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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!
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
- Funny British Sayings
- Fancy British Words
- British Slang Words
- Stereotypical British Phrases
- British Compliments
- Differences Between American and British English
Common British Phrases
In this section, we will 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.
Although it may mean “ok” in North America, it’s the equivalent of “how are you?” in British English.
Mischievous or playful.
This is a very British thing to say meaning very.
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.
A common one and quite cliché – mate means friend.
It could mean garbage or nonsense, depending on the context.
A person native to East London.
Similar to the American wow, blimey is used to describe something that takes you by surprise.
Similar to guy in America, it is a blanket term to describe a man in general.
One of the more well-known British terms, it actually has a multitude of meanings. It could be used to symbolize disbelief, or to talk about a man’s private parts.
Funny British Sayings
- 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 sandwich short of a picnic – 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.
Fancy British Words
- Alas – used to express grief, sorrow, regret or concern
- Beastly – very unpleasant
- Bore – someone who talks too much about uninteresting things
- Brick – reliable, trustworthy
- Discombobulate – to confuse or disorient
- Erudite – knowledgeable, well-educated
- Forsooth – in truth or indeed
- Grandiloquent – using lofty or exaggerated language
- Loquacious – talkative or chatty
- Nary – not or never
- Platitude – a trite or overused remark
- Perchance – perhaps or maybe
- Pernicious – harmful or destructive
- Superfluous – unnecessary or excessive
- Terribly – very or extremely
- Verily – truly or indeed
- Quotidian – ordinary or everyday
- Yonks – ages, a very long time
British Slang Words
- 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
Stereotypical British Phrases
- Keep calm and carry on – A famous British slogan encouraging people to remain level-headed in times of turmoil.
- Mind the gap – A warning heard on London Underground trains to remind passengers to watch out for the space between the train and the platform
- Bloody hell! – An exclamation of surprise or frustration.
- Jolly good! – An expression of approval or satisfaction.
- Bob’s your uncle – A British phrase said to conclude a set of simple instructions or when a result is reached.
- It’s raining cats and dogs – A British idiom used to describe heavy rain.
- Fancy a cuppa? – The British way to ask someone if they want a cup of tea.
- It’s not my cup of tea – Expressing a lack of interest or preference for something.
- Posh nosh – Refers to high-quality or fancy food.
- Take the Mickey – Making fun of or tease someone.
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.
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!
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.
Why do the British say ‘cheers’?
‘Cheers’ is an informal manner of expressing gratitude, akin to saying ‘thank you’. When combined with the word ‘mate’, it forms the phrase “Cheers, mate”, which carries the same meaning as “Thank you, my friend.”
Can you be British but not English?
People who are English are from the country of England. On the other hand, British people are people who live in Great Britain (Britain) and the UK. Consequently, being English implies a distinction from being Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish. In contrast, the term British encompasses anyone originating from Great Britain. This means that everyone residing in Scotland, Wales, or England is collectively identified as British.
How to speak like a British?
To speak like a British person, it’s essential to prioritize your pronunciation and vocabulary. Keep in mind that British accents exhibit significant regional variations, so actively listening to native speakers can aid in emulating specific accents like the esteemed ‘Received Pronunciation’. Additionally, acquaint yourself with British slang and remain cognizant of grammatical disparities. Finally, it is crucial to approach the emulation of a British accent with the utmost respect and a sincere curiosity about British culture. Doing this will help you improve your British accent faster.
Will British and American English diverge?
In a different era with little to no way of communicating, it would be entirely possible for British English and American English to diverge. However, modern times allow the two to communicate without restrictions. As time goes by, there’s a chance for more differences to emerge, but it’s unlikely that British and American English diverge completely.
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