American Slang Explained - US Slang Words And Phrases

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What Is Slang?

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.

American slang

Slang is a general term for informal language. It refers to the type of English that people speak and that you wouldn’t use in formal writing.

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 slang, and people from another will use completely different slang.

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?

Slang is useful because it’s what people use every day to communicate. If you listen to a conversation between two people on a street corner, they will probably be using slang. People will also use slang if you listen to songs or watch TV shows.

You want to be familiar with some slang so you can understand the people around you.

Also, if you aren’t already a native English speaker, using slang properly can help you fit in and sound fluent.

Changing Slang

When you look at the examples on this page, it may seem like a lot to learn. And, yes, there is a lot of slang in English! But don’t get discouraged because you don’t have to learn it all.

In fact, nobody knows it all! And there’s one very important reason for that: slang changes.

Change Over Time

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!

Group Slang

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. For instance, you should be careful about using Black slang if you’re white, or using queer slang if you’re straight.

Common US Slang Words and Examples

Here are some common US slang words you might have seen before.

Contractions

1. Dunno: I don’t + know

  • Do you want to watch a movie? / I dunno. I’m not sure if I feel like it.

2. Wanna: want + to

  • Wanna go to the dance with me?

3. Imma:  I + am [or] I + am + going

  • Imma go to the store and get more ice cream. 
  • I can do that because Imma big girl!

Positive Adjectives

All of these adjectives refer to things that you think are really good.

  • Awesome: Man, what an awesome car you have!
  • Cool: Where did you get that jacket? It’s so cool!
  • Rad: Those shoes are totally rad.
  • Sick: What sick tattoos do you have, bro?

Other Adjectives

Here are some American slang adjectives.

1. Cheesy: silly (in an overused or saccharine way)

  • I can’t believe you like romance novels. They’re so cheesy!

2. Flaky: unreliable

  • Don’t count on him coming to the party. He’s really flaky.

3. Hip: fashionable, stylish

  • Bell-bottoms were hip in the ’90s, but skinny jeans are popular now.

4. In: fashionable, popular

  • Fluffy hair elastics are in right now, but I can’t stand them.

5. Nuts: silly or irrational

  • Are you nuts? I can’t believe you want to go swimming in icy water!

6. Ripped/jacked: in shape

  • Did you see her muscles? She’s ripped
  • Did you see her muscles? She’s jacked!

7. Shady: suspicious

  • We should get out of here – there’s a shady person on that corner.

8. Sketchy: suspicious

  • Are you sure you want to eat at that restaurant? It looks really sketchy.

Verbs

Here are some American slang verbs; see if you can spot any you already know!

1. To ace: to pass a test or exam (and do really well on it)

  • That history test was so easy! I know I aced it.

2. To be down: to be willing to do something

  • Do you want to go swimming now? / Sure, I’m down for that.

3. To chill out: to relax

  • Stop worrying about finals, Albert! Just chill out!

4. To hang out: to spend time with (in a relaxed way)

  • Do you want to come over tomorrow? We can just hang out, watch movies, and eat junk food.

5. To have a crush on: to have romantic feelings about someone

  • Did you see Hermione’s cheeks turn red? She has a crush on Anitra!

6. To rip off: to cheat someone

  • Salma couldn’t believe her new computer broke on the second day. The seller had ripped her off!

7. To screw over: to cheat or take advantage

  • I can’t believe you did that! You totally screwed me over!

8. To slay: to do really well

  • I slayed that presentation today. I’m sure I’ll get an A+.

9. To suck (at): to be very bad, to do something badly

  • That new superhero movie sucked. Even the graphics were bad!
  • I suck at washing windows. They’re always streaky when I finish.

10. To tune out: to stop paying attention

  • Can I borrow your notes from class? I tuned out halfway through.

11. To wrap up: to finish

  • Class, you need to wrap up your final answers now. I’m going to collect the tests in 2 minutes.

Phrases

And finally, here are some common slang phrases.

  1. My bad: I was wrong, oops
  • Oh, I’m sorry I gave you the wrong answer. My bad!

2. Never mind: don’t worry, don’t be concerned, ignore what was just said

  • What did you say? / Never mind, it wasn’t important.

3. No worries: of course, you’re welcome

  • Thanks for helping me out today! / No worries!

4. Sure thing: of course, certainly

  • Would you look over my essay? / Sure thing!

5. You bet: of course, certainly

  • Could you shut the door, please? / You bet!

How to Learn Slang

There are many ways to familiarise yourself with US slang; let's look at a few.

Media

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.


Online Slang Dictionaries

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.


Practice!

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!

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