Vocabulary in English

76 Must-Know Shapes, Shape Adjectives and Phrases with Shapes

76 Must-Know Shapes, Shape Adjectives and Phrases with Shapes

You’re about to learn some useful shapes and shape adjectives. For even more English vocabulary, check out Maths Vocabulary in English: Do You Know the Basics?.

OK. Take a look at this image. Can you describe it?

Shapes in English: geometric abstract art

Describing simple shapes in English (especially when they’re 3D) isn’t as easy as it seems.

In this post, you’re going to:

  1. Learn the most common 2D and 3D shapes in English.
  2. Learn some shape adjectives to describe objects more generally.
  3. Learn some common English idioms and phrases with shapes.
  4. Laugh at some silly pictures.

Enjoy!

Free test - Gymglish with Clark and Miller

Common 2D Shapes

Four-Sided Shapes

Square

Shapes in English: square

Click to listen.

noun — square
adjective — square

Phrases with “Square”

We can talk about a square meal, meaning a proper meal that will kill your hunger and make you feel nice and happy and ready to take on the world. It may or may not include hummus.

Rectangle

Shapes in English: rectangle

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noun — rectangle
adjective — rectangular

Parallelogram

Shapes in English: parallelogram

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noun — parallelogram
adjective — parallelogramatic*

*No one knows this. I actually had to Google it.

OK. This may not be the most useful shape in the world. But it’s kind of pretty, right?

Round Shapes

Circle

Shapes in English: circle

Click to listen.

noun — circle
adjective — circular

Phrases with “Circle”

We use “circle” in lots of different phrases.

Here are some of the most common ones:

A vicious circle — When something bad causes something else bad to happen, which then causes something else bad to happen. Forever.

Think about people getting further and further into debt or when people argue, making each other angrier and angrier.

Go around in circles — When you do something for a long time but achieve NOTHING!

Like when you’re trying to change the settings on your phone so that it stops waking you up in the middle of the night telling you about the royal wedding. But you can’t find the “turn royal wedding off” button. So after an hour of trying to fix the problem, you just give up because you’ve been going around in circles for an hour.

Inner circle — This is an exclusive or elite group at the centre of power. Maybe it’s something big, like a whole country (the president’s inner circle) or something smaller like a company (the manager’s inner circle). People in an inner circle are usually quite secretive.

Semicircle

Shapes in English: semicircle

Click to listen.

noun — semicircle
adjective — semicircular

We use this a lot when talking about seating — perhaps in a theatre or just when kids are sitting around a teacher:

“Come on, kids. Sit in a semicircle, and I’ll read you a story.”

Oval

Shapes in English: oval

Click to listen.

noun — oval
adjective — oval

Phrases with “Oval”

The US president’s office is called the Oval Office. I just had a look on Google and yes — it’s definitely shaped like an oval.

Do you like cricket? No? Me neither. But one of the most famous cricket grounds in the UK is called The Oval.

When we were kids, my Dad took my brother and me to watch a cricket match there. We were bored after an hour.

Five hours later the cricket playing stopped, and we could finally leave. I asked my Dad who had won the match.

“Oh, the match isn’t finished yet,” he said. “They’ll be playing for another two or three days.”

Seriously? Cricket is weird.

Three-Sided Shapes

Triangle

Shapes in English: triangle

Click to listen.

noun — triangle
adjective — triangular

Phrases with “Triangle”

Love triangle — Bob likes Yasmine, but Yasmine’s more interested in Jo. Jo doesn’t like anyone (except for his cat, Timi, who likes sleeping, mostly). Bob, Yasmine and Jo are trapped in a love triangle! The perfect set-up for soap operas.

The Golden Triangle — This is the name of a part of Asia that covers where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

There are different types of triangle:

Equilateral triangle

Shape adjectives: equilateral triangle

Equilateral triangle — all the sides are the same length, and all the angles are the same.

Isosceles triangle

Shape adjectives: isosceles triangle
Isosceles triangle — two sides are the same length, and two of the angles are the same.

Right-angled triangle

Shape adjectives: right-angled triangle
Right-angled triangle — one of the angles is 90 degrees.

Shapes with More Than Four Sides

Pentagon

Shapes in English: pentagon

Click to listen.

noun — pentagon
adjective — pentagonal

We all know about the Pentagon, right?

The Pentagon

It seems US government institutions like naming things after shapes.

Hexagon

Shapes in English: hexagon

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noun — hexagon
adjective — hexagonal

Octagon

Shapes in English: octagon

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noun — octagon
adjective — octagonal

Phrases with “Octagon”

In some institutions, like schools and universities, you might find the octagon, which is an octagonal space, perhaps with grass in it, perhaps not.

You can also have an octagon theatre. It’s a theatre in the shape of an octagon. Obviously.

Common 3D Shapes

Cone

Shapes in English: cone

Click to listen.

noun — cone
adjective — conical

Phrases with “Cone”

We have ice cream cones. Probably because they’re shaped like a cone.

And of course, there are pine cones:

Pine cone

Cube

Shapes in English: cube

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noun — cube
adjective — cubic

Phrases with “Cube”

We see cubes EVERYWHERE!

Ice cubes:

Two ice cubes

Rubik’s cube:

Rubik's cube

And the rapper, Ice Cube:

Rapper Ice Cube
Ice Cube by Eva Rinaldi | CC BY 2.0

We also use “cubic” to describe three-dimensional areas, e.g., cubic centimetres (cm3), cubic metres (m3), etc.

Cylinder

Shapes in English: cylinder

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noun — cylinder
adjective — cylindrical

Pyramid

Shapes in English: pyramid

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noun — pyramid
adjective — pyramidal*

*This is technically the adjective form of “pyramid,” but nobody uses it. We just say “pyramid-shaped.”

We all know about these beauties:

But I can’t talk about pyramids without thinking about one of my favourite songs, Pyramid Song.

Sphere

Shapes in English: sphere

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noun — sphere
adjective — spherical

Phrases with “Sphere”

Public sphere — A place or platform where people can get together and discuss social and political issues. This can be virtual, like social media, physical, like a town hall, or abstract:

“He’s retiring from the public sphere.”

Sphere of interest — Google defines this as “A country or area in which another country has power to affect developments though it has no formal authority.” I define it as “Places that powerful countries can use to make themselves more powerful.” Politics is fun!

Disc

Shapes in English: disc

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noun — disc
adjective — disc-shaped

Less Common Shapes

Diamond

Shapes in English: diamond

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noun — diamond
adjective — diamond-shaped

Heart

Shapes in English: heart

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noun — heart
adjective — heart-shaped

Also, ’90s kids will remember this: Heart-Shaped Box

Kite

Shapes in English: kite

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noun — kite
adjective — kite-shaped

Star

Shapes in English: star

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noun — star
adjective — star-shaped

Spiral

Shapes in English: spiral

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noun — spiral
adjective — spiral

Phrases with “Spiral”

There are spiral staircases:

Spiral out of control — This is when a series of events becomes more and more chaotic, and
the situation gets completely out of control. I’d imagine this happens a lot at children’s birthday parties. Not that I’d know — I like to avoid large groups of children. So much chaos!

A downward spiral — This is when a bad thing just gets worse and worse (similar to “vicious circle,” above). I always think about addiction when I think about this phrase. When someone gets addicted to drugs or gambling or cheese, it just gets worse and worse. They’re stuck in a downward spiral.

Downward Spiral is also the name of one of the best albums ever created. Here’s a song you might recognize from it.

Did you notice that the adjective form of many of these contains “-shaped”?

In fact, “-shaped” is really useful. You can add it to anything!

  • Bottle-shaped
  • Hand-shaped
  • Leaf-shaped
  • Walrus-shaped

When we’re describing more complicated, less geometric objects informally, we often use a phrase like “sort of,” “kind of” or “like” to help the listener understand that we’re describing something quite abstract:

“It’s a sort of egg-shaped thing.”

“Her dress was really weird — it was, like, fish-shaped. Seriously!”

Shape Adjectives to Describe Objects

Bent

Shape adjectives: bent

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Bent — not straight and with a sharp angle

Curved

Shape adjectives: curved

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Curved – not straight, like the side of a circle

Wavy

Shape adjectives: wavy

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Wavy — with repeated curves

Angular

Shape adjectives: angular

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Angular — with sharp corners or points

Symmetrical

Shape adjectives: symmetrical

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Symmetrical — the same on both sides, a mirror image of itself!

Bulbous

Gerard Depardieu has a bulbous nose
Gérard Depardieu Obélix 2012 by Georges Biard | CC BY 2.0
Click to listen.

Bulbous – sort of fat and round. I always just think of a nose.

Concave

Shape adjectives: concave

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Concave – going inwards, like a cave

Convex

Shape adjectives: convex

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Convex – going outwards, not like a cave

Flat

Shape adjectives: flat

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Flat – this is usually used to describe a surface. It means the surface is completely 2D.

Round

Shape adjectives: round

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Round – like a circle or a sphere!

Forked

Shape adjectives: forked

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Forked – When one line becomes two! Snakes have forked tongues. You can also have a fork in the road.

Pointy

Shape adjectives: pointy

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Pointy – with a sharp end, like a sword.

Tapered

Shape adjectives: tapered

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Tapered – getting thinner at the end

Twisted

A piece of twisted rope

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Twisted – when the shape is changed by bending or turning

Like this:

Twisted metal screw

Or this:

Twisted cables
CAT6 twisted pair by Agott | CC BY 2.0

Get the idea?

Thick

Shape adjectives: thick

Click to listen.

Thick – when opposite sides are far apart.

Thin

Shape adjectives: thin

Click to listen.

Thin – when opposite sides are near.


There you go: all the shape adjectives you could possibly want (probably).

Now, you’re ready to describe this picture:

Shapes in English: geometric abstract art

Can you do it?

Describe the picture and leave your answer in the comments.

I’ll let you know how you did!


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6 thoughts on “76 Must-Know Shapes, Shape Adjectives and Phrases with Shapes

  1. A triangular pyramid, on top of a cube with a bulbous sphere out the side of it, the front has 2 square sides in front of it and over the pyramid.
    (that made my brain exercise).
    Thanks!!

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