Talking on the phone or Talking on phone. Do they have different nuances? If so, then which one should be used when and under what circumstances?

3 Answers 3


The nuance is that talking on phone is just not correct everyday English. You need a definite article there. The reason why is because to talk on the phone is a set phrase that can't be changed. You can, however, replace on with over:

I was talking over the phone with my friend from San Fransisco the other day and he said that they were expecting a minor earthquake.


"I am talking on the phone.

...is the better choice of the two options.

Other common variations:

"I am on the phone."

"I am making a phone call."

"I'm talking to Tom on the phone."

"I'm talking with Tom on the phone."

"I'm on the phone with Tom."

"I'm calling Tom."


Talking on phone

and other expressions that do not use articles where we would expect them are written in a style called headlinease1. This type of writing is characterized by the removal of words that do not, by themselves, contain "content". For example, as Professor John Lawler has stated, the in and of itself does not mean anything.

So, you could use talking on phone anytime you want to communicate bare content. Like in a text or on a sign:

Talking on phone. Please wait.

Using headlinese style in an ordinary conversation might be considered abrupt or strange.

The other clause, with the definite article, is an example of conversational deletion, in which the clause's subject is deleted because it is understood; so it can be used without the subject explicitly stated, as in

{I'm/he's/she's/they're/Clare's/Shivam's} talking on the phone.

For example:

What's John doing?
Talking on the phone.

You don't need to explicitly state John in the reply, because it's clear from context that you're talking about John.

As the name conversational deletion implies, this sort of thing is used in everyday conversation. It's not necessary to use it, though. It's a little informal. One probably wouldn't say it in formal situations, such as when you're talking to someone in authority.

Otherwise we would expect to encounter the string talking on the phone in everyday usage with the subject explicitly stated:

She's talking on the phone.

So, they're both "grammatically correct" when used in the proper context.

1 I dislike using Wikipedia entries as references because they are often unreliable and contain outdated information, but I can't find an alternative readily available source. The pdf Article drop in English headlinese might be of interest.


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