22 Awesomely Useful Slang Words for ESL Learners
You don’t need always need to be polite (or grammatically perfect) when you’re chatting with your English speaking friends.
Have you heard how native English speakers talk? They use phrasal verbs, colloquial expressions and slang words all the time!
Here are some fantastic slang words to get your English conversations sounding nice and natural.
- 22 Common English Slang Words that ESL Learners Should Learn and Use
22 Common English Slang Words that ESL Learners Should Learn and Use
Sure (adj.) means certain.
This is used to express that something is certain. As in, you’re certain that you’re right about something. If someone is sure about something, then you can trust them to be right– at least, most of the time!
“Was that his real hair?”
“No, I’m pretty sure it was a wig!”
However, it has a multitude (variety) of other uses too! As an adverb, sure emphasizes the point you’re making. If you don’t just like something, but you really, really like it, sure is the word you should use!
“That cheesecake sure is tasty!”
Sure thing can also be used as a reply to a question instead of “of course” :
“Hey, are you coming over tonight?”
Strangely enough, you can also use it as “You’re welcome” too.
“Hey, thanks for lending me your bike.”
Sure-fire (adj.) was originally used to talk about rifles that were sure to fire, i.e. certain to work well. Nowadays, it’s used when something has a definite outcome, often in business or sport. It’s usually positive. However, it can also be used negatively depending on context.
“Which team do you support?”
“The Marinos — they’re sure-fire winners!”
Take one more example so you’re sure you know how to use this phrase.
“Making fun of the boss’s new wig is a sure-fire way to lose your job!”
Whatever (noun/adv.) is such a versatile (having many uses) word that I bet you can’t avoid using it! Whatever is commonly used to emphasize a lack of limitation on something. It can also be used as an exclamation to show that you don’t mind or don’t care about something. It’s often used when someone has become absolutely tired of something. If used correctly, it can be an awesome way to get people to stop bothering you! It’s used in a positive and relaxed way below.
“So, can I order lobster today?”
“Eat whatever you like. It’s your birthday and I’ll pay!”
In the example above, whatever is being used to show indifference. The person is telling their companion that they can have anything they want to eat, without any limitation.
“Look, I was right all along! That means I’m smarter than you!”
In that example, whatever is meant to dismiss what the other person said in a relaxed and casual manner. It is often used in a humorous, joking way for this purpose.
4. Break up
Break up (verb) is not about smashing (breaking) things to bits– at least not when you use it as slang! If your friend is telling you they’ve broken up with someone, it means they’ve ended a relationship with them. So, in this situation you might want to give them a shoulder to cry on.
“After 2 years, she broke up with me, just like that!”
“Never mind, you’re too good for her!
A similar word is breakup (noun). This refers to the event of two people breaking up.
“After their messy breakup, they both went their separate ways.”
Scumbag (noun) is a crude and very negative term for someone who is not likable. This could be because they’re dishonest, dirty, horrible, unpleasant, a loser or all of the above.
“He said he was gonna fix my phone, but he stole it!”
“Wow, what a scumbag!”
7. Hang up
Hang up (verb) is what you do when you want to end a phone call. It’s what people usually do when they’re phoned by telemarketers (people selling things over the phone).
“Hello there, I’m David. Are you interested in taking a survey?”
“Oh, he hung up! I guess he wasn’t interested.”
A hang-up (noun), however, is something completely different! A hang-up is something that’s causing you trouble or emotional stress for a long period of time. Quite often this is something that bothers you constantly.
“You seem to have some hang-ups about going to the doctor.”
“Yeah, I’ve had a few bad experiences with doctors.”
9. Hang on
Hang on (verb) is something you might hear if you’re dangling (swinging) from a tree branch. It describes when you hold onto something. This phrase is more commonly used as a way of saying “wait a minute.”
“Are you ready to go yet?”
“Hang on, I just need to save my game!”
“Oh yeah, you’ve been playing that video game for hours!”
A hangover (noun) is something many people have experienced but definitely don’t enjoy! If you’ve had too much to drink the night before, you’ll feel sick and have a terrible headache in the morning. This is a hangover!
“Hey, Jim, why don’t we go to that all-you-can-eat restaurant tonight?”
“Urgh, no thanks. I’ve got a hangover and I’m gonna be sick.”
11. Drop by / Drop in
To drop by/drop in (verb) is to pay a short, unscheduled visit to someone. If someone tells you that you can “drop in anytime,” it’s a friendly way of saying that you can come over whenever you would like to. It may be a good idea to call first though!
“I’m really sorry, but I’ve still got those books I borrowed from you a month ago!”
“Oh, no worries. Why don’t you drop in after work and bring the books then?”
12. Check out
You probably think of paying your hotel bills and leaving the hotel when you hear the phrase check out (verb). However, it can also be used to say “look at” or “listen to,” typically at something unusual or interesting.
“Check out that guy over there!”
“What, the weird one with the cat on his head?”
13. Be into
To be into(verb) means to like, be interested in or enjoy. It’s usually used when talking about a hobby or the latest craze (trend) or fashion.
“My husband is really into soccer at the moment.”
“Not really, I never see him because he’s always at the soccer club!”
If someone is into you, it means that they like you and are romantically interested in you!
“Wow, she’s really into you!”
“I guess. But she’s not really my type.”
If you grab (verb) something, it usually means you hold it. Used as slang, it can also mean to get something, or go and get something, in a hurry.
“Grab your bags, Sue! Let’s go and grab a bite to eat.”
It can also mean to make an impression on someone, or to make them pay attention or react.
“How did the movie grab you?”
“It was amazing!”
Killer (noun/adj.) sounds scary, right? Not really. As a slang word in a negative context, it’s used to talk about things that are hard to handle, like exam questions and 10 kilometer runs. Used negatively it means something exhausting and tough. More positively, it can be used to describe something great, amazing and impressive.
First, take a look at this more negative example.
“That exam was a killer!”
“Yeah well, it’s over. Let’s go and get a drink!”
Here’s a positive example.
“Wow, that was a killer burger!“
The word dead (adj.) might also sound alarming, but don’t panic. We’re talking about things, not people! Most commonly, when people refer to something as dead, they’ll be talking about a battery or something that contains one.
“Why don’t you give him a call?”
“I can’t, my cellphone’s dead“
If the party you’re at is so boring that even the flies on the wall are asleep, you can also call it dead.
“This party’s dead! Let’s go somewhere else.”
17. Girls’/Boys’ Night Out
A girls’/boys’ night out (noun) is when you go out with a group of your friends of the same sex and enjoy yourself at night. Alcohol is usually involved! As you can see:
“I’m tired of housework and work.”
“Okay, then why don’t we have a girls’ night out?”
An all-nighter (noun) is something that lasts all night, usually a night dedicated to studying. So, to pull an all-nighter (verb) is to stay up all night doing something that needs to be done.
“Wow, you look awful!”
“Oh, thanks! I just pulled an all- nighter to study for my final exams.”
Stuff (noun) generally works as a synonym for “things.” As a slang word, you can use stuff to describe the things that you’ll be busy doing. This word can be used for almost anything, whether it’s a big workload, an activity like going to the nail salon or picking up some smelly socks lying on your bedroom floor.
“Sorry, I can’t go to the movies today.”
“I’ve got too much stuff to do.”
It can also be used for objects in the following ways.
“Go clean up the kitchen! There’s stuff all over the place!”
“Fine. But you need to pick up the stuff off the bedroom floor as well!”
20. Messing about/around
If someone says that they’ve been messing about/around (verb) in the park, don’t go and report them for littering (throwing trash on the ground)! It means that they’ve been relaxing, enjoying themselves and doing nothing.
“Wanna go mess about in the mall?”
“Yeah, why not?”
Keep in mind that this slang phrase is more commonly used in British English. American English speakers prefer messing around for this meaning.
However, if someone tells you that your girlfriend or boyfriend is messing around, you might want to worry! If used in this way, it means that someone is cheating or being unfaithful.
“I think Katrina’s messing around.”
“No way! She told me she loved me!”
And if someone tells you not to mess around, then you’d better get back to work! It can mean that you’re not taking things seriously.
“Stop messing around! We’ve got a big order of sausages coming in!”
Sweet (adj.) isn’t used only for desserts — you can also use it to convey just how amazing and fantastic something is to your friends!
“Hey, I just won a car!”
Emo (noun/adj.) is short for emotional. Typically it refers to the genre of music where the lyrics are often angsty (filled with anger and anguish), emotional or expressive. It can also refer to the subculture. A person who’s emo might dress and act in a certain way.
“I never knew he was so emo!”
“Yeah, he already had the hairstyle and the attitude. Now he likes emo bands as well!”
So, now you have tons of useful slang words in English to use—sweet!
Make sure you get plenty of practice with English slang so that you use them properly. If there aren’t any English speakers around to talk to, then you can practice by checking out English media that would show realistic speech.
You can read English books, watch English movies or TV shows and listen to English music. Any time you read or hear a slang, or you think an expression sounds a little strange, you should make a note about it and look it up.
Another resource that can teach natural English is FluentU. It’s a language learning program that teaches with videos made by and for native speakers. Each clip has interactive subtitles, so you can click on any word, slang or expression and get an in-context explanation.
Keep practicing slang and once you’re confident, start adding them in your English speech! Just don’t use them around your boss or in an interview. Above all, converse with confidence and enjoy speaking English!