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How to Change the Subject or Conversation Topic in English

Imagine this situation: You’re having a great conversation with a person you’ve just met.

You’re talking about a topic that both of you are really interested in, and you’re sharing ideas back and forth.

You’re both asking great questions and responding with enthusiasm, but then suddenly… silence.

This particular conversation topic has come to its natural conclusion.

You’ve said all you have to say on this subject.

Does that mean the entire conversation is over too?

Not at all!

What you need to do now is change the subject.

Changing the topic while still keeping the conversation going is a skill.

That’s why we’re going to practice it today.

In this video, you’ll learn how to change the subject and move on to another topic by using natural-sounding expressions and transition phrases.

You’ll also practice the intonation that native speakers use in order to show that we still want to keep the conversation going, just on another topic.

After all, using the right intonation patterns helps make sure your meaning is clear.

Reasons Why You May Want to Change the Subject

Beyond running out of things to say on one particular topic, there are other reasons you may want to change the subject.

For example, you may find yourself in the middle of a conversation with a group of people at a social event when someone asks you where you’re from.

And the truth is, there have been some recent events from your city, country, or even region of the world that you just don’t feel like talking about.

How do you change the subject to avoid getting into a long discussion that just isn’t appropriate right now?

You may want to change the topic of conversation because it’s a difficult subject, it’s not appropriate for this situation, or it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Or you may feel like the question was too personal or it puts you on the spot and makes you feel like the focus of attention when you really don’t want to be.

Or maybe you’re just not that interested in this particular topic of conversation.

Maybe you notice that other people seem a little bored by it, you have nothing to add, you feel like it’s been going on and on and on for a little bit too long, or you just have something else you’d like to bring up.

These are just a few reasons why you may want to change the subject and move on to another topic of conversation.

Four Strategies for Changing the Subject

Now that you’ve decided you want to introduce a new topic of conversation, let’s talk about four strategies for changing the subject.

As we go through these options, remember that you need to be confident about changing the subject.

Knowing the right expressions and intonation will help you be prepared so that you can smoothly move on to another topic.

1. Change the Subject by Asking a Question

The simplest way to change the subject is to ask the other person a question that is slightly related to the current topic.

By asking a related question, you give them a chance to talk more about the topic that they’re clearly interested in.

They still get to express their opinions and feelings about the general topic, while you get to avoid talking about something that you’re not interested in discussing.

Let’s look at a few examples.

First, let’s talk about avoiding questions that are too personal or sensitive.

For example, when someone asks you about your relationship status, when you’re going to get married, when you’re going to have kids, or going to have more kids, you may not feel like sharing these personal details.

So what do you do instead?

Well, you can tell that the person clearly values relationships, so you can ask them a related question about their family or friends.

For example, if someone asks you if you’re in a relationship, you can ask a question like, “Didn’t your daughter get married recently? How was the wedding?”

If you’re lucky, they’ll start talking enthusiastically about this topic and you’re free from answering an uncomfortable question.

Or maybe you’re talking to someone who’s interested in hearing how much money you’re making at your new job.

You probably don’t want to answer, so you can say something like, “That was one of the reasons I changed jobs. Hey, the last time I saw you, weren’t you looking for a new job? How’s that going?”

After all, they’re probably curious about the details of your new job because of their own interest in finding a new one for themselves.

By turning the conversation back to them, you acknowledge their interest in this particular topic, but hopefully avoid having to answer a question that makes you uncomfortable.

You can also ask a related question if you’re just not that interested in the topic the other person brought up, or you just don’t have much to say.

For example, if someone is obsessed with running but you’re more interested in biking or some other sport, you can ask one of these questions:

  • How did you get started running?
  • What’s your training schedule like?
  • What are some good parks or paths to run in?

This gives them a chance to show off their expertise without going into extreme detail about why running is the best sport ever.

These questions make the subject a little more general and relatable.

You might be able to share details about how you got started with one of your hobbies, or your favorite local parks, or the importance of having a daily routine.

2. Change the Subject by Introducing a New Topic

If you’re not able to come up with a related question, you can change the subject by introducing a new topic.

In order to do this well, you want to acknowledge or recognize what the other person was just talking about and then find a way to move on.

When you change the subject without any sort of transition or connection to what you were just talking about, it can make the other person feel ignored.

To acknowledge the other person’s interest, make a comment about what was just said.

You can say something like:

  • That’s interesting.
  • Yeah, I heard about that too.
  • That seems really popular around here.
  • That sounds like an intense sport.
  • That sounds like an intense hobby.
  • People keep asking me that question.

These short expressions show that you were listening to them, but they don’t encourage more conversation on this particular topic.

Useful Expressions and Transition Phrases for Changing the Subject

Now let’s look at some useful expressions and transition phrases for changing the subject.

After acknowledging the other person’s curiosity or interest, you can bring up a new topic.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common transitions.

As I share these expressions, pay attention to my intonation. You want to use light, friendly intonation that shows you’re interested in the conversation.

You’ll follow these expressions with a new topic.

  • So…
  • Speaking of…
  • Speaking of which…
  • Talking about…
  • By the way…
  • Anyway…
  • That reminds me…
  • Oh, before I forget…
  • I wanted to mention…
  • Let’s talk about…
  • We need to discuss…
  • Oh, I wanted to tell you…
  • Funny you should mention that…
  • Hey, we haven’t talked about [this other subject] yet…

These expressions suggest that the conversation reminded you of something related, or something that you don’t want to forget to talk about.

Bring Up a Completely Different Topic of Conversation

If the conversation has suddenly gone silent, you can just go ahead and ask a completely different question.

Lulls, or pauses in conversation, happen when you’ve completely exhausted everything you have to say on a particular topic.

They signal that it’s time to talk about something different.

In this case, you don’t have to relate the new topic to what you were just talking about.

Here are some phrases you can use:

  • Completely changing the subject…
  • This has nothing to do with what we were talking about, but…
  • Not to change the subject, but… (and then go ahead and change the subject).
  • Changing gears a little bit…
  • Changing the topic slightly…
  • Totally unrelated…

Your intonation will show enthusiasm for the new topic, so that the other person feels interested in keeping the conversation going as well.

3. Change the Subject By Creating a Distraction

If asking a related question or introducing another topic hasn’t worked, and the other person wants to keep talking about the uncomfortable or uninteresting subject, then you need another plan.

In this case, you can create a distraction that will get you off-topic.

Then hopefully the other person will forget what you’re discussing and then you can talk about something else.

One way to do this is to give the person a compliment.

You can compliment their enthusiasm for the topic or their detailed explanation. For example:

  • Wow, you’re so passionate about this topic. I can tell you’ve invested a lot of time in studying it.
  • Thanks for sharing so many resources about your training program. I learned a lot.

Or you can give them a compliment on their hair, outfit, accessory or personal possession.

Follow the compliment with a question to smoothly change the subject.

  • Hey, I like your haircut. When did you get it done?
  • I really love that jacket. Where’d you find it?
  • What a pretty bracelet. How long have you had it?
  • Nice phone. Do you usually buy that brand?
  • You have a nice apartment. Have you lived here for a long time?

Another way to create a distraction is to physically leave.

Apologize and head to the bathroom, get a drink or a snack, or request a song from the DJ.

This can be a really good strategy if you’re enjoying the conversation, but don’t want to keep talking about a certain topic.

If you leave and come back, chances are the conversation will have moved on to a new topic, or you’ll be able to change it to something that’s more interesting to you.

If you’re in a one-on-one conversation, you can bring other people into the conversation.

You can introduce a friend and then mention something that you all have in common.

This is a simple way to move on to another topic while still keeping the conversation friendly.

4. Abruptly Change the Subject

Finally, there are times when you’ll need to abruptly change the subject.

If someone makes a joke that isn’t funny, or says something really inappropriate or offensive, or the silence between topics gets too long, you can use one of these expressions to abruptly change the subject.

Keep in mind that intonation is really important.

Depending on the situation, you may want to be funny or sarcastic, you might want to show annoyance, or you may need to quietly acknowledge that a comment offended someone.

As always, use your best judgment. You’ll handle situations with strangers, acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and coworkers differently.

Here are some expressions for obviously changing the subject.

Because your goal is to completely change the subject and you’re being very clear and obvious about it, it can make the situation flow a little easier.

  • Moving on!
  • Anyway! Anyway! Anyway!
  • OOO-kay.
  • On THAT note…
  • On a happier note…
  • On a sad note…
  • In other news…
  • And now for something completely different…

When you say these expressions with the right intonation, native speakers will get your meaning and understand that it’s really time to change the subject. 

Your Turn

Let’s review the four strategies I recommend for changing the subject or conversation topic in English:

  1. Change the subject by asking a related question.
  2. Change the subject by introducing a new topic.
  3. Change the subject by creating a distraction
  4. Abruptly change the subject.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Which expressions do you think will be most useful for you?

Do you feel more confident saying them with the right intonation?

What are some other strategies you’ve heard people use to change the subject?

Leave a comment and let me know!

Remember, knowing how to smoothly move on to a new topic of conversation will help you feel more confident when interacting with native speakers.

You may not be able to predict what people will say, but you can definitely prepare to handle these common situations confidently.

This article was originally published in September 2016, and was updated in May 2019.

14 thoughts on “How to Change the Subject or Conversation Topic in English”

  1. This is great! I’m a native speaker, but I’m preparing for a visit from a relative who tends to ask me questions I don’t want to answer and puts me on the spot, so I found this while looking for good transition phrases for smoothly changing the subject, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Thanks for laying it out so thoroughly and in such an organized manner. I think I’ll follow some of the links and see what else I can learn too, even to improve my own conversational skills.

    • I’m glad you found this helpful! You’re right – this information is just as helpful for native speakers. Not surprisingly, I originally wrote about this topic because of my own issue with a relative that asked me awkward questions at holiday gatherings. You may also appreciate this article on handling uncomfortable questions. Thanks for reminding my community that even native speakers spend time improving their conversation skills! 🙂

  2. Thanks for these tips! They are really useful when teaching non-native speakers about small talk and conversation strategies. 🙂

  3. I just try this to distract my friend and he’s a really like hard to forget orstrict about something. So like when he knows 1% of something he would ask for more tea and so I didn’t want to spell more tea so i make a distraction and he totally forgets about it!

    • You’re right – some people don’t want to let a conversation topic drop! Distractions are key in that situation. Glad you were able to move on!

  4. Thanks for your article. I landed on your page when I used the segue way, “I have a lawn mower, do you like fish?”, trying to sarcastically say to my wife that she changed the subject abruptly. She had no idea what I was saying, so it made me wonder if it was an insider family phrase? I would be surprised if it was, but have yet to find anything on the internet to determine where it may have came from. Thanks 🙂 Steve

    • I haven’t heard that particular expression before, so perhaps it is one that your family invented for an abrupt change in subject! Did your family use the same objects in the expression (lawn mowers, fish), or did they use other equally random combinations? There are lots of regional expressions that might be unfamiliar to people who grew up in a different area, so that could be it as well.

  5. Hi Kim. I’m 16. I always argue with my mom about food. She insist that I eat my meal even when not hungry. How do I change the subject in the middle of a conversation about food?

    • Conversations with family can be challenging. Parents offer suggestions that they think are in our best interest. Talking about food and health-related issues can be especially tricky. Instead of changing the subject, you may want to ask questions related to why she’s insisting on you eating your meal. For example, you can ask her if she is concerned about your health, or if she is concerned about wasting food, or if she wants feedback on the particular dish. Sometimes, understanding why someone is asking a question can help lead to a more productive conversation, and can help you understand each other better. This video on handling uncomfortable questions may help: https://englishwithkim.com/handle-uncomfortable-questions/


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