Describing Trends in English

Describing Trends in English

Before COVID, I never thought I’d spend so much of my week looking at graphs.

But now, we’re all obsessed with them.

Watching the numbers go up and down, watching them reach new highs and new lows.

Describing trends (how numbers on a chart or a graph change over time) is something we’re doing more than we used to.

But describing trends isn’t just about COVID.

We see trends in our lives every day. Maybe you’re talking about how much giraffe medicine your company’s sold this month, the value of carrot cake on the stock market or how often you see your neighbour walking around the garden without clothes on. (Seriously, I wish he’d stop doing that.)

When you’re describing how numbers change over time, you’re describing trends.

An important life skill … well, kind of.

So let’s learn how to talk about trends in English.

In order to do this, we’re going to start by looking at the word “increase,” which means “go up.”

By the way, the opposite of “increase” is “decrease.”

"increase" and "decrease" with arrows pointing up and down

“Increase,” is both a verb (to increase) and a noun (an increase).

Describing trends in English

Using “increase” as a verb

We can use “increase” as a verb:

Cake sales increased (verb).

Let’s look at this in more detail. Take a look at this chart, which shows how often my cat sat on the work I was about to do last week:

Example line graph: number of times a day my cat sat on the work I was doing just as I was about to start doing it

As you can see, my cat gets more annoying on Wednesdays.

So how can we describe the difference between Tuesday and Wednesday?

“The number of cat-sitting-on-work events increased on Wednesday.”

Subject + “increase” + (object) + time frame

If you want, you can also describe how much it increased with these prepositions:

from” + the number that it increased from
to” + the number that it increased to
by” + the number that describes the difference

So you can say:

“The number of cat-sitting-on-work events increased from two to six.”

“The number of cat-sitting-on-work events increased by four.”

Describing trends in English

Using “increase” as a noun

We can also use “increase” as a noun:

We saw an increase (noun) in cake sales.

Let’s look at this in more detail. Take a look at this graph, which shows how often I walk into a room and then forget why I walked into the room:

Example bar chart: incidences of walking into a room and immediately forgetting what I came in for

As you can see, I spend a lot of my life walking into rooms and forgetting what I came in for.

In fact, it happens so much that I have a special term for it: “room fails.”

Anyway — let’s talk room fail numbers.

As I mentioned above, “increase” is both a verb and a noun.

When we use it as a noun, it’s usually the object of a sentence, and we usually form the sentence with:

“We saw an increase in” + category + time frame

or

“There was an increase in” + category + time frame

So we can say:

“We saw an increase in room fails between Thursday and Saturday.”

or

“There was an increase in room fails between Thursday and Saturday.”

Describing trends in English

Using adjectives and adverbs to describe trends

We can use adjectives and adverbs to give more detail about trends.

Cake sales increased (verb) dramatically (adverb). We saw a dramatic (adjective) increase (noun) in cake sales.

Let’s look at this in more detail.

Did you notice the big increase in room fails between Friday and Saturday?

Example bar chart with sharp increase

When we’re describing trends in English, we might want to point out when a change is big or small or good or bad.

That’s when we modify them!

We do this with adjectives and adverbs.

For this example, let’s use the words “dramatic” and “dramatically.”

When you use “increase” as a verb, then use the adverb, “dramatically.”

“The number of times my cat sat on my work increased dramatically between Tuesday and Wednesday.”

When you use “increase” as a noun, then use the adjective, “dramatic.”

“There was a dramatic increase in room fails between Friday and Saturday.”

Adjectives and adverbs to describe trends in English

Let’s take a look at some more adjectives and adverbs we can use to describe and modify trends in English:

Adjectives and adverbs that mean “big” or “fast”

dramatic, dramatically
sharp, sharply
sudden, suddenly
drastic, drastically
substantial, substantially
rapid, rapidly
spectacular, spectacularly
enormous, enormously

Adjectives and adverbs that mean “small” or “slow”

slow, slowly
gradual, gradually
slight, slightly
moderate, moderately
steady, steadily

Adjectives that mean “good”

encouraging
promising

Adjectives that mean “bad”

disastrous
disappointing

OK! So far, we’ve looked at how to use “increase” as a verb and as a noun and how to use adjectives and adverbs to modify it.

Now let’s look at different verbs and nouns we can use instead of “increase” to describe trends in English.

Describing trends in English

Other words for “increase”

There are lots of wonderful and dynamic words out there we can use instead of “increase.”

Words that mean “increase”

increase

To go up
This just means “increase.” It’s a little less technical and less formal.

“Biscuit tax went up again this month.”

To climb / a climb

“There was a steady climb in tea consumption this year.”

“Rent prices climbed steadily in the neighbourhood as trendy cafés and yoga studios opened up.”

A gain

“The statistics show a slight gain in visitor numbers.”

To rise / a rise

“Pet ownership rose sharply in 2020.”

“2020 saw a sharp rise in pet ownership.”

To peak / a peak
“Peak” is a little different from “increase,” but I didn’t know where to put it, so it’s here!

What does it mean?

Well, if you’ve read my post on geographical features in English, you’ll know that a peak is the top of a mountain.

So if something increases and increases and then starts to decrease, you get a graph a bit like this:

peak
Peak

That part where it’s at its highest? The one that looks like the top of a mountain?

That’s the peak.

“The price of kryptonite peaked at more than $1,800 before falling to just $2.”

“The price of kryptonite reached a peak of $1,800 before falling to just $2.”

To recover / a recovery
This means to increase after a period of decreasing.

It’s generally used to talk about good things.

So you can say, “Sales have started to recover recently,” but not “The number of children failing exams has recovered.”

“The economy is expected to recover later this year.”

“We saw a promising recovery in the economy this year.”

To improve / improvement
Again, this is used to describe positive things.

So, if our numbers represent something positive, then the numbers are increasing (which is why it’s in this category).

But it could be used to describe numbers decreasing, too — if those numbers represent something bad.

“There’s been an improvement in the number of children failing exams in the country.”

“Teacher performance has been steadily improving.”

Words that mean “increase quickly”

jump

To shoot up

“The number of children named “Barry” has shot up since the release of the film Barry at Home.”

To rocket / to skyrocket
One thing that everyone can agree on about rockets is that they go up very fast.

So you can also use this verb when you’re talking about sales or COVID numbers or room fails.

We can also use the verb “skyrocket.”

“Pajama sales have skyrocketed as more and more people work from home.”

To jump / a jump
OK. It’s not as fun as a rocket.

But jumping is still pretty fun.

And it also means “increase quickly.”

“Crapple share prices have jumped since the release of the iTeleporter.”

“There has been a jump in Crapple share prices since the release of the iTeleporter.”

To double / a doubling
When something doubles, it increases by 100%.

So when your meeting time goes from one hour to two hours (because Barry wouldn’t stop talking), then it doubles.

“The number of films about tigers nearly doubled, from 10 in 2020 to 19 in 2021.”

“There was a doubling in the number of films about tigers released this year.”

To triple / a tripling
When something grows by three times, then it triples.

Like when your Bitcoin portfolio went from 50 euro to 150 euro because Elon Musk tweeted something.

“Drivers are angry about the tripling in car park prices this month.”

To quadruple / a quadrupling
And what about when something goes up four times?

Good question.

And the answer to that question?

It quadruples.

“Complaints about customer service have quadrupled since we brought the monkeys in.”

Describing trends in English

Other words for “decrease”

Just like with “increase,” some of these words just mean “decrease,” and some mean “decrease quickly.”

Also, interestingly, there are far fewer words for “decrease” than there are for “increase.”

Is that because we’re generally more optimistic? Perhaps it’s because we like to think about growth more?

Either way, the list of words for “decrease” is a little shorter.

Words that mean “decrease”

decrease

To go down
Yep.

It means exactly what you think it means.

“Avocado prices went down again this month, to the delight of vegans everywhere.”

To fall / a fall
This makes sense, right?

I mean — when you fall, you go down.

“Use of the anti-gravity app fell sharply in 2020 as consumers began to realise that it didn’t work.”

“There was a fall in visitor numbers again this month.”

To decline / a decline

“Traffic problems declined in the city with the introduction of the Metrobus system.”

“Statistics show a steady decline in the IQ of politicians.”

To bottom out
This doesn’t mean “decrease,” but it happens after something decreases.

Remember the verb “peak” above (and the image that came with it)?

peak
peak

Now, if you turn that image upside-down, you’ve got “bottom out.”

bottom out
bottom out

“Share prices bottomed out at $3.21 before rising again.”

Words that mean “decrease quickly”

plummet

To drop / a drop
If you drop a coin from the top of the Eiffel Tower, not only will it hurt someone, but it also means you’re a psychopath.

But either way, it goes down.

Unless it’s really, really windy.

“The judging panel noticed a drop in the quality of pop groups at this year’s competition.”

“They also commented that participation had dropped again this year.”

To plummet
“Plummet” is even stronger than “drop.”

When something’s plummeting, it’s really going down very fast.

“Exam results have plummeted this year, with students missing an unprecedented number of classes.”

To halve / a halving
When something goes down by 50%, then it halves.

“Carrot cake sales halved, from 20,000 in 2020 to 10,000 in 2021, following the increase in fake news about carrots.”

“Pet rabbits were disappointed about the halving in carrot cake sales.”

Describing trends in English

Words for trends: moving around

A lot of the time, numbers don’t just go up or go down.

They move around quite a lot.

Or they don’t move around at all.

Fortunately, we have words for these two situations:

To fluctuate / a fluctuation
fluctuate

When your chart begins to look more like a child’s drawing and less like a serious business tool, then you’re probably looking at a lot of fluctuation.

It’s when the numbers keep going up and down and up and down and up and down again. Relentlessly.

“Home prices in the area have fluctuated because of the unstable economy.”

To level off / a levelling off 
level out

After all this mad fluctuation, sometimes the chart starts to calm down a bit and goes flat.

No increasing or decreasing. Just flat.

When this happens, it levels off.

“After a five-year steady increase, consumers breathed a sigh of relief as avocado prices levelled off this year.”

To stabilise / a stabilisation
Maybe you don’t like the phrase “level off”?

No problem, you have another word you can use instead.

And that word is “stabilise.”

So when things stop fluctuating and become more, er … stable, then they stabilise.

“We saw an encouraging stabilisation in the economy after the rapid decline of the previous year.”

“Vegetable consumption remained stable this year.”


OK!

So we’ve looked at how to use verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs to describe trends in English.

Here’s an overview of everything:

Describing trends in English infographic

But don’t leave yet!

I have a question for you.

Here’s a chart showing how often Homer says “D’oh!” in each series of the Simpsons (well — up to series 14).

Example bar chart: number of times Homer says "D-oh!" by season
Click here if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Can you describe the trends in this graph?

Answer in the comments!

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