How do I start a conversation?

Starting a conversation naturally is not easy, especially with someone you’ve never met before.  Suddenly saying “Nice to meet you” or asking a question can sometimes be too direct or confrontational.

Tag questions are less direct than normal questions so can be a great way to start new conversations.  Try using them to comment on the surroundings or current situation rather than personal topics (see examples below).

Tag questions are also very common in other parts of a conversation.

(1) Use falling intonation at the end to check information you think is true.
eg. They paid for the food, didn’t they? (falling) (speaker thinks they paid but is checking the information is true).

(2) Use rising intonation at the end to find out information you are less certain about.   These are more like real questions. eg. They paid for the food, didn’t they? (rising) (speaker isn’t sure if they paid)

 

Extra tip!! Using the negative form of the (auxiliary) verb first and rising intonation at the end is also a very effective way to make a polite request.

eg. You couldn’t close the door, could you?
(speakers wants the door closed)

 

More phrases used to manage conversations: speaking strategies (PDF)