“It was a pleasure speaking with you” is seen as a polite way to leave a conversation. It means you now have to end the conversation, even if you do not wish to.
At the end of a conversation, you might find that someone looks at their watch, and says to you “well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you”.
What they really mean is “I have very much enjoyed this interaction. However, I now have to leave for reasons beyond my control”.
But what they really really mean is “I’m bored of you now, I’m going to go”.
Of course, they can’t say that to you, it would be rude. So “It was a pleasure speaking with you” will make you think that they actually enjoyed your conversation.
This phrase is something worth looking into.
The importance of manners
Manners are something that is part of almost every culture. Although what qualifies as good manners is going to vary from culture to culture, one thing that all of them can agree on is that manners are important.
Manners show that we’re not just children, and we’ve risen above our animalistic instincts. We don’t just know the things we’re biologically programmed to recognise. We know how to treat others, and we respect the fact that others exist in the world, not just ourselves.
Without manners, cooperation would not be possible, and our society would not have progressed to the state that it has.
What tense is it in?
It really ought to go without saying that “It was a pleasure speaking with you” is written in the past tense. It’s an event that has already happened, you have already spoken to them. But let’s go a bit deeper.
The use of the word “speaking” as opposed to “spoke” suggests that it’s in the past continuous. However, it’s not set at a specific time, therefore in actuality, it’s in the past simple.
Really it ought to be “I was a pleasure to have spoke with you”. But the English language is not ruled by logic, it’s ruled by tradition.
Another issue with the phrase is the word “was”. It could be argued that in saying it, you’re suggesting that at one point in time, speaking to you was great, but now, it’s a bit rubbish.
One way around it to use the word “has”instead of “was” “It has been a pleasure speaking with you”.
This way, you’ll be speaking in the present tense, and letting the other person know that you’re still enjoying talking with them, even though you now have to go and do something else.
It’s impressive how replacing one word can almost change the entire meaning.
However, the thing with the English Language is that it isn’t determined by rules, it’s determined by tradition.
While logic would tell us that “It was a pleasure speaking with you” would make far more sense if you were to replace “was” with “has been”, the fact of the matter is that both have become acceptable. Why?
For no reason other than that’s what we have decided. Because we decided that it okay to go against the rules, it’s okay to go against the rules.
I know it’s confusing, but that’s just the way the English Language is.
When to not use “has been”
However, there will be some situations where it makes more sense to say “It was” rather than “it has been”. And using “has been”in these situations is going to make you come across like you don’t really understand the English Language.
When you get home after your conversation, you might want to send them a text message to thank them for speaking to you. In this message, because speaking to them happened in the past, and a bit of the distant past now, it won’t make sense for you to say “has been”.
Therefore, you should say “It was a pleasure speaking with you”.
There will, of course, be some situations where “It was a pleasure speaking with you” is going to be too formal. You wouldn’t say it when you’re down the pub with your friends or bumping into your old friend in the shop.
Sometimes, you need to say the same thing but with fewer words.
Here are some ideas on how you can covey your happiness with having spoken to someone when you’re in a more casual situation.
- It’s been a pleasure speaking/to speak with you
- Pleasure speaking/to speak with you
- Great speaking/to speak with you.
Why “with” not “to”?
Another word in our sentence that I think it’s worth talking about it “with”. You might get tempted to say “to” instead, but I want to explain to you why that’s a bad idea.
Speaking with someone and speaking to them are two different things. When you speak with someone, it’s a conversation. At least two people are talking; exchanging information with one another.
Speaking to someone means you’re doing all the talking, and they’re just listening.
Times when it’s okay to say “It was a pleasure speaking to you” include at the end of a presentation where you were the only talking.
Is it exaggerating?
At the start of this article, we spoke about how most of the time it really means “I don’t want to talk to you anymore”, and the giveaway is the use of the word “pleasure”.
Pleasure is something that makes you feel terrific, fantastic, brilliant. But used in this kind of context, it can make us seem like we’re into some pretty weird things if we get these feelings from talking to someone.
But I would like to give a counter-argument. Pleasure can come in different sizes. You can get a bit of pleasure (from talking to someone you like) or a lot of pleasure (from winning the lottery).
Because you’ve never actually stated how much pleasure you got, you could tell someone it was a pleasure talking to them, and not automatically be lying to them.
“It was a pleasure speaking with you” is a phrase that gets said a lot in English. And it’s nothing more than a formality to let people know that we need to go.
Even though it does break a few rules, it doesn’t matter.