What does 'Hello?' mean on the phone?

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seekenglish

Senior Member
China-Chinese
Hello, everyone!
What does 'Hello?' mean in the conversation on the phone?

Daniel's father: Hello?
Simon: Hello. May I speak to Daniel, please?
Daniel's father:Sorry, he's not at home. Who's speaking, please?
Simon: This is Simon. ...

Thanks a lot!
 
  • apricots

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Sometimes people say hello as a question when answering the phone if they don't know who's calling. It's a bit rude, to be honest.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Hello? (Can you hear me? Is there anyone on the line?)
    Very similar to walking into a dark room:
    Hello? (Is there anybody here?)
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I'd say rude. It has been known to lead to silly conversations with radical feminists like:
    Hello.
    Hello,
    Hello, who's that?
    No, you tell me. Who's that?
    Etc. Etc.
    The polite way to answer the phone is to state your name, so that the "wrong number" option can be ruled out straight away.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I never ever state my name to a stranger on the (home) phone:eek:, and I am generally a trusting soul. I don't think "Hello" is rude at all. It's up to callers to say who they want to speak to.
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I never ever state my name to a stranger on the (home) phone:eek:, and I am generally a trusting soul. I don't think "Hello" is rude at all. It's up to callers to say who they want to speak to.
    Agreed. I never say anything other than "hello," nor does anyone I know, unless they're answering a business phone.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Call me paranoid, but I say Hello! in a friendly, positive fashion no question mark. Somebody's calling my home and it's up to them to say who they are and what they want, not the other way round. There are some very strange people out there.

    Edit I never know who's calling because I've never got round to that level of technology. Of course if I did I would still say Hello but add the name.
     
    Last edited:

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    I'd say rude. It has been known to lead to silly conversations with radical feminists like:
    Hello.
    Hello,
    Hello, who's that?
    No, you tell me. Who's that?
    Etc. Etc.
    The polite way to answer the phone is to state your name, so that the "wrong number" option can be ruled out straight away.
    I disagree with that completely. If someone is calling you, it's their job to make their intention clear, as Hermione says. Wrong numbers can be dealt with in the following way:

    'Hello'
    'Hello, is that Tom Smith?'
    'No, my name is Mohammed Shah.'
    'Sorry, wrong number.'

    As opposed to your proposal, which could easily end up as:

    'Hello, Mohammed Shah?'
    'Hello... no, my name is Garry'
    'Pardon?'
    'My name is Garry'
    'OK... why did you call, Garry?'
    'I'm looking for Tom Smith'
    'Well I told you, my name is Mohammed Shah.'
    'When?'
    'Just now'
    'Oh I see, I thought you were expecting a call from Mohammed Shah'
    'But I am Mohammed Shah!'

    ... and so on.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    LOL!

    This reminds me of something I read sometime back - it was to the effect that if someone calls you and demands to know your name before revealing his, it's the same as someone ringing your doorbell and, when you open the door, asking you who you are.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    In the good old days, before marketing calls became common, it was indeed polite to answer by stating your name. Those days have been gone for decades. Nowadays people ring you up and they don't even know who you are. If you tell them who you are, you have revealed to them something that they have no <expletive deleted> business knowing.
    A fairly common method for ruling out the "wrong number" option is to answer by stating your number.

    But there is nothing rude or impolite about "Hello?" at all; is entirely neutral and normal.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Makes no difference. When I answer the phone I always answer in an interrogative tone, because I am eliciting information. I want to invite the caller to identify themselves and their reason for calling.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I'm in complete agreement with POB, Barque, Velisarius, and Edinburgher. There are good reasons, as stated, not to volunteer one's name on a home phone, and there is nothing at all rude about "Hello?" Why anyone would consider "hello"—with or without a rise in tone on the second syllable signifying a question mark—rude, I can't imagine.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Once upon a very long time ago, "Chelsea 345" era, I might have said the number, but nowadays I don't even give it if there's clearly a wrong number. I ask them what number they wanted and tell them which bit they got wrong.

    (Am I a "radical feminist?" or just a silly hag. Maybe I need to ask a question about what it means, in context of course?";))
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    It's certainly never occurred to me that answering the phone with Hello/Hello?* is at all rude.
    What is rude is answering the phone with Yes? (Yes, I do occasionally ...)

    * 'Course the word I actually say ~ the noise I actually make ~ is Hullo/Hullo?:cool:
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I have a friend (who I've not spoke to in a long while) who answered the phone by saying, "Listening" or "I'm listening", I don't recall exactly. It was 100% accurate account of what he was doing but it put people off.

    I answer the phone at home with a resounding "Hello".
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Just adding to all the above...

    My preferred way of answering the telephone is with the word "Hello" (or if you prefer a different spelling, "Hullo").

    I can't see why anyone would think this rude. I'd say it's the way most people answer the phone in a non-business context.

    If we're talking about the intonation difference between "Hello?" and "Hello", then (1) clearly it exists. But (2) both intonations are valid. And (3) neither is rude.

    --------

    Seekenglish, just in case you're asking a very straightforward question: the normal response when you pick up a phone is "Hello".
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The history of saying "Hello" when answering the telephone is quite interesting -
    The use of hello as a telephone greeting has been credited to Thomas Edison; according to one source, he expressed his surprise with a misheard Hullo. Alexander Graham Bell initially used Ahoy (as used on ships) as a telephone greeting. However, in 1877, Edison wrote to T.B.A. David, the president of the Central District and Printing Telegraph Company of Pittsburgh:

    Friend David, I do not think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.

    What you think? Edison - P.S. first cost of sender & receiver to manufacture is only $7.00.

    By 1889, central telephone exchange operators were known as 'hello-girls' due to the association between the greeting and the telephone
    Hello - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    By 1889, central telephone exchange operators were known as 'hello-girls' due to the association between the greeting and the telephone.
    There was a television series in the mid to late nineties called The Hello Girls. It was about a group of women working as telephone operators in the city of Derby, UK.
    I think it's interesting that Italians generally say 'pronto' when they answer the telephone. It literally means ready.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I have a friend (who I've not spoke to in a long while) who answered the phone by saying, "Listening" or "I'm listening", I don't recall exactly. It was 100% accurate account of what he was doing but it put people off.
    Even worse are the ones who say "Speak" or "Talk". I'm not a dog performing a trick for you.

    I answer the phone at home with a resounding "Hello".
    I don't know if mine is resounding but it would always be "hello?" unless I recognized the number, in which case I might say "Hello, Anne!"

    I agree with many others that it is the person who is calling who has the obligation of identifying themselves.
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would NOT recommend this, but some folks say: "It's me!"

    Friends will recognize them and strangers will be none the wiser! :)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Even worse are the ones who say "Speak" or "Talk". I'm not a dog performing a trick for you.



    I don't know if mine is resounding but it would always be "hello?" unless I recognized the number, in which case I might say "Hello, Anne!"

    I agree with many others that it is the person who is calling who has the obligation of identifying themselves.
    We have so many junk calls compared to real ones that we "screen" all our calls with
    "Hello :)eek:) we don't answer our phone .....
    .....
    unless you identify yourself. If we are here ....
    ...
    (ending with) this is 123-456-7890 (in case it actually was a wrong number!)"
    Our friends, relatives and professional colleagues are happy to identify themselves, the junk people just hang up.
     

    seekenglish

    Senior Member
    China-Chinese
    The conversation is from a textbook. I wonder why the question mark is used after 'Hello?'. Thanks!
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It can be said as a question with the approximate meaning of "Hello, who is it who is calling?"

    "Hello?" with the meaning "Hello? Who is there?" is often used as a call to attract attention if you think there is someone else near you but you cannot see them.

    "The room was old and dark, Mary walked slowly towards the door and opened it. There was a sound somewhere in the corridor, "Hello? Hello?" Mary called "Is there anyone there?"
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Just adding to all the above...

    My preferred way of answering the telephone is with the word "Hello" (or if you prefer a different spelling, "Hullo").
    I do! I think my pronunciation matches that spelling (hullo) better. Just confirming what other people have said that this is perfectly normal in non-business contexts. Some people do lengthen the word and sing it, with lo a tone below hul and other variations. I see the question mark as indicating the variant with lo higher than hul.

    Occasionally, I might vary things by saying 'Good morning' or whatever time of day it is.

    In the past people announced the phone number (as mentioned by Hermione, post 18), but we're generally told not to do that any more.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    The polite way to answer the phone is to state your name, so that the "wrong number" option can be ruled out straight away.
    You've been living in France for a while Keith ... and you still say that?!;)

    When I lived permanently in the UK, I always answered the home phone by saying the number (GPO recommended practice, and very commonly done). When I first moved to France, and we had six-digit numbers, I started off answering my home phone the same way (in French, of course, and faithfully saying the digits in pairs). The caller would always be entirely confused, and not even realise what I'd said, because the standard way of answering the phone here is "hallo" (without the 'h'). Giving the number these days would be a no-no, of course (ten digits!).

    But your suggestion was to state your name. While I'd never do that on a home phone, for the reasons that others have mentioned, it is (and always has been) how I answer my office phone. Nonetheless, in France it still caused confusion, because anything other than "(h)allo" just isn't expected. Often the caller would ask if I was '[name]'. Even though I'd just given it, it hadn't registered. I've stuck to my guns in the professional environment, but the vast majority of my French colleagues still answer with just "(h)allo", and no one considers it at all impolite: it's the norm. [The 'h' isn't really there of course, but we are in the EO forum.;)]

    I wonder why the question mark is used after 'Hello?'. Thanks!
    Paul and Nat have just replied to that, but see also Edinburgher's #15.

    Ws
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    The conversation is from a textbook. I wonder why the question mark is used after 'Hello?'. Thanks!
    I never really thought about it, but I think that the question form (i.e. raised tone at the end of the word) urges the listener to respond.
    Isn't that the same thing with the Chinese equivalent 'wei' ()?

    Most languages start with a word in question form when they pick up the phone. The only exceptions I can think of right now is the Spanish "Digame!" and the Japanese "Moshi moshi" (or something like that :) I'm not a speaker, just an observer.)
     
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