Thinking Phrases in English

Posted on December 4, 2013

You know when you’re speaking in a meeting and trying to think of the word for umm, the thing, and you can’t remember what it’s called?

It’s a device that lets something get through one way but not the other… umm… hold on… what is it? The valve! Yes, that’s it, the valve.

What do you say while you need a second to access the word? If you’re Japanese I bet it’s “Nan darou?” and if you’re French I bet it’s “Comment on dit?” or “Qu’est-ce que c’est deja?” When you teach English abroad, some of the first phrases of the foreign language you learn are the phrases people say when they are trying to think of the word in English.

If you just need a second to access a word in English, it sounds much better if you can use one of these English thinking phrases rather than one in your first language:

“How do do you say it?”

“How”, asks more for a description, and “What” asks more for a set word or phrase.

“What’s the word?”
“What do you call it?”
“What’s it called?”
“What is it?”

“How can I put it?”
“How can I put this?” Use this especially when it’s something delicate.

We hear the following phrases a lot from our students, but they are ungrammatical:

“What you say?”
“How to say?”
“How do you call it?”

Remember it’s “How do you say it?” but “What do you call it?”

If you know the word is in the depths of your brain somewhere and you just need a reminder, you can add the word “again” at the end of these phrases to convey this:

“How do you say it again?”

Good luck! The more you practise speaking English the more you will build fluency and the less need you will have for thinking phrases in any language.

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