“On a Call” or “In a Call” – Which Is Correct

Marcus Froland

Are you ever confused about which phrase to use when talking about a phone call: ‘on a call’ or ‘in a call’? It’s an easy mistake to make, but there is an important difference between the two.

In this article, we’ll explore where these phrases come from and how to differentiate between them. We’ll also look at common mistakes made while using them and provide examples of each for clarity.

Key Takeaways

  • ‘On a call’ originated in the early 19th century to refer to people on duty or working for an organization, while ‘in a call’ has its roots in telephony and refers to someone using their phone to communicate with another person.
  • ‘On a call’ implies active talking, while ‘in a call’ suggests waiting for the conversation to start.
  • ‘On a call’ means actively talking on the phone or in some form of communication, while ‘in a call’ implies being called by another party but may not yet be talking.
  • Accurate usage of the phrases avoids confusion and miscommunication, and choosing the correct phrase ensures accurate and precise conversations.

Etymology of ‘On a Call’ and ‘In a Call’

You might be wondering where the terms ‘on a call’ and ‘in a call’ come from.

The phrase ‘on a call’ dates back to the early 19th century, when it was used to refer to people on duty or working in some capacity for an organization. This term was later adopted by telephone operators who would answer incoming calls and transfer them as needed.

Similarly, the phrase ‘in a call’ has its roots in telephony; when someone was using their phone to communicate with another person, they were said to be ‘in a call’.

Over time, both phrases have become more generalized and are now commonly used to describe any type of conversation or conference over the phone.

Differentiating Between ‘On a Call’ and ‘In a Call’

It’s important to differentiate between ‘on a call’ and ‘in a call’, as they mean different things.

Here are the three key distinctions:

  1. On a call means that someone is actively talking, either as an individual or part of a group, on the phone or in some other form of communication such as video chat.

  2. In a call, however, implies that someone is being called by another party, but may not yet be talking.

  3. Finally, ‘on a call’ implies that the conversation has started and is ongoing while ‘in a call’ suggests it hasn’t started yet – someone may be waiting for an answer from the other party or simply waiting for them to join the conversation.

Understanding these differences can help ensure effective communication when using either phrase.

Usage of ‘On a Call’ and ‘In a Call’ in Everyday Conversation

Understanding when to use ‘on a call’ and ‘in a call’ in everyday conversation can be tricky, but it’s important to get it right.

The difference between the two is subtle yet significant: if you are currently on the call, then you’re ‘on a call’; if you have just hung up or are about to dial, then you’re ‘in a call’.

To add further clarity, consider this example: if someone asks ‘how was your call?’ while you are still talking on the phone, they probably mean ‘how is your call going?’. On the other hand, if they ask after you’ve already hung up, they probably want to know what happened during the conversation.

Knowing which phrase to use will help ensure that conversations stay accurate and precise.

Common Mistakes Involving ‘On a Call’ and ‘In a Call’

Many people make mistakes when using ‘on a call’ and ‘in a call’, so it’s important to be aware of the distinction between them.

First, ‘on a call’ implies that you are participating in or engaged in an active telephone conversation.

Second, ‘in a call’ suggests that you have been invited to join an ongoing conversation, but you cannot yet participate until the other person has finished speaking.

Finally, both phrases can be used to describe someone who is connected to a telephone conversation, but not actively conversing with someone else on the line.

It’s important to remember that these two phrases are not interchangeable and should only be used in specific situations. When referring to yourself or another person who is actively engaged in a phone conversation, use “on a call”; if referring to someone who has been invited into the conversation but cannot yet participate due to another party talking first, use “in a call”. Doing otherwise could lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Examples of ‘On a Call’ and ‘In a Call’ in Sentences

You can use the phrases ‘on a call’ and ‘in a call’ to describe different situations.

For example, if you are actively using your phone or computer device for communication with someone else, then you could say ‘I’m on a call’. This means that you are currently engaged in conversation with someone.

Alternatively, if you’ve made arrangements to talk at a set time but haven’t yet connected, then it would be more accurate to say ‘I’m in a call’.

It’s important to distinguish between these two phrases because they indicate different stages of the conversation process. Being aware of this distinction will help ensure that information is accurately conveyed when speaking about calls.


You now know the difference between ‘on a call’ and ‘in a call.’

While both are used to describe conversations over the phone, ‘on a call’ refers to the action of being on the phone.

Meanwhile, ‘in a call’ describes speaking or participating in an active conversation.

It’s important to use them correctly when speaking or writing, so you don’t make an embarrassing mistake.

So remember, if you’re physically holding your phone for a conversation, say you’re ‘on a call.’

But if you’re actually engaging in the conversation with someone else, then say you’re ‘in a call.’