Making small talk

    Unterhaltung zwischen verschiedenen Menschen

    Which expressions do you need for small talk in English? Look at the examples, read the explanations and try the exercises below.


    A good way to start

    You’ve just met someone at a party. Which of the sentences below do you think would be a natural way to start a conversation?

    A. The food at this party is out of this world, isn’t it?
    B. I think King Lear is Shakespeare’s best play, don’t you?
    C. So, you live quite near here, do you?
    D. Have you known Jane a long time?
    E. What do you think of the government’s immigration


    Small talk

    When you meet people at social occasions, you often start by talking about “easy” topics (like A, C and D in the box above — but not B or E). This is called making small talk.


    1. Tag questions

    A useful way to start a conversation with small talk is to make a comment and then get agreement. You can do this with a tag question (= a sentence with a question tag at the end):
    It’s cold here, isn’t it?
    The beginning of the sentence can often be left out:
    Nice weather, isn’t it? (= It’s nice weather...)
    Lovely flowers, aren’t they? (= They’re lovely flowers...)

    These are actually comments (not real questions), so the voice goes down at the end:
    It’s lovely weather, isn’t it?↘

    Tag questions are also a good way to ask a question, especially if you’re not sure of the answer:
    You’re a friend of Peter, aren’t you?
    This sounds less direct (and more polite) than asking:
    “Are you a friend of Peter?”
    If this is a real question, the voice goes up at the end:
    You’re a friend of Peter, aren’t you?↗


    2. I’m just guessing

    When you meet people for the first time, you often want to check guesses. To do this, you can use the words so and must: Ah, so you must be Beth’s younger sister.
    You can also use must to respond to what other people say:
    A: I travel to Africa a lot in my work.
    B: Oh, that must be very interesting. (= I can imagine...)


    3. Finding things in common

    When you meet people for the first time, you usually try to find things in common: things you have both done, things you
    agree about, etc. To agree with the other person, you can say Me, too and Me, neither (or Nor me):
    A: I don’t like cold tea. B: No. Me neither.
    Or you can say So ... I or Neither ... I:
    A: I go walking a lot. B: Yes, so do I.
    A: I don’t like cold tea. B: No, neither do I.

    Here are some other expressions that show you have things in common:
    It’s the same with me.
    A: When I get home from work, I’m too tired to cook.
    B: Yes, it’s the same with me. I usually just have a pizza.
    Same here.
    A: I always have tea in bed on Sundays.
    B: Same here. (= I do the same.)
    I know what you mean.
    A: Choosing clothes is so difficult.
    B: I know what you mean. I can never decide what to buy.
    I couldn’t agree more.
    A: I think Brexit was a terrible mistake.
    B: I couldn’t agree more. What a disaster!


    Now, test your knowledge with the exercises below.


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