10 May 2024

Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Mohammad about the word "call."


Dear Teacher,

Hi, my name is Mohammad.

I hope this email finds you well. First of all, I'd like to gratefully thank you because of your attempts and commitment.

I'm writing to ask about the word "call." I often face this word in different shapes (call, call in, call for, etc.), and I've understood that it has lots of meaning that is challenging for me.

I [would] appreciate if you let me know the differences between [the] different meaning[s] of this word.

Best regards


Thank you for writing, Mohammad. This is a very good question.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists almost 50 definitions for the word "call". It is, as you say, a challenging word.

We cannot talk about all the meanings of "call," but we have time to look at some of the more common ones.

Note that "call" can be both a noun and a verb. The verb "call" is much more common and has many more meanings.

"Call" is a communication verb. We use it to talk about speaking and writing. One simple meaning might be to contact someone by phone.

I need to call my wife.

Call me back later.

We can also use "call" to ask someone to come to us. For example,

There was an accident. Call the police.

It's late. Let's call a taxi.

Very often, "call" describes someone or something. Usually, it is linked to an unpleasant description. For example,

I would not call the man bright.

It's not nice to call people stupid.

We often use "call" in the passive voice when we do not want to say or do not know who is causing the action.

The show has been called long and boring.

Some phrasal verbs also use "call," such as "call for," "call out." These are very common in news writing.

"Call for" means to plan something or demand that something happen.

The organization called for a members' meeting.

This calls for change.

"Call out" means to criticize someone or ask them to explain their actions. For example,

The man was called out for being rude.

The teacher called out the students who were late.

We also use "call" in many expressions such as call in sick, call it a day, call it quits, call into question, and call the shots. But we are out of time now. In other words, we have to call it quits.

We hope this explanation has helped you, Mohammad.

Do you have a question about American English? Send us an email at learningenglish@voanews.com.

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Gena Bennett.

Gena Bennett wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

challenging adj. requiring a lot of effort

call it quitsphrase to agree to stop