American slang can make things so tricky for English learners.
Has this ever happened to you?
Your friend asks: “Hey, what’s up?”
You respond: “Um, the sky?”
Your friend was really asking you, “How is it going/How are you?”
But how were you supposed to know?
The language that you’re not taught in ESL class.
Here’s a rundown on some of the most common American slang.
It will help you understand your friends better, it will help you fit in and of course it will help you avoid any more embarrassing situations in American English conversations.
Resources for American Slang Words for English Learners and ESL Students
While we can’t cover every single American slang word in English, there are lots of places to find them online.
The University of Massachusetts’ list of American slang: An alphabetical list of common slang words and phrases with their meanings. Some of it is specific to the Northeast region of the U.S.
Dave Sperling’s ESL Slang Page: A comprehensive, alphabetical list of slang, which also has examples. Some of the slang is not so common.
Commonly-used American Slang from Manythings.org: This also has a comprehensive list. Unlike Dave Sperling’s ESL slang page, this page lets you see the example first. So you can guess the meaning first, before you actually see the definition.
Creativa: This is not exactly a slang resource, but it will teach you how to communicate casually yet professionally in business settings. Creativa provides entertaining videos, useful but unexpected tips, and goes beyond just English to teach you body language, intonation and specific pronunciation tips. Creativa is a new product from the FluentU team.
Here’s a sample video from Creativa’s Mastering Business Video Calls in English course, which has tips for expressing yourself effectively:
20 Essential American Slang Words for English Learners and ESL Students
Awesome is such a popular slang word in American English and all over the world. You’ll hear everyone from the young to old saying it. When you use the word awesome, you’re expressing that you think something is wonderful or amazing. It can be used in a sentence or it could be used in a one word reply.
You may have already heard this American slang word in the fun song “Everything Is Awesome,” which you can watch and listen to here. There are even some other words from this list in the song!
Better yet, since that video is available on FluentU, you don’t have to worry about missing a single word.check out a free FluentU trial.
A wide selection of FluentU videos is also available on YouTube. The channel gives you access to a ton of videos featuring other slang and expressions that will help you speak more naturally, such as this clip about weird sayings in English:
Now let’s get back to the word “awesome.”
“What did you think of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street?’”
“It was awesome! I loved it!” (They thought it was a great movie).
“I’ll pick you up at 1 pm, okay?”
“Awesome.” (Here it shows you’re cool with the idea and you agree).
“My friend Dave is an awesome single guy. You guys would be perfect for each other!”
“Really? I’d love to meet him.”
Cool like awesome means ‘great’ or ‘fantastic’. It also shows that you’re okay with an idea. Be careful the normal meaning of cool means a little cold so you have to listen to it in context to understand what’s being said.
“How’s the weather in Canada these days?”
“It’s getting cooler. Winter’s coming!” (This is the literal meaning a little cold)
“What did you think of my new boyfriend?”
“I liked him. He seemed like a cool guy!” (He seemed like a nice guy).
“I’m throwing a party next week for my birthday. Do you want to come?”
“Cool! Sure, I’d love to!”
In normal terms, beat would be used as a verb meaning ‘to win’ (Liverpool beat Manchester United) or ‘to hit’ (Marko, stop beating your brother) however, in slang or everyday English it means something completely different. If you hear your friend saying I’m beat, it means he or she is very tired or exhausted.
“Do you want to go out tonight? There’s a cool new rock bar that’s just opened.”
“Sorry, I can’t. I’m beat and I have to wake up early tomorrow.”
“You look beat, what have you been doing?”
“I’ve been helping my dad in the yard all morning.”
To Hang Out (Verb)
If someone asks you where you usually hang out, they want to know in which place you prefer to be when you have free time. And if your friend asks you if you want to hang out with them, they’re asking you if you’re free and want to spend some time together. And what about if you ask your friend what they’re doing and they just answer hanging out? It means that they are free and not doing anything special.
“Hey, it’s great to see you again.”
“And you. We must hang out sometime.”
“I would love that. I’ll call you soon.”
“Paulo, where do you usually hang out on a Friday night?”
“If I’m not working, usually at the diner across the road from school.”
“Cool, I’ve been there a few times.”
“Hi Simon, what are you doing?”
“Nothing much, just hanging out with Sally.” (In this case you can just use the word hanging without the out and say “Nothing much, just hanging with Sally.”)
And if it’s used as a noun? It refers to the place where you spend your free time.
“Joey, where are you, guys.”
“We’re at our usual hang out. Come down whenever you want!” (It could mean their favorite café, the gym or even the park).
To Chill Out (Verb)
Everybody loves to chill out but what does it mean? It simply means to relax. Usually it can be used with or without the word ‘out’ and if you’re speaking with an American English speaker they’ll definitely understand.
“Hey Tommy, what are you guys doing?”
“We’re just chilling (out). Do you want to come round?”
“Sue, what did you do in the weekend?”
“Nothing much. We just chilled (out).”
But if someone tells you need to chill out it’s not as positive. It means that they think you’re overreacting to a situation or getting stressed about silly little things.
“I can’t believe that test we just had. I’m sure I’m going to fail.”
“You need to chill out and stop thinking too much. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
We know there are many things that have wheels—a car, a motorbike, a bike and even wheelbarrow but when somebody refers to their wheels they are talking about their car.
“Hey, can you pick me up at 3?”
“Sorry, I can’t. I don’t have my wheels at the moment.”
“I had to take it down to the garage, there’s something wrong with the engine!”
“Thanks, it was a birthday present from my dad!”
If you’re amped about something, you’re super excited or you can’t wait for something to happen.
“I can’t wait to see Beyonce live!”
“Me too, I’m amped.”
It can also mean you’re really determined and you want something to happen. With this meaning you can also replace amped with pumped. In other words you’re full of adrenalin!
“I’m so amped for the game tonight!”
“Yeah, I’m sure you are! You guys need to beat the Sox.”
If you refer to someone as a babe, it means that you think they’re hot and attractive. Be careful though, you should only use this when speaking to another person and not the babe because they may get offended.
“What do you think of James’ new girlfriend?”
“Total babe! And you?”
“Oh man, Justin Timberlake is such a babe, don’t you think?”
“Not really, he looks like a little boy. I prefer Johnny Depp—now that’s a real man!”
Bust (Verb)/Busted (Adjective)
If you bust someone, you’ve caught them doing something they shouldn’t be doing/saying/hiding. The police bust people every day translates to they catch all the bad guys and charge them or put them in prison.
“Did you hear that Sam got busted speeding?”
“No, but I’m not surprised. I’m always telling him he needs to drive slower!”
“There were two kids who were busted cheating in their exams!”
“Really? What happened?”
“I’m not sure, but they’ll definitely be punished. Our school takes cheating really seriously.”
To Have a Blast (Verb)
The English word blast normally refers to a big explosion and it’s a phrase that we could often see or hear in the news for example Two men have been seriously injured and taken to hospital from a suspected bomb blast. But if you use this among your friends, it’s a lot more positive and means that something is great or you had an amazing and fun time.
“How was the Jack Johnson concert?”
“It was awesome. Everyone had a blast.”
“Yeah even John. He was even dancing!”
“Wow, it must’ve been good!”
“Thanks for inviting me to your party last night, I had a blast.”
“Thanks for coming and I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
To Have a Crush [on Somebody] (Verb)
To have a crush on somebody is a great feeling and it means that you’re attracted to somebody and would like them to be more than just your friend. And if somebody has a crush on you, well it’s the same—they like you in a more intimate way.
“I have the biggest crush on Simon. He’s so cute!”
“Isn’t he dating Jenny Parkes?”
“No, not anymore, apparently they broke up a few weeks ago!”
Instead of saying have a crush you can also just say crushing on—it means the same thing but it’s usually used among the younger generation and teenagers.
“Oooh, you’re so crushing on Michael right now!”
“I am not! We’re just friends!”
“Liar! I can tell you like him.”
“Is it that obvious?”
To Dump [Somebody] (Verb)
If you dump somebody, you’re probably going to break their heart. If you dump your boyfriend or girlfriend it means you stop having a romantic relationship with them for some reason. And if you’re dumped, it means that somebody doesn’t want to date you anymore—don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea! (There are many more great single people out there to date).
“What’s wrong with Amy? She’s been walking around campus all day looking sad and like she’s going to start crying any minute.”
“Didn’t you hear? Alex dumped her last night! Just don’t mention his name at all!”
“Wow, I’m surprised. They always looked so happy together!”
“Landon looks so mad! What happened?”
“He and Samantha broke up.”
“Oh no, who dumped who?”
“I’m not sure, but I have a feeling it was Sam!”
Usually if you hear to a friend referring to their ex, they’re referring to their old boyfriend or girlfriend who they no longer date. But if you put it with another noun for example ‘boss’ ex-boss it means your boss from before. I met my ex-boss in the supermarket the other day and he asked me to come back and work for him. I’m not going to now I’ve found this awesome new job.
“Who was that guy you were talking to before?”
“Oh Cam? He’s my ex!”
“And you’re still friends?”
“Kind of, we only broke up because he moved to LA.”
“My ex always sends me messages on Facebook. I wish she’d stop, it’s really annoying!”
“Tell her, or just delete as your friend!”
Geek (noun) Depending on how you use this word will depend on whether you’re being nice or not! If you refer to a person as a geek it’s referring to a person in a negative critical way because they like to study too much or spend too much time on the computer and not socialize. But if you call your friend a geek it could be in a fun more playful way.
“What do think of the new girl Amanda?”
“Not much, she seems like a geek. She spends all her time in the library!”
“Maybe because she feels lonely. She’s new!” (Mean and negative meaning).
“Let’s go Ted’s house party tonight! Everyone’s going to be there!”
“I wish I could, but I have to study for my finals!”
“Ah, man, you’re such a geek!”
“I know. But if I don’t pass Coach Jones is going to kick me off the team!” (Fun and more playful meaning).
Hooked [on Something] (Adjective)
If you’re hooked on something or just hooked, it means that you’re addicted to something and you can’t get enough. You can be hooked on chocolate, basketball, a new TV show or something more dangerous like smoking (which is not cool by the way!)
“What did you think about the new sitcom with James Franco?”
“Loved it. I’m hooked already!”
“I miss George!”
“George’s your ex. You’re hooked on him and it’s not healthy. It’s time to move on!”
If somebody says that you’re a looker, you should definitely be flattered—they are paying you the ultimate compliment and saying that they think you’re good looking. They’ll probably never say it to your face but you could hear it from someone else.
“That Marni girl is a real looker don’t you think?”
“She’s a nice girl but not my type!”
“Have you seen the new history professor yet?”
“No, but I hear he’s a real looker!”
“You hear right. He is!”
You probably already know the meaning of in as a preposition. It’s one of the first things you probably learned in your English class e.g. the boy’s in the house, my pencil is in my pencil case. But it can be used to mean something completely different—it means to be in fashion or trending at the moment. Things that are in at the moment may not be in in a month—why? Because trends always change!
“Jordan, why do you keep listening to that music? It’s awful!”
“Mom, you don’t know anything. It’s totally in right now!”
“So, what’s in at the moment?”
“Yeah, come on I wanna know what’s cool and what’s not!”
Cough cough sneeze sneeze… no not this kind of sick. If your buddy says that the party was sick he’s saying he thought it was really cool, awesome or the best. In this case it has a similar meaning to the word awesome, however, you probably will only hear teenagers and college students saying this—oh and maybe those Californian surfers!
“When are you going to Hawaii?”
“Next week! Have you been?”
“Yeah, a few times, it’s sick!”
“You missed a sick party last night!”
“Oh, man, I knew I should have gone!”
Epic Fail (Noun)
The word epic means ‘huge’ and you know what the word ‘fail’ already means. Put the two words together and that’s what it is – a ‘big failure’ or ‘complete disaster/failure’. You’d used this noun when something hasn’t gone the right way as expected and it’s used to exaggerate the idea of failing or doing something wrong.
“The school basketball team lost the game by 30 points, can you believe it?”
“Yeah, epic fail!”
“Did you get your test marks back?”
“Yeah, it was an epic fail and I have to redo the classes again next semester!”
“Oh too bad, I’m sorry!”
In normal everyday English ripped means ‘torn.’ You can rip your jeans or a piece of paper, but… in slang it’s got nothing to do with that. If a person is ripped (usually men/guys, but not always) means they have great muscles and bodies—probably because they work out a lot the gym or are into sport.
“Dude, you’re so ripped! What’s your secret?”
“Gym two hours a day!”
“Have you seen Martin lately?”
“He’s done something to himself! He totally ripped!”
“What? No way! He used to be so overweight!”
Simply speaking, dunno means ‘I don’t know’. It’s a quicker and lazier way of saying it and it’s very popular among young people. However, do be careful who you say this to – if you say it to someone in a higher position than you it could come across as rude. So to play it safe just use it around people your own age or younger.
“Where’s Jane? She’s supposed to be here by now.”
“Dunno, she’s always late!”
“What are you doing for Spring Break?”
“Dunno, I was thinking Mexico again. You?”
In a game we have winners and we have losers, but if your friend says a person is a loser, it doesn’t mean they lost a game or a competition it means that they don’t like him or her because of their actions and behavior.
“Ray is such a loser for breaking up with Rebecca.”
“Yeah, I know, he’s never going to find a girl as good as her!”
“Victor’s turning into a real loser these days.”
“I dunno but he’s turned really arrogant since he’s gone to college!”
Rip-off (Noun)/To Rip Off (Verb)
If you find a simple t-shirt and the price tag says $80 on it, you’d be shocked, right? That t-shirt is a complete rip-off which means that it is way too expensive for what it is. And if a person rips you off they’re cheating you out of money and charging you a lot more than you should be paying for example: tourists often get ripped off by locals because the locals want to make money and the tourists have no idea.
“I’m not going to the J-Lo concert anymore.”
“The tickets are way too expensive. They’re $250 each.”
“Oooh, that’s such a rip-off! Who can afford that these days?”
“How much did you buy your wheels for bro?”
“Dude, you were so ripped off. This car’s worth only half of that!”
So there you have it—these are a few of the most common everyday American slang phrases you could hear among your English speaking friends. However, do be careful where and when you use them. Slang is mainly used around your friends (buddies) and people you’re familiar with (family etc). It would be a shame if you didn’t get the job because you used slang talk—that would be an epic fail!
And One More Thing...
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