The Ultimate Guide To American Phrases

The US has an array of unique words and phrases, which might be difficult to get your head around at first. That’s why we’ve compiled this ultimate guide – so you can step off the plane feeling confident that things won’t get lost in translation!

Greetings and expressions

american phrases: expressions

There are lots of ways to simply say “hello” to all the new people you meet in the US, let alone express how you’re feeling. You’ll want to familiarise yourself with the following phrases so you can meet and greet like a local.

• Hey, y’all! (Hi everyone! A greeting used mainly in the southern states. Y’all is a plural of you)
• Howdy (Hello. Regional, mainly used in Texas, Oklahoma and the Plains States)
• What’s up? (How are you?)
• That sucks/that’s beat (That is bad)
• Chillin’ (Not doing much, relaxing)
• Hang out (Spend time with someone/relax in a certain place)
• Wicked (Really. Regional to Boston, Massachusetts – “that party was wicked good!”)
• Awesome (Great)
• Cool (Nice/great)
• Having a blast (Having a really good time –  “I had a blast in my English class”)
• That’s sick! (That’s really good)
• Filthy (Seattle slang for good – “You got an A in the paper? That’s filthy!”)
• Sweet (Nice)
• You bet! (Yes)
• To take off (To leave – “We’re taking off now”)
• See ya! (Goodbye)
• Laters! (Goodbye)

Items of clothing

us language: clothes

• Pants (Trousers)
• Panties (Female underwear)
• Underpants (Male underwear)
• Sweater (Jumper/pullover/jersey)
• Vest (Waistcoat)
• Undershirt (Vest)
• Sneakers (Trainers)
• Suspenders (Braces)
• Galoshes (Wellington boots)
• Turtleneck (Polo neck)
• Bathing suit (Swimming costume)
• Bath robe (Dressing gown)
• Diaper (Nappy)

Food and drink

american phrases: food

• Cotton candy (Candy floss)
• Candy (Chocolate/sweets)
• Cookie (Sweet biscuit)
• Biscuit (Savoury scone)
• Soda (Fizzy drink. Can also be pop or Coke depending on the region)
• Chips (Crisps)
• Jelly (Jam)
• Jell-O (Jelly)
• Cilantro (Coriander)
• Flapjack (Can mean a pancake)
• Popsicle (Ice lolly)
• Zucchini (Courgette)
• Eggplant (Aubergine)
• Appetizer (Starter)
• Take out (Take away food)
• Get the check (Ask for the bill in a restaurant)

People, places and lifestyle

american phrases: lifestyle

• Chick (Girl)
• Dude (Boy)
• Redneck/hick (A derogatory term for someone who lives in a rural area)
• Wheels (A vehicle, usually a car)
• Parking lot (Place to park cars)
• Sidewalk (Pavement)
• Soccer (Football)
• Football (American football)
• Elevator (Lift)


american phrases: money

There are a lot of ways to refer to the dollars in your pocket in the US. You’ll want to familiarise yourself with the most common so you can pay for things with confidence! Here’s a rundown of slang for money:

• A $5 bill can be referred as a ‘fin’, ‘fiver’ or ‘five-spot’.
• A $10 bill is a ‘Hamilton’ or ‘sawbuck’.
• $20 can be a ‘Jackson’ or a ‘dub’.
• A $1 bill is either a ‘single’, ‘ace’ or ‘buck’.
• A $100 bill is known as a ‘Benjamin’, so called because a portrait of Benjamin Franklin is on the note.
• To refer to $1000 Americans might say ‘a grand’, ‘a K’ (as in kilo) or ‘a large’.
• A nickel is a five cent coin.
• Dime means a 10 cent coin.
• A quarter is 25 cents.

There are a number of slang terms to refer to money in general, such as: bucks, moolah, greenbacks, smackers, cheddar.

Study speak

american phrases: studying

When you’re attending college in the US there’s a range of common expressions that can help you decipher what your classmates and professors are saying.

• To blow it (To fail – “I didn’t revise for my maths test and I blew it”)
• Cram (To study hard before an exam)
• Hit the books (To study)
• Pop quiz (A surprise test)
• Period (A full stop)
• Pull an all-nighter (To study all night)
• To ace a test (To do well on an exam)
• Cut class (Deliberately miss your classes)
• Drop a class (Unenroll from a class)
• Slack off (Not do much work, being lazy)
• Flunk (Fail)
• Eraser (Rubber)
• Mail something (Send something in the post)
• Freshman 15 (The amount of weight a student is said to gain in their first year in pounds)

Weird words and phrases

american phrases: riding shotgun

These are the words and phrases that simply don’t translate well! You are pretty likely to come across some of them in everyday conversation, so it pays to have a head start.

• Juiced (Pumped up, ready to go)
• Knocked up (Pregnant)
• Stoked (Excited)
• To be beat (To be tired – “I’m beat from last night’s awesome student party”)
• Having a crush on somebody (To be attracted to somebody – “I have a crush on my roommate”)
• To be ripped (To have have a lot of muscle, usually used for men)
• Loser (An uncool person)
• Ride shotgun (Ride in the front passenger seat of a car)
• Dig (To like something/someone – “I really dig your new haircut”)
• Screw up (To make a mistake)
• Shoot the breeze (To talk)
• Take a rain check (Do something at a later time)
• Jonesing (Craving something – “I’m really jonesing for some candy right now”)
• Chicken (Coward)
• Bummer! (Something bad has happened)
• Swagger/swagga (A confident, stylish attitude; originated from Chicago)
• Sketchy (Suspicious)
• Mad (Very; New York slang – “that test was mad difficult”)

Things that are uniquely American

us language: greetings

There is no ‘ground’ floor

In the US, the floor at ground level is referred to as the ‘first floor’ or ‘first story’, and from then on upwards. This is confusing when using elevators or navigating department stores.

Ounces and pounds

In the US, people still largely use the imperial system of ounces and pounds for weights, which can be confusing when you’ve grown up with the metric system of grams and kilos. An ounce is about 28 grams and a pound is 453 grams. Americans also measures distance in feet, yards and miles rather than metres and liquids in gallons and quarts rather than litres. Confused yet?

John Hancock

If someone asks you for your John Hancock, it means they want you to sign something. This is a reference to a signature on the Declaration of Independence, because his signature was so large.

Lots of places have nicknames

Boston is Beantown, LA is the City of Angels, Las Vegas is Sin City and New York is The Big Apple (to name a few). This also applies to entire states: New Jersey is known as the Garden State.