Interrupting in English

Interruption is not always negative and is often even unavoidable. Interjecting can be necessary for a number of reasons. You might interrupt a conversation to:

  • Give a message to someone
  • Ask a quick question
  • Give your opinion on something that has been said
  • Join a conversation

If you find yourself needing to carefully interrupt a conversation for any of the above reasons, there are certain forms and phrases that you should use so as not to offend or otherwise upset anyone. Sometimes, you will use more than one of these phrases in order to smoothly interrupt. Though interruption is often justified and forgivable, this conversation technique should be used sparingly.

Reasons to Interrupt

An interruption is essentially a pause. When you pause a conversation, you will almost definitely draw attention to yourself, so it's important to make sure that your reason for interrupting will be seen as valid by the whole group. Giving someone important information, asking a quick question, sharing your opinion on something said, or interrupting to join a conversation are all acceptable reasons for pausing.

Keep in mind that interruptions should generally be accompanied by either an apology or permission-seeking question (such as, "Do you mind if I join?"). This is respectful to the speaker you interrupt and all those listening. You should also keep your interruptions as short as possible so that a conversation is not derailed by the interruption.

Giving Someone Information

Use these short phrases to efficiently deliver a message or get someone's attention mid-conversation. These are effective whether you are giving information to an individual or the whole group.

  • I'm sorry to interrupt but you're needed...
  • I apologize for the interruption but I had to quickly let you know that...
  • Pardon me, I have...[someone waiting, an object/information requested, etc.]
  • I hope you'll excuse me for interrupting but could I quickly get you to...

Asking a Quick Question

Sometimes it is necessary to pause a conversation to ask a clarifying question. There are even times when you might need to stop a speaker to ask a question that is not related to the topic of conversation. No matter what the situation, these short phrases allow for brief questions during a conversation.

  • I'm sorry for interrupting but I don't quite understand...
  • Sorry for the interruption but could you repeat...
  • This will only take a minute. Would you mind telling me...
  • I apologize for the interruption but I have an important question about...

Alternatively, you can use questions as a polite way of joining a conversation. Here are some ways that you can ask for permission from a group to become part of their discussion.

  • Could I jump in?
  • Could I add something?
  • Do you mind if I say something?
  • May I interject?

Sharing Your Opinion

If you feel that you have something to share or comment on as a conversation is happening that will add value to the discussion, use these phrases to considerately do so.

  • That makes me think of...
  • Interesting that you say that because...
  • What you said about [reference something said] reminds me that...
  • Your point sounds an awful lot like something else...

Use caution when interrupting to share an opinion or story as these are unwelcome interjections when they are not relevant, happen too frequently, or are impolitely executed. Always pay respect to a speaker you are stopping and never make it seem like you believe what you have to say is more important than what was already being said.

Joining a Conversation

Sometimes you will want to join a conversation that you were not originally a part of. In these cases, you can insert yourself into a discussion without being rude using the following phrases.

  • Would you mind if I joined?
  • I couldn't help overhearing...
  • Sorry to butt in but I think ...
  • If I may, I feel...

What to Do When You Are Interrupted

Just as you will sometimes need to interrupt, you will sometimes be interrupted (perhaps more frequently). If you are the speaker, it is up to you to determine how to proceed. Decide whether you want to reject or allow an interruption and then respond accordingly

Interrupting Someone Who Has Interrupted You

You do not always need to allow an interruption. If you were interrupted rudely or believe that you should finish your thought first, you have the right to express this without being considered impolite. Use one of these phrases to firmly but respectfully redirect the conversation back to yourself.

  • Please let me finish.
  • Can I continue, please?
  • Let me wrap up my thought before you start.
  • Would you please let me finish?

Allowing an Interruption

You may choose to allow an interruption if you do not mind being stopped. Respond to a person who has asked if they can interrupt you using one of these expressions.

  • No problem. Go ahead.
  • Sure. What do you think?
  • That's alright, what is it that you want/need?

Once you've been interrupted, you can continue where you left off when you were interrupted with one of these phrases.

  • As I was saying, I think...
  • I'd like to return to my argument.
  • To get back to what I was saying, I feel...
  • Continuing where I left off...

Example Dialogue

Interrupting to Give Information

Helen: It's really amazing how beautiful Hawaii is. I mean, you couldn't think of anywhere more beautiful.

Anna: Excuse me but Tom is on the phone.

Helen: Thanks, Anna. (To Greg) This will only take a moment.

Anna: Can I bring you some coffee while she takes the call?

George: No thanks, I'm fine.

Anna: She'll be right back.

Interrupting to Join a Conversation and Share an Opinion

Marko: If we continue to improve our sales in Europe, we should be able to open new branches elsewhere.

Stan (not yet a part of the conversation): I couldn't help but overhear you talking about opening new branches. Do you mind if I add something?

Marko: Of course, go ahead.

Stan: Thanks, Marko. I think we should open new branches no matter what. We should be opening new stores whether or not our sales improve.

Marko: Thank you, Stan. As I was saying, if we improve sales, we can afford to open new branches.