English Fluency Phrases

Fluency phrases are fantastic for conversations. They’re little phrases that you can use to build your sentences, so that you sound natural.

One of the great things about them is that they don’t change. All you need to do is add the details for the conversation. When you learn ONE fluency phrase, you can use it again and again – in thousands of situations.

Basically, fluency phrases are the secret to speaking automatically and fluently! Read on for the different types of fluency phrases and how they help you.

1. Collocations

Collocations are words that go together. They’re really helpful when you speak, because they can stop hesitation and pauses as you try to remember how to use a word. They also make you sound more natural when you speak, so you feel more confident. Of course, they also make you sound more precise and sophisticated!

Six types of collocation

adjective + noun
Example: “blonde hair”, not “yellow hair”, smart cookie (not clever cookie)

noun + noun
Example: “a pack of cards”, not “group of cards”, wedding ring, block of flats, summer holiday

verb + noun
Examples: “leave home”, not “go away from home”, take offence, do your homework

adverb + adjective
Examples: “beautifully behaved”, not “precisely behaved”, well dressed, softly spoken

verb + preposition
This is common in phrasal verbs, such as “work out a solution” not “think out a solution”

verb + adverb
Example: “breathe deeply” not “breathe profoundly”, sleep tight / sleep well

How to learn them

When you learn new words, make sure you know how they combine with other words. You can use dictionaries to give you the collocation. There are even specialist collocation dictionaries. Alternatively, search the word on Google or Chat GPT and type ‘collocation’ next to it.

2. Signalling phrases

These phrases show our intention. They signal to the other person in the conversation what we’re about to say. Al you need to do when you use these phrases is to just add the details for that conversation situation. For example,

I’d like to go out for dinner.
I’d like to try the new Thai restaurant.
Can I just say something here?
Can I just say how pleased I am with all your hard work…

These phrases are helpful because they’re very common. Like the examples above, they’re also quite simple. You probably already know phrases like “I’d like to” or “If I were you I’d…” which you can put at the beginning of your sentence. They also give you some ‘thinking time’ to find the next words in your sentence.

How to learn them

Listen to everyday English for phrases to make suggestions, give opinions, interrupt politely, ask for help, and so on. You can listen to radio or TV programmes, podcasts, chat shows and dramas.

You don’t need to get a complete list. Choose a couple of phrases that feel easy and natural to you. Practise them yourself so you feel confident about saying them.

Make sure you know how to pronounce them easily – and that you know which situations you can use them in. For example, some might be m ore formal or informal than others.

3. Fixed phrases

These are fluency phrases which you don’t need to change at all. They’re ‘fixed’! Here are some examples.

Automatic replies

When someone says ‘thank you’ and you say ‘you’re welcome’, or ‘it’s a pleasure’, you’re using an automatic reply. You don’t have to think about it. Other examples are when someone says ‘how are you ?’ and you reply ‘fine thanks’, or when someone says something surprising and you say ‘no way!’ All these are automatic, fixed phrases.

Complete phrases

Another type of fixed phrase are entire phrases like “How’s it going?” or “Excuse me”. We use them in particular situations, such as in greetings or when you want to get past someone.

Idioms and phrasal verbs

Idioms are complete blocks of language, like “to learn the ropes” (when you learn how to do your job), or ‘work something out’ (to find a solution). Again, these phrases don’t normally change, although many phrasal verbs need an object.

Other fixed phrases

There are also other types of fixed phrases.

For example, lots of time expressions, such as “up to now”, “just now”, “in the meantime” are fixed phrases.

Other phrases (what I call two-word phrases and three-word phrases) are also fixed phrases. For example, two-word phrases like “flip flops” (the type of sandal you wear on the beach) or “so-so” when something is OK but not brilliant, or “easy-peasy” (when something is very easy), and three-word phrases (where you have two words separated by ‘and’ or ‘or’) like “tried and tested”, “sooner or later”, “pros and cons”, “all or nothing”, are good examples of these.

How do you learn fixed phrases?

Many of these are so common that you’ll have learnt them almost at the beginning. If you’ve had English speaking classes before, you’ll have learnt a lot of the automatic phrases as well, such as you’re welcome, or ‘no way’ or “fine thanks’ and so on.

The phrases which are more difficult to learn are idioms and phrasal verbs. Try to learn these when you find them. Make a note, and look them up.

With phrasal verbs, it helps to think of how they’re typically used. Can you find a typical collocation with them? For example, with the phrasal verb “work out”, we’d often add “solution” or “the answer”, as in “work out a solution”, or “work out the answer”.

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