Want more British English? Have a look at 5 Common British English Phrases and Do You Know These 8 Very British Idioms?
Why does it happen?
It happens all the time — I see it with so many students.
Perhaps it’s happened to you.
You’ve studied super hard. You’ve reached a pretty high level of English. (Congratulations, by the way.)
You feel that you can deal with ANY situation in English.
Then you go to the UK to show off your awesome English skills.
And it’s like everyone’s speaking a different language.
So why did you spend all that time perfecting the grammar, going to conversation clubs and reading and reading and reading?
Well here’s the good news.
All that work was useful, and you’re actually now ready to deal with formal and business situations without too much pain.
But for “real life” situations, you need more.
The English we use in the classroom is very different from the English we use at home, in the street, at the pub or when we’re arguing about the new Star Wars films. (Which are excellent — there should be no argument about these films.)
So how to understand “real” British English?
There are a few things here. You need to improve your listening skills through lots of practice.
But you also need phrases and vocabulary. Grammar won’t help you here (much).
So here are 5 common British English words that some random British guy might suddenly say to you. Be prepared for it!
British English Word #1
What does it mean?
This actually means “friend.”
But there’s more to this. Read on!
How can I use it?
One of my students has just moved to the UK to start a new life there.
Since he’s moved there, the Skype lessons we do have become even more interesting, as he’s telling me all sorts of weird British English phrases he’s learning and different cultural discoveries he’s making.
And he told me something interesting about the word “mate.”
While he was in Italy, he was talking on the phone to a guy in England who was helping him organise his work in the UK.
My student noticed that during the first few phone calls, the guy was quite formal and distant.
Then as they got to know each other a little, a few phone conversations later, he started relaxing.
Then, after that point, he finished the conversations with the words “thanks, mate” or “cheers, mate” (more on “cheers” later).
That’s because “mate” is a signal.
Remember that language is more than just about making yourself understood.
It’s about forming relationships.
When we use the word “mate,” it’s like we’re saying, “I’ve started to feel comfortable with you, and I think you’re a nice person now. Here’s the signal.”
And the signal is “mate.”
It’s important to know that this is quite informal, so don’t use it when you’re hanging out with the queen of Sweden.
British English Word #2
What does it mean?
This one has three uses:
- It can mean “unsafe.”
- It can mean “dishonest.”
- And it can mean “not working very well.”
How can I use it?
OK. Let’s go through the different meanings one by one.
The meaning actually changes based on what you’re referring to.
You can use it to talk about a person.
When you describe someone as “dodgy,” it basically means that you don’t trust them and that they may have a knife in their pocket or connections to the mafia. Or they’re about to sell you a useless second-hand car.
You can also use it to talk about a place.
When you describe a place as “dodgy,” you’re probably talking about that particular part of town that no one goes to. Well, no one you want to meet, anyway.
It means that it’s the part of town you walk in only if you have to and very, very carefully.
It’s that part of town that’s just not safe.
Do you have a dodgy neighbourhood in your town?
Finally, you can use it to talk about some sort of machine or device:
You can use “dodgy” to describe something that isn’t working so well. It’s working well enough to do its job. But just not 100%.
The lift in my flat is quite a good example. Here’s why:
It takes a long time to do ANYTHING.
Sometimes the door on the fifth floor half closes, opens again, then half closes several times before it closes properly.
Sometimes when you get onto the lift on the ground floor, the lift is actually a few centimetres lower than the floor itself.
But it works! It just shows signs of not working 100%. It’s dodgy.
British English Word #3
What does it mean?
This one means “very disappointed.”
How can I use it?
Here’s an example:
BOB: Hey, Amy. Do you want my tickets for the Splodge gig this weekend?
AMY: Sure! But aren’t you going? You’re, like, the biggest Splodge fan ever!
BOB: I’ve gotta go on a stupid health and safety course. In Vladivostok.
AMY: Oh, no! That sucks. You must be gutted.
BOB: Totally gutted.
British English Word #4
What does it mean?
This one simply means “very pleased.”
How can I use it?
We usually use this one when we’re pleased with something we did or something that affects us directly.
Let’s say that you’ve been selected to join the very prestigious Crocodile Club.
Or that the presentation you did last week went down really well.
Or that everyone keeps telling you that your new hairstyle looks awesome and that they wish they could look that great.
You’d feel chuffed.
In British English, we can also use the intensifier “dead” to form a common British collocation:
I was dead chuffed with my invitation to join the Crocodile Club. They have the best rock climbing wall in Europe.
Everyone keeps telling me my hair’s awesome. I’m dead chuffed.
However, sometimes when people get a bit too pleased with themselves, they can seem a little arrogant. So we can also use this word negatively.
When we do this, we usually add “with himself,” “with herself,” etc.
Ugh! When he started telling me why he thought I was wrong, he looked so chuffed with himself.
There’s no need to look so chuffed with yourself. All you did was cook a little pasta.
British English Word #5
You may think you know this word well. But think again.
So you probably know this word as what we say when we’re having a drink:
But actually, there are other uses for it.
If you talk to a lot of Brits, you’ve probably heard this as a way of saying “thank you.” But remember, there are different levels of expressing your thanks.
Perhaps some lovely person has just decided to pay off 50% of your mortgage, take you on holiday and offered you your dream job. I love it when that happens, don’t you?
But that is not the time for “cheers.”
That is the time for a million different ways of saying “thank you” and showing appreciation.
But if your friend buys you a sandwich, or a stranger opens the door for you when you’re leaving a shop, or that nice man shows the way to the station in that very confusing city.
That’s the time for “cheers.”
It’s for the small, everyday “thanks yous.”
You can also use it at the end of an informal email instead of the boring “sincerely” or the classic “best regards.” It’s a little more friendly and is a way of showing casual appreciation.
So now you’re ready for those weird British people who say confusing things.
Do you know any other weird things British English speakers say?
Share your knowledge! Let me know in the comments.
Interesting article, thank you 🙂
Happy to help! 🙂
Thank you so much for these five expessions. In fact, I have Known them for some time but I didn´t have any idea of these usages-
I love them!!!
I’m so glad you found the post useful. Now the next step is going out there and slipping them into normal conversation.
British English is the best world. Even British accent is so bloody top notch.
Thank You, Gabriel! I’m glad to read every new article of Yours! ….By the way: Cheers!
I aim to please 🙂
Great little list Gabriel – I was like – how is it possible to only pick 5! But these 5 open a lot of linguistic doors. Just to complicate things, I think ‘mate’ would probably be ‘pal’ in Scotland.
My boyfriend loves to imitate the British English expressions he hears like ‘cheers mate’.
He finds it hilarious to say ‘right’ to me all the time as he hears me use it when I’m on the phone with my parents!
In terms of other words – maybe you could add ‘bloody’ or ‘minging’ to the list? But what do I know, I don’t even live in the UK any more!
Yeah — “right” is actually a good one. You’ve seen the 80s film, “Clockwise,” yeah? A series of mishaps all based on a misunderstanding between “right” (on the right) and “right” as in “yeah.” A must-see.
“Bloody” is a good one. “Minging,” too, but I think it’s not so common any more. These things do change quickly.
It’s kind of tough doing these “British English” things. Sometimes I’m not sure it’s a great idea as I can only really teach the British Englishes that I’m familiar with from my circle of friends and from what I use myself (hence the lack of “pal”) and have actually come under a bit of fire for that.
I think going for a “British dialects” post might be an interesting challenge and particularly informative.
Any takers there?
Hi! great blog, what does ” any takers?” means by the way? 🙂
Great question Anna.
We use the phrase “any takers” when we’re offering something to a group of people.
Like if you’re driving to Bristol tomorrow and there’s space in the car for one more person. You can say, “I’m heading off to Bristol tomorrow and I’ve got some space in the car. Any takers?”
Or if you’re with a group of friends enjoying some coffee and biscuits. There’s one biscuit left. And you want it! You can make the final offer to everyone before you eat it by saying “There’s one biscuit left. Any takers?” (You’d just hope no one says “yes!”)
Does that help?
Well if you want to do a round up post on dialects, you can count me in! I can do central Scotland and East Midlands.
I’ll put Clockwise on my to watch list – I’ve never seen it.
That is an inspired idea.
I think I’ll see if I can round some folks up for that one.
Have you got anyone else in mind?
We could also include an ELF one… Not the Tolkien language. English as a Lingua Franca of course …
Clockwise is one of John Cleese’s finest hours.
beautiful and wonderful things come late in life. I don’t know why I did not subscribe earlier to your articles Gabriel. very helpful, because some of these words sound local, so even when one is using it you may not know that it is English for example; cheers, our local people say; “chezi” so it took time for me to make sense out of it till when I read this article
Yes — it can be tricky when words sound the same in both the language you’re learning and your own language.
Some words are almost identical but have a different meaning. We call these words “false friends.”
Thanks again for your wonderful and positive feedback! 🙂
Aaah! I love these words!!! Thank you Gabriel, I really appreciate it. A lot of people have different hobbies. But my hobby, is learning new English Words! I always try to find ways to develop my English. I am also trying to change my accent. Ive been in Australia for 2 years, from there, I got Australian Accent. But I look forward to changing it to British accent! Thanks again! Keep up the good work, mate! Greetings from Bangladesh!!!
Awesome! Thanks so much for the super-positive feedback, Ahnaf.
It sounds like you really took advantage of living in Aus to really learn the language well, and good luck in your mission to get more of a British accent.
Which one do you want, though? There are hundreds of different British accents in Britain.