Have you ever asked a friend to tell you about the movie he or she had just watched? And then, instead of giving you a short summary, which should take a sentence or two, your friend starts telling you everything that happens in the movie. In fact, the summary is almost as long as the movie itself.


At a time like this, you’re likely to think, “Get to the point (meaning: say it quickly) already.” Speaking a little or elaborating depends on the culture and language -- and the individual as well, even among native speakers.


In fact, some of my Italian and Spanish students have said it’s difficult to describe things succinctly the way it’s done in American English or German. American-English speakers are rather “lazy.” They usually like to say things in as few words as possible. While Spanish and Italian speakers, on the other hand, often like to elaborate (lead up to) before they come to the main point.



Two lessons


There are two parts about coming to the point:


  • The first is when you say it to someone.
  • The second is when you actually learn to do it.



The first part


“Come/get to the point” means stop rambling on and on about something and just tell me the most important thing first. But I must warn you about this: the expression is not a polite one. In fact, it could be construed as rude. You normally would only use it with people you know very well -- close family members, friends, and sometimes at work if you are someone’s boss or supervisor. But never -- and I mean never -- say it to your boss. He or she may come to the point quickly and show you the door (fire you).


Here’s an example showing the difference between coming to the point and not coming to it.


I’m watching a Netflix movie called “Prison Break.” I doubt whether you’ve ever even heard of it which makes this a good example.



Example One:


  • Me: “I’m watching a great movie.”
    • Friend: “What is it?”
  • Me. “It’s called Prison Break.”
    • Friend: “What’s it about? But tell me quickly because I have to get to work.”


  • Me: “Well, there’s a secret organization called The Company. It’s evil and has penetrated all walks of life in America, including the government. There are a lot of deaths and shooting. Everyone is a spy. People are trying to find out who the members of The Company are. Oh, yeah, I forgot a part. It’s at the beginning. There are these two brothers. One is going to be executed and the other breaks into the jail to get him out. They form a team of prisoners and break out. Everyone starts looking for them. Somehow, the first brother discovers that he was set up by the The Company to kill the vice-president’s brother. But he’s really alive somewhere. Then somehow the vice-president becomes the president. But she’s one of the members of The Company. And oh yeah: The Company has a secret computer chip called Shylla. And everyone is after it.


  • Friend: “Look, um, I’ve got to get to work.
    • Me: “But wait, I haven’t told you the best part…”
  • Friend: (getting frustrated) “Can I hear it later? Because I’m going to be late.”
    • Me: “Ok -- but just one more thing!”
  • Friend: “Look, I really have to go now. I’m already late.”


  • Me: “This happens at the beginning, actually. Well, the first brother is going to be executed. His brother, who is an electrical engineer, is the one who wants to get his brother out of prison. So he gets himself arrested. Then he tattoos a map on his body which tells him the structure of the jail. Then he starts digging out of the prison through a water pipe. Other prisoners hear about it and want to get out, too. So they form a team and they all work on getting out when the prison guards aren’t around. The other prisoners fight a lot about who can go and who must stay behind. Then they somehow get away but one guy gets caught and the prison guards beat him up until he tells them the plan. Then the police starts looking for the escaped prisoners. The prisoners get away but they are always being chased, especially by this thing called The Company…”


  • Friend: Walking away -- “Listen I have to go.”
    • Me: “OK--I’ll tell you the rest later.”



Example Two:


  • Me: “I’m watching a great movie.”
    • Friend: “What is it?”
  • Me. “It’s called Prison Break.”
    • Friend: “What’s it about? But tell me quickly because I have to get to work.”
  • Me: “OK. It’s about a guy who is about to be executed by the electric chair. His brother, who got himself arrested to help his brother, proves that his brother is really innocent. They escape from prison and find out that there’s a whole secret plot involving the government and a group called The Company who had set up the convicted brother to die.”
    • Friend: “Sounds good. Maybe I’ll watch it.”


The difference between the two examples is that the first one doesn’t get around to the most important part of the movie -- being the two brothers -- until the end. But the second example sums up the most important part immediately. Your friend may want you to tell her more later or will just go watch the movie if he/she gets intrigued enough.


Now, I bet that many of you will say the first description is more interesting because it gives a lot of colorful detail. It does, but it could make some people antsy (anxious to get away) because there’s too much yapping (talking) going on.



The second part


Coming or getting to the point is a special skill you can develop when: introducing yourself, describing a movie or book, or when you need to express your ideas in a conference. This skill also is true when it comes to writing your ideas down.


One of the best ways of coming to the point is to ask your itaki teacher to model (show) it for you. You can try to introduce yourself in just a few sentences, or talk about a movie, book or even a trip you took. You and your italki teacher can read articles online and then talk about the main points. You can also prepare for a job interview like this. But, of course, the interviewers will ask you to elaborate; it’s part of the interview process.


Remember, however, that this type of exercise isn’t always necessary. When speaking informally to a friend who asks to hear all about something, you may not have to get to the point right away. As usual, these actions depend on the individuals involved and the situation that you find yourself in.



The “bottom line”


There is another expression, “Get to the bottom line,” which means the same thing (in English) as “Get to the point.”


It’s interesting where this expression comes from. Remember, it’s always wise to find out where an expression comes from (whenever possible) because you will remember it better. You know how many accountants have ledger books with a bottom line, often red, which show the totals for profits and losses for a business. Many times, someone will start reporting on one month or another, and someone will ask, “Please get to the bottom line.” This means, as far as sales go, did we make a profit or suffer a loss? These figures are usually indicated on the bottom line.


“The bottom line can” is most often used in business, but can be substituted for “get to the point.”


So, now that you know what get to the point means, practice on your own and then with your italki teacher or someone who speaks your target language well. My video on the italki site tells you how to get to the point when introducing yourself. So please check it out and then book a lesson and tell me what you think. Get the point?




I dedicate this article to my student Jose, a great Spanish-speaking student who learned to get to the point in one lesson. Jose, you inspired me to write about this and share with the italki community, thank you!


Ilene Springer is a long-time teacher on italki, specializing in mid and higher-level students, including advanced learners. She is also author of The Diary of an American Expatriate. Please read her website called Chocolate-English.eu.


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