When you learn English in a classroom, you usually learn proper English. You learn the vocabulary and grammar for literature and formal settings.
But when you watch a movie or read posts on social media, you often hear a completely different kind of English. In these situations, most people use informal language – often with lots of slang. Scroll down for examples and a breakdown of what makes up American slang.
Slang is a general term for informal language. It refers to the type of English people speak that you won't find in the formal English language.
In particular, slang words and expressions are usually used by specific groups of people. For example, people from one part of the US will use one type of US slang, and people from another will use completely different American slang words.
However, there are some slang words and phrases that are used all over the US. And these are particularly useful to learn. Sometimes, authors coin slang phrases. But other times, they just appear in the language, and no one knows how they got there.
But wherever slang comes from, it’s fun to use!
Why is Slang Useful?
Why Does Slang Change?
But how has slang changed?
One of the most interesting features of slang is how much (and how quickly) it changes.
Slang goes in and out of fashion, so even native English speakers don’t know every slang word or expression in English. A word might be popular for six months or a year, or it might be popular for a decade or two.
While there are some words that we might know from our parents’ generation or very famous slang from decades ago, it’s not something we use every day. And most people aren’t familiar with very old historical slang.
For example, the word abactor was used between 1500 to the 1800s. It refers to a shepherd that thinks about stealing the cattle they’re supposed to look after. But no one uses that now!
Another interesting feature of slang is how it changes based on the group of people using it. In general, US slang changes based on identity factors like region, race, ethnicity, and religion.
For instance, people in different areas of the US use different words for sweet carbonated drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, or Sprite. You might see them called soda, pop, soda pop, or Coke, depending on where you are.
There are also smaller groups of people who have their own slang. For example, TikTok users might have their own slang vocabulary. Or everyone at one particular high school might have special words they use.
One important thing to keep in mind is whether you share the identity of the group whose slang you’re using. This doesn’t matter with some slang, but it’s important, especially when you use slang from marginalized communities.
Flip the flashcards for some American slang examples that change depending on where you live and how old you are.
Here are some common US slang words you might have seen before.
1. Dunno: I don’t + know
2. Wanna - want to
3. Imma: I + am [or] I + am + going
4. I'm beat - tired
5. Chill - relax
Want to say something is cool or fancy giving your friend some positive vibes? Check out these words.
Check this out.
1. Cheesy: silly (in an overused or saccharine way)
2. Flaky: unreliable
3. Hip: fashionable, stylish
4. In: fashionable, popular
5. Nuts: silly or irrational
6. Ripped/jacked: in shape
7. Shady: suspicious
8. Sketchy: suspicious
Here are some American slang verbs; see if you can spot any you already know!
2. To chill out: to relax
3. To hang out: to spend time with (in a relaxed way)
4. To have a crush on: to have romantic feelings about someone
5. To rip off: to cheat someone
6. To screw over: to cheat or take advantage
7. To slay: to do really well
8. To wrap up: to finish
Flip the flashcards for more examples.
And finally, here are some common slang phrases from different parts of America.
2. Never mind: don’t worry, don’t be concerned, ignore what was just said
3. No worries: of course, you’re welcome
4. Sure thing: of course, certainly
5. You bet: of course, certainly
There are many ways to familiarise yourself with US slang; let's look at a few.
One of the best ways to learn slang is to listen to people using it. These are all great places to listen for slang in conversation: movies, TV shows, podcasts, radio shows, songs, internet videos, and social media.
When you hear people use slang in everyday conversation, you’ll start to feel more comfortable using it yourself.
If you want to find out what a slang word or expression means, you can usually find it on the internet. In fact, there are designated online dictionaries for slang!
As a general resource, you can check out Urban Dictionary. This dictionary is written by users, so the definitions may not be perfect. But it’s a great start!
If you want to learn more about US slang from different regions of the country, take a look at the Dictionary of American Regional English.
The most important way to learn slang is to practice it! When you learn new words and phrases, try them out in your own conversations.
Over time, you’ll get more comfortable with them. And don’t worry about getting bored – new slang is always being invented!
Also, check out the other grammar pages on this site. There is so much to learn about English!