Examples and explanations (please click on the arrow to expand)
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
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.
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.