”, and 4 meanings of “sorry”.