Say, you're working in a company. The phone rings and you pick it up. On the other line, someone wants to speak to one of your co-workers. You want to tell your co-worker who this person is.

I think asking "May I know who you are?" is a bit rude? What's a more common or softer alternative?


6 Answers 6


"Who should I say is calling?"

  • 10
    This one (or some variant) is probably the one I hear most often. An even softer alternative might be: "Yes, Joe is here. Can I tell him who's calling?"
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 10:50
  • 19
    I usually respond with "Who's calling please?" when someone asks for me without identifying themselves, gives the scope to tell telemarketers and cold callers they have the wrong number.
    – RobbG
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 14:39
  • 6
    The advantage of "should I say" is that softens the potential rudeness of demanding that a stranger identify himself and gives a reason why you are asking (because you're going to pass this information along to whomever the caller is trying to reach). Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 18:32
  • 1
    This is very common, sometimes worded worded "who SHALL I say is calling?" or "Who MAY I say is calling?"
    – barbecue
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 22:30
  • 1
    @Richard Can't that technique be blocked with an equally pushy answerer who responds "I'm afraid I can't put you through unless I know who is calling" ad finitum? If you just won't take no for an answer, nobody can make you put the call through. Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 6:36

As far as politeness goes, the following examples, along with what JeremyC has already suggested, would also be some of the safest ways to ask people for their names when talking with them over the phone:

Could you please tell me who I'm speaking with?

May I ask who's calling?

Would you mind telling who's talking?

  • 10
    I find "May I ask who's calling?" to be by far the best, especially in a professional setting. It is both short and polite.
    – Gossar
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 3:14
  • 4
    @Eric Duminil - Then you ask "Is this a sales call?"
    – LawrenceC
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 22:58
  • 1
    The first of those sounds very stilted to me. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 6:17

In my experience, "Who is this?" is generally perceived as more polite than "Who are you?" or similar. I don't have a good reason for it. There are other more-polite forms, as noted in the other answers, but "Who is this?" is direct, reasonable, and unlikely to offend.

  • It's a funny difference. Maybe because "Who are you?" is a direct address, to YOU; we use it when we don't recognize someone and confront them about it. "Who is this?" is more like what you would discreetly ask a friend at a party about another person you don't recognize but don't want to confront. It's used on the phone, but I can also see it being used across a closed door for example. Both cases where you might know the person but don't have enough info to tell; "who is this" is like you're talking to them as "person who might help me know who is on the phone", not as "person on the phone".
    – Oosaka
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 14:17

May I tell X who is calling? has always worked for me. If they refuse, I hang up.

  • Does your boss &/or co-worker appreciate you hanging up on potential or actual customers? Taking a message would be a much better idea, especially if the intended call recipient isn't expecting a call and is busy. Then they have to leave their name and number, if they expect a callback
    – Xen2050
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 1:01
  • 1
    If someone refuses to give his or her name in response to a polite question, I do not want that person as a customer because he or she will inevitably be a problem far greater than will be warranted by the profitability generated. The great thing about running a company that provides superior quality of service is that you do not have to worry about grovelling to get inferior customers. I always thought that answering the phone personally rather than having a robot do it won more customers than refusing to tolerate customers who would abuse my employees through rudeness lost me. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 1:28
  • By the way, if someone refuses to give his or her name, just how am I expected to ask anyone to return the call? Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 1:30
  • 1
    You seem to have missed the context. This is a person who is refusing, in response to a polite question, to say what his or her name is. I ran a very successful business for many, many years, and avoiding rude customers and protecting employees from that rudeness pays dividends. One of the stupidest things ever said is that the customer is always right. In a consulting business, the customer usually knows he is not right: that's why he engaged your services in the first place. And some clown who is illegally recording me will be having a lot of time to regret it. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 2:15
  • 1
    Continued: In my state, it is illegal to record a telephonic conversation without disclosing that a recording is being made. And you may want to continue a recorded conversation with a person who declines to give any identification, but, if so, I doubt I am going to invest in your business. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 2:18

There's not one perfect answer for every situation. If you don't hear the name the 1st time, just say that. Or, if the caller just gives his/her 1st name, state that you need the last name as well, and the reason why.

I encounter this often. Although I am a native English speaker, most of my callers speak Spanish. So, I am confronted with two problems: First, the need to know the full name of the caller; and second, the fact that I am not trained in the culturally-appropiate way to ask my client's identity in Spanish. (And the most appropriate way to ask this, may vary from country to country, anyway.)

My advice is to listen to the caller, and to respond in a way that seems correct for that situation.

Your tone of voice, and your attitude, probably are more important than the exact words that you use.

  • Many Spanish speakers have two family names. If asked for their last name, they might give you one or the other, not both. Does this cause problems for you?
    – Jasper
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 15:55

Based on a polite way to ask this in my language, I think an equivalent in English is "Whom have I the honor of speaking to?".

  • 17
    That's not very idiomatic. A possible English equivalent would actually be something like this: With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking? But that sounds very stilted and rather formal. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 15:44
  • 7
    @CookieMonster - yeah, Vincent's answer might very well be a translation of a perfectly correct greeting in his native language, but his translation would only be used by two Englishmen just before one slapped the other in the face with his glove and pulled out his sword. So, Vincent: don't say that!
    – davidbak
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 16:46
  • 10
    This sounds sarcastic.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 17:15
  • 2
    Valid but rather formal. I've heard this, but not often.
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 19:47
  • 1
    @davidbak I don't really understand the context. So one brings the bad news to the other that he has married the others lover?
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 2:18

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