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It’s widely known, if not common knowledge, that American and British English vary. Not only in spelling, but in some of their terms, phrases, colloquialisms, and of course, pronunciation.
It’s completely possible that you walk into a British bar and don’t understand more than half of what they are saying. If you don’t want to be this person and you want to be able to converse fluently with your British mates, then we’re here to help you out!
The Differences Between American and British English
As mentioned before, British terms, British phrases, British expressions as well as spelling differ by American phrases and expressions, but what else is there? When we think about British versus American English, we think about slang terms and pronunciation.
It’s also fun to learn just how different British sayings are. Some very noticeable differences between the two English languages are:
- Vocabulary – While the two may share the majority of words in the English language, there are also some differences. For example, apartment in US English is the same as flat in British English.
- Spelling – For example, the word color. While Americans don’t spell it with an “ou”, British English has words such as colour and honour.
- Past Tense Verbs – The British tend to “-t” instead of –ed. Such examples are learned and learnt, dreamed and dreamt.
50+ British Phrases and their Meanings
Have you ever been the odd one out in a group of British mates not getting the joke? Do they all belly laugh while you are left grinning awkwardly alongside them?
Well, the chances of that happening are much slimmer after you get through our list. That plus looking for online tutors can better prep you for your next British conversation.
Common British Phrases and Words
In this section, we’re going to look at the phrases that will make you sound more British. Some of them might be those British phrases you always hear on TV shows or movies.
- Alright? – Although it may mean “ok” in North America, it’s the equivalent of “how are you?” in British English.
- I’m knackered – I’m tired.
- Cheeky – Mischievous or playful.
- Bloody – This is a very British thing to say – meaning very.
- I’m pissed – Not meaning the regular “angry”, in British talk it actually means you’re very drunk and is used quite a lot when you are out drinking with friends.
- Mate – A common one and quite cliché – mate means friend.
- Rubbish – It could mean garbage or nonsense depending on the context.
- Cockney – A person native to East London.
- Blimey – Similar to the American wow, blimey is used to describe something that takes you by surprise.
- Bloke – Similar to guy in America, it is a blanket term to describe a man in general.
- Bollocks – One of the more well-known British terms, it actually has a multitude of meanings. It could be used to symbolize disbelief, or just to talk about a man’s private parts.
Think about the elegant British phrases you have heard and see if you recognize any in our list below.
- You look smart/You’re smartly dressed – Smart, in this case, isn’t a reference to your mental state but more so about being dressed well.
- He’s as bright as a button – “Bright” in British words and phrases means smart. This phrase is used to describe someone being clever and smart.
- I quite fancy you – Fancy here means like or have a crush on.
- She’s very lush – She’s very attractive.
- I think he’s very fit – Fit not like your physical body, but more along the lines of being super hot!
- She’s quite tidy, isn’t she? – Another term for good-looking and perfect.
- You look smashing tonight – Austin Powers likes to use this term meaning fantastic.
- He is so buff – No so much strong as it is sexy and handsome.
- All to pot – Referring to something failing miserably.
- Brass monkey – A term used to describe extreme cold.
- Brilliant! – Meaning great, it’s not only seen in British English.
- Bugger all – Nothing at all.
- Bugger off/sod off – Go away or the meaner f*ck off.
- Cheers – Sure, it is still said when toasting, but it also means thank you.
- Chuffed – A quintessential word to use when describing how ecstatic you are about an achievement.
- A cock up – Is basically a less formal way to describe a mistake someone has made.
- Do – Not so much a verb as it is a noun, do in England and other British countries actually means an event you are having, such as a leaving do or a birthday do.
- Dodgy – Shifty, shady, questionable.
- Fortnight – Some of you may already know this slang term means two weeks in time.
- Gutted – To describe how you feel when something utterly saddens you.
- Hunky-dory – normal, fine, cool.
- Posh – Another well-known term that extends past the borders Great Britain, posh means something that is fancy.
- Proper – Sure, it can mean something that is not inappropriate, but it also means very.
- To nick – To take/steal.
- Boot – When talking about a car, the boot is the trunk.
- Brolly – British slang term for umbrella.
- Dim – Not a compliment, this is used to describe someone that is not very smart.
- Innit? – An even more contracted form of isn’t it?
- Miffed – Annoyed
Funny British Phrases and Idioms
- I was gobsmacked – The key here being “gobsmacked”. The entire phrase means I was shocked.
- It’s all gone pear-shaped – It’s all gone wrong/something has gone wrong.
- She’s a picnic short of a sandwich – Or he, meaning the person in question is not very clever.
- He’s mad/He’s crackers – He’s crazy/he’s lost it.
- Have a chinwag – Have a chat.
- What a chav! – Not a funny but a mean phrase, a chav is what the Englishman calls a “low class” person.
- That’s smashing/ace! – That’s great!
- I’ll ring you/give you a ring – Don’t get all excited expecting a diamond ring, this actually means the person give you a call on the telephone.
- Have a fag – While the word fag could mean something incredibly rude in America, in London or surrounding cities and countries it means a cigarette.
- He’s so gobby – This is used to describe a mouthy and rude person.
- Oh, she’s whinging on – Whinging is used to describe a person whining and moaning.
- Ta-ta! – Good-bye!
- Taking the piss – Piss and pissed are quite commonly used and do not denote anything inappropriate. Taking the piss means to mock or make fun of someone or something.
- The bee’s knees – A phrase you use to describe something you are very fond of.
- Don’t get your knickers in a twist – Don’t get upset/worked up.
- A curtain twitcher – This funny and unique phrase is used to describe a nosy person.
- Poppycock – Nonsense.
- Quid – Just like we say bucks instead of dollars sometimes, quid is a slang term for the British pound.
British phrases and expressions are extraordinarily interesting to those who aren’t familiar with their terms. The common British words we see already seem so fancy and sometimes even whimsical and learning them will surely give you a leg up next time you have a chinwag with your British mates!
This post is delivered to you by Vlad Turchyn, a marketing specialist from Preply, a language learning platform that connects tutors and students worldwide. He’s an avid marketer, amateur musician, and avid language learner.