A common worry among business students is that, though they can speak about their work-life very well, they are completely out-of-their-depth when using English in social situations.

Socialising is a large part of doing business and so, to help your students feel more like themselves in social situations, we have compiled a list of phrases to tell stories, share a joke, as well as describe amusing situations and people.

Practice the target language by asking your student to give you example sentences, recount stories and perhaps even tell you a joke or two.

Social situations

To break the ice – to form new relationships in a social situation.

Small talk – conversational chatting about nothing in particular.

‘What do you do to break the ice at parties?’ ‘Well small talk about the weather usually works for me.’

When you haven’t seen someone in a while

For/in ages – for a long time

‘I haven’t seen you for ages. How are you?’

Long time, no see.

‘How are you Maria? Long time, no see.’

Common conversational sayings

To be on the ball – to be ready to take action.

‘Getting Adele concert tickets is a nightmare. You have to be really on the ball because they sell out within hours.’

To be a craze – to be the latest fashionable thing.

‘There was a craze for Pokémon cards among kids in the early 2000s.’

To cost and arm and a leg – to be very expensive.

‘A pint of beer in central London costs an arm and a leg.’

To go crazy, mad, nuts – to ‘become’ temporarily crazy for something.

‘People are going crazy for avocado toast nowadays.’

To hit the nail on the head – to be exactly right about something.

‘You’ve hit the nail on the head exactly. People don’t own cars anymore in cities because there is no parking.’

Out of the blue – suddenly.

‘And then out of the blue I got offered a job in Portugal!’

To ring a bell – to say that something is sounds familiar.

‘No, I have never met Steve Norris, but his name rings a bell.’

Telling stories

To be a long story – the story is too long and don’t want to talk about it.

‘What happened to you this morning and why are you soaking wet?’ ‘It’s a long story.’

To cut a long story short – in summary.

‘To cut a long story short, I got a parking ticket.’

To end up + gerund/noun– the unexpected ending to a story.

‘We wanted to see a film but the cinema was closed and so we ended up going to the pub.’

To turn out + infinitive – the twist in your story.

‘She thought he was a great guy but he turned out to be a criminal.’

Ways to describe good times

To have a good laugh/ a ball/ a blast/ a whale of a time – to have a good time.

‘We had a good laugh last night at the football match.’

To jump for joy – when you have received good news.

‘She got her exam results and jumped for joy.’

Ways to describe bad times

To be awful – to be very bad.

‘I had an awful day last Friday.’

To be a hassle – to be very inconvenient.

‘I had to take the hire car back to the depo this morning. It was such a hassle.’

To be fed up/ to be sick and tired of something – your negative feelings about something.

‘I am sick and tired of this task. When will it end?’

To go down well/badly – something has been received well or badly.

‘My boss did his speech and it went down very well with the shareholders. Mine, however, went down badly.’

To be a nightmare – to have a terrible time.

‘Our car broke down in the middle of the night on top of a mountain. It was a nightmare.’

To be a pain in the neck – to describe a task which is very annoying.

‘We spent two hours sorting out a problem with our internet connection. What a pain in the neck!’

To be rubbish – your opinion on something.

‘The party was rubbish.’

Speaking practice

Ask your student to tell you about a day, situation or holiday that either went really well or really badly.

Talking about luck and probability

Break a leg! – in the mouth of the wolf!

‘I have a big presentation tonight, I’m a bit nervous.’ ‘You’ll be fine. Break a leg.’

To dream on – keep dreaming because it won’t happen.

‘Perhaps one day I’ll win the lottery.’ ‘Dream on!’

Fingers crossed – when you try to influence chance by crossing your fingers.

‘Hopefully, he’ll get the job. Fingers crossed.’

No chance – no possibility

‘There’s no chance that we’ll finish the project tonight.’

A stroke of luck – a hit of luck.

‘We got to the airport late but the plane was delayed. What a stroke of luck!’

A spell (or ‘run’) of good or bad luck – to pass through a lucky or unlucky time.

‘I’m having a spell of good luck at the moment. I found a new house and I got promoted within two months.’

Touch wood – when you try to ‘make’ something true by touching something for luck.

‘She’ll pass her driving test. Touch wood!’

When pigs fly/ when hell freezes over – there is no possibility that something will happen.

‘Maybe one day the Green Party will win the election.’ ‘Hmm, when pigs fly!’

Speaking practice

Get your student to tell you about a time when they had an incredible stroke of luck.

Are they superstitious? What do they do to influence luck?

Fun ways to describe people

To be a couch potato – someone who doesn’t do exercise and sits in front of the TV.

‘Stop being a couch potato and come out with me!’

To be a chatterbox – someone who talks a lot.

‘My sister is such a chatterbox. She never stops talking.

To be a drama queen – someone who makes a big deal out of small things.

‘It’s only a little cut, stop being a drama queen.’

To be down to earth – to be unpretentious.

‘He is a very down to earth guy. He never judges people by what they do for work.’

To be a good laugh – someone who is fun to be with.

‘My sister is a good laugh. She is very fun to be around.’

To be a lucky devil – someone who has a stroke of luck.

‘She got promoted within 6 months because her company was expanding so fast, the lucky devil!’

To be a party animal – someone who loves to party.

‘I was a party animal at university but now I am quite sedate.’

To be the life and soul of the party – a person who knows how to have a good time.

‘My colleague is the life and soul of the party!’

To have your feet on the ground – to be realistic.

‘She has her feet on the ground. She will stay in school even though she has started a music career.’

To have your head in the clouds – to be a dreamer.

‘That girl has her head in the clouds. She doesn’t know what day it is.’

Speaking practice

Ask your student if they know anyone with these characteristics. Do they like it or does it drive them crazy?

Do any of these characteristics apply to your student?

Telling jokes

A pun – a play on words.

‘Why did the skeleton not go to the party?’ Because he had no body to go with.’

To have a good sense of humour – to find jokes funny.

To joke around – to pass the time with friends having a laugh.

‘My son was joking around with his friends and didn’t get any studying done.’

To laugh with someone – positive (you are sharing the joke with them)

To laugh at someone/to make fun of someone – negative (they are the object of the joke).

‘They made fun of the way he dressed.’

To be kidding/ to pull someone’s leg – to joke with someone.

‘We have to work this weekend.’ ‘Seriously!’ ‘No, I’m pulling your leg.’

The punchline – the final line of the joke when you hope your audience will laugh.

‘If you’re going to tell a long joke in a speech, it better have a good punchline!’

When you don’t want to joke

Don’t be silly.

To be not in the mood

‘Don’t be silly. I am not in the mood for jokes today.’

Speaking practice

Ask your student to research two or three jokes for homework and get them to tell them to you next lesson.

Ask your student to invent two puns for next class. Here is some inspiration.


This is what happens when you reply to a spam email,’ is a very funny nine-minute TED Talk about a man’s correspondence with someone who wants to send him a shipment of gold.  

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