One of the tricky parts of learning a new language can be getting to grips with the varying words, phrases and types of slang that exist in different dialects of the same language. As with any country, the United Kingdom has its own words and phrases that can sometimes be confusing to those who didn't grow up there. If you’re trying to learn UK English, familiarising yourself with some of these words and phrases can help you enhance your conversational English skills. Below, we’ve offered 15 British words and phrases that you can use to communicate with native English speakers and enhance your British English vocabulary.
British English speakers use this word to convey that they are in a good mood about something. If you hear someone say “I’m chuffed with that” it means they are extremely happy about something.
Not to be confused with the dessert food, the verb ‘waffle’ means to talk about something for an extended time with little direction. If you ask someone a question and they take a long time to explain without giving you a direct answer, you may think to yourself “Wow, they seem to be waffling on a bit!” However, it can be slightly rude to say this, so be careful to only use the word when joking with close friends rather than speaking to colleagues or teachers!
This is one you may need to use a lot in the UK! When it's raining, you may hear someone say, "Don't forget your brolly!" This is a colloquial term for an umbrella and it is widely used in the UK. So, if someone tells you to grab your brolly, they're reminding you to bring your umbrella to stay dry in the typically rainy British weather.
In British English, it is common for someone to refer to two weeks’ time as a ‘fortnight.’ Although the term ‘fortnight’ may not be completely unfamiliar to non-natives, it's not a term that is commonly used in many other English-speaking countries.
- ‘Chips’ VS ‘Crisps’
If you’re familiar with American English but you are living in the UK, you may have to adjust to some differences when it comes to certain words and phrases. When it comes to food, British people refer to fried potatoes as ‘chips’ and Americans call them ‘french fries’. However, British people refer to a bag of crunchy potato snacks as ‘crisps’ but Americans call them ‘potato chips.’
If you're invited to someone's house in the UK and they ask if you want to watch some telly, they are referring to the television. ‘Telly’ is just a slang term for television, and it's a word that is commonly used in the UK although it is a little old fashioned.
When you hear someone say ‘lorry’ in the UK, they are referring to a big van or a truck. In US English, people will use the term ‘truck driver’ more often than ‘lorry driver’ but in the UK people will understand what you mean when using both terms.
In the US, parents may use the word ‘diaper’ to describe the disposable underwear used for babies who are not yet toilet trained. In the UK, ‘diapers’ are commonly referred to as ‘nappies.’ So, if you're in the UK and find yourself looking after a baby, keep in mind the term ‘nappies’ when you need to pick up supplies!
In the UK, the word ‘biscuit’ is used to refer to what Americans would call a ‘cookie.’ However, Brits also use the term cookie, but this is describing a specific type of biscuit e.g. a chocolate chip cookie.
If someone in the UK tells you “I’m sorry, I can’t meet you for dinner tonight, I’m skint!” it means they don’t have any money to pay for dinner.
UK English speakers use the term ‘gutted’ to describe when they are sad, upset or disappointed e.g. “I’m gutted I didn’t see you at the party last night!”
A bloke is a very English word to describe a man. This is a bit of a dated term and it’s used by Australian English-speakers too.
British people say ‘cheers’ on several different occasions. ‘Cheers’ can be used as a replacement for ‘thank you’ in a casual setting and it can also be used when expressing good wishes before drinking. As is common in many different cultures, British people often clink their glasses together before drinking and say ‘cheers!’ while doing so.
‘Quid’ is a colloquial way of talking about the British currency, the pound. For example, British people may say “It’s quite expensive, its 20 quid for one meal!”
This is an informal British way to describe something that is potentially dangerous or unreliable. British people use the word to describe something or someone they do not fully trust, for example, they may say: “Hmmm, I’m not sure about that, it looks a bit dodgy to me.”
What other British words do you know?
These are just some of the many British words and phrases you will hear used often in the UK. There are many other slang words and colloquial terms that British people use, and overtime as you expand your English vocabulary you will pick up a variety of words and phrases. If you plan on using any of the above listed words and phrases, make sure you double-check if its appropriate based on the situation you are in and the person you are speaking to, as there are some words that may be appropriate in informal settings but not formal settings. Read more about the differences between formal and informal English here.
You can learn about some additional British idioms that can help you sound more like a native speaker here.