English Listening SkillsVocabulary in English

Can You Understand These 8 Natural British English Questions?

Can you understand these 8 natural British English questions

Today you’re going to hear 8 tricky questions that a British English speaker might ask you. Also check out 7 Things British English Speakers Say That Your Teacher Told You Not To.

Sometimes British people can be really difficult to understand, right?

In my experience, most English learners tend to prefer British English but find American English easier to understand.

When I see learners speaking to Americans, they tend to look like this:

via GIPHY

But when they have to talk to a Brit (a British person), they look more like this:

via GIPHY

It’s important to remember that this is a generalisation and only based on my experience. Either way, Brits can be really difficult to understand…

Until now! Because here I am revealing the secrets of “deep English”!

You can thank me later. With cake!

Before you read the post, have a listen to these 8 British English questions. Can you work any of them out (guess the meaning)? Don’t worry if you can’t, we’re going to look at them later.

Click to listen:

 

So here we go: can you understand these 8 natural British English questions?


British English Question #1

What you on about?
= What are you on about?

So what does it mean?

This one simply means “What are you talking about?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

No!

This is both very informal and quite direct. (Notice that we even drop the word “are” in the question.) It’s best to use this with friends or people you feel relaxed with.

How can I use it?

Let’s imagine your friend has been telling you a story about his excellent evening with Terry the Giraffe. He’ been talking for ages, but somehow he isn’t making any sense.

One minute he’s describing being in a park with Terry, and the next minute they’re on a plane to Sri Lanka.

Then Terry isn’t a giraffe but a large mouse.

None of this makes any sense.

So that’s when you can use this phrase:

What you on about?

British English Question #2

What you up to?
= What are you up to?

What does it mean?

This one simply means “What are you doing?”

Yep, English is so weird that two very common words, “up” and “to,” can be combined to mean “doing.”

I don’t know why, either.

Can I use this question with my boss?

Like most of the questions in today’s post, this is rather informal.

So unless you work in an extremely relaxed atmosphere, it would be good to avoid asking this question to your boss.

However, you’re probably fine using it with colleagues.

How can I use it?

You can use this question whenever you want to say “What are you doing?”

So you might be having a chat with one of your colleagues and you might want to ask:

“What you up to this weekend?”

Or you might walk into this:

What you up to?

…and you’ll want to ask “What you up to?” (The answer is obviously “elephant chess.”)

By the way, you can also use the phrase “get up to” in the question “What did you get up to last weekend?” — a perfect Monday morning question.

British English Question #3

Is Karl about?

What does it mean?

It just means “Is Karl here somewhere?”

You can also use “Is Karl around?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

Probably.

It’s not totally formal, but most places I’ve worked would consider it fine.

How can I use it?

Just use it when you want to ask if Karl is nearby.

But if you’re not looking for Karl, then don’t use it.

Just kidding — you can change the name if you like.

British English Question #4

Where you off to?
= Where are you off to?

What does it mean?

This one just means “Where are you going?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

This one’s a little informal, so probably not with your boss, but it’s fine with your colleagues.

How can I use it?

Just go for this one if you want to say “Where are you going?” It’s that simple!

You can also use this phrase in the positive if you like:

“I’m off to the shops. Does anyone want anything?”

British English Question #5

What's up with him?

What does it mean?

This means “Why is he behaving differently from normal?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

Again, this is rather informal, so if you work in a formal environment, don’t use this at work.

How can I use it?

Use this when you want to ask about someone who’s behaving either strangely or differently from normal.

For example, you work with Sam.

Sam’s a great guy. He’s always in a good mood — or at worst, he’s just polite.

Then you go to work one day, say “hi” to Sam, and he completely ignores you.

You see him again later and he shouts, “GO AWAY!” in your face.

Weird, right?

You want to find out why he’s behaving so strangely, so you ask Ted. (Ted’s another colleague. He works in IT, if you’re interested.)

That’s when you can use this phrase:

What's up with Sam?

There are two reasons why this is the right question for this situation:

  1. Sam’s being weird. He’s behaving differently from normal.
  2. Sam can’t hear you. This is important. It’s actually pretty rude to ask about Sam’s weird behaviour when he’s around (nearby). This is a “third-person” situation.

 

British English Question #6

Wanna come over?
= Do you want to come over?

What does it mean?

This one also has a very simple meaning.

It means “Do you want to visit me? At my house. Where I live.”

You can also say “Wanna come round?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

Yep. But only if you want your boss to visit you, of course. Be careful what you wish for, that’s all I’m saying.

How can I use it?

This one isn’t complicated.

Instead of saying, “Do you want to come to my home?” which sounds really unnatural, say, “Wanna come over?” — much more natural!

Although this is usually used for home visits, you can also use it if you’re asking someone to your workplace or even someone else’s home. Just make sure the other person knows where you are, or things could get messy.

British English Question #7

You having a go at me?
= Are you having a go at me?

What does it mean?

OK. This one can be a little aggressive, but among friends, it can also just be a bit of fun — you know, in that way that some people like to form social relationships by calling each other names and punching each other in the shoulder. Not my style, but some people seem to like it.

It means “Are you saying that to try and make me feel bad?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

No. Just… definitely no!

How can I use it?

This is probably the most confrontational phrase on the list.

But I’m including it because people use it all the time.

Just remember, it’s all about the way you say it and who you say it with.

If you use it in a light voice (check the audio above) and with friends, it can actually be quite fun.

Let’s say you’ve just dyed your hair. It was brown, but you’ve gone for an awesome shocking red. Good work by the way; it looks fantastic.

Then, in conversation, one of your friends starts talking about how “some people are so fake,” and that they “should be happy about being natural instead of trying to change their appearance.”

Now, you know that your friend isn’t talking about you. She probably just forgot that you’ve dyed your hair.

But this is an opportunity to have a bit of fun. So you can use this phrase to embarrass her a bit:

You having a go at me?

British English Question #8

Shall we call it a day?
Business Breakfast Meeting – Cyfarfod Brecwast Busnes” by National Assembly for Wales is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What does it mean?

This is very simple. It means “Shall we finish this (and maybe go home)?”

Can I use this question with my boss?

Yes!

In fact, this is the only question from today’s post that you can use with your boss, even if you work in a formal environment.

This one is business friendly!

How can I use it?

You know those kinds of meetings.

You’ve all discussed everything you need to discuss.

You’ve all asked questions about the things you’re not sure about, and those questions have been answered.

But there’s always that guy.

You know the one — the guy who loves to talk.

And he’s still asking questions. The same questions. Again and again and again… just in a different way.

Shall we call it a day?
Business Breakfast Meeting – Cyfarfod Brecwast Busnes” by National Assembly for Wales is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yep. That’s him.

This is a sure sign that the meeting is finished, right?

This is when you can slip in this phrase: “Shall we call it a day?”

It’s a great way to finish things up without being too sudden and final.

You can also use this in any situation when you’re working on something with someone, and it’s reached its natural end.


So there we go.

Hopefully, the next time some British guy approaches you making strange sounds from his mouth, he might actually be asking one of these questions, and, hopefully, you’ll be able to answer him!

What about you?

Have you noticed any other weird things that British people say?

Tell me in the comments. It’s great to share the knowledge!

Also, if you enjoyed this post, please be awesome and share it. Let’s make British English easier to understand for everyone!

12 thoughts on “Can You Understand These 8 Natural British English Questions?

  1. These are brilliant Gabriel. My students really struggle with “What are you up to?”, especially when I pronounce it as “wotcha”. It’s kind of the intersection of informal pronunciation “wotcha” and informal language “be up to something”. Love it.
    Do you remember as a kid when your friends would come round to your house, knock on the door and ask your mum (or whoever opened the door) “is Cara coming out?”, meaning “is Cara coming out to play”? Or hang out in the street and get up to (there’s that expression again!) no good.
    I used to have a French English teaching colleague who would conclude meetings by translating “shall we call it a day?” into literal French “On appel ça un jour?”. He thought it was hilarious. French humour eh?

    1. Cheers Cara!

      Yeah — I remember the “Can Gabriel come out?” And there were certainly times when we got up to no good. I’d say “boys will be boys,” but it wasn’t just the boys, was it?

      I love the literal translation into French. Sounds so funny! He’s right to find it hilarious!

      I sometimes like using literal translations from Turkish into English. They often make sense sometimes. Like “Are you passing waves at me?” meaning, “are you taking the Mick?”

      Ah… language!

      1. Haha. Being introverted (but not understanding what that was back then) I probably couldn’t be bothered to “come out” a lot of the time. Once I was home, I just wanted to shut myself away with books, TV or making stuff.
        Yeah, I was being a bit disparaging but “on appel ça un jour” is pretty funny.
        “Are you passing waves at me?”. I like it! “Are you taking the mick?” is another one to add to this list surely?

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