If you’re looking for colloquialism examples, then you’re in the right place.
Maybe you’re just now learning about colloquialisms, or maybe you’re a seasoned writer looking for ways to add flavor to your prose.
Either way, this post will define colloquialisms and provide plenty of examples to make it clear as day.
Quick question: When was the last time you enjoyed a story where all the characters spoke perfect, formal American English, regardless of their background?
Colloquial language makes characters and stories more interesting and, if their background is similar to yours, more relatable. Colloquial usage helps you, as a writer, build familiarity and trust with your readers.
Formal writing has its place. But you’re about to learn why sometimes colloquial expressions fit better.
Ready to learn how to have more fun with your writing — and to make it more fun for your readers, too?
Let’s dive in!
What are Colloquialisms?
Most dictionaries define colloquialisms as words or phrases that are neither formal nor literary — meaning they are informal, unfancy, everyday language.
Typically, when discussing colloquialism (kuh-LOH-kwee-uh-liz-um), we’re talking about informal language specific to a designated country or region. For example, cockney rhyming slang.
It’s the informal language most often used in situations between ordinary people. In other words, it’s how people talk in a casual conversation.
So, as a literary device, it helps make your dialogue sound more realistic.
Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s deal with two things that often get mixed up with colloquialisms: slang and jargon.
Slang includes unique words, expressions (and even cliches) spoken in specific social groups (like teenagers), while colloquialisms are usually spoken by everyone in a particular geographic region.
A teenager might use an American slang word like “swag” or “sick” to describe something that meets their approval, while older age groups in the same region typically won’t.
But a teenager is just as likely to use the slang phrase “pop” instead of cola, or “biscuit” instead of cookie if the people in their region do the same.
Jargon is mostly technical terms used by people in a particular profession; people outside those professions typically don’t use those words in everyday speech.
A doctor might use words like “idiopathic” and “iatrogenic” in a sentence with peers or even with patients, but most non-medical people will only use them when quoting a medical professional.
Yet, a doctor is just as likely to refer to diapers as “nappies” if that’s the colloquial word for it where she lives.
Even those who agree that slang words and jargon are generally distinct from colloquialisms, it is possible for words and phrases that start as slang or jargon to become part of a region’s colloquial vocabulary.
47 Colloquialism Examples
We’ve collected no less than 47 colloquial examples to illustrate its uses and to show how colloquial expression is part of both our everyday language and our most beloved literature.
Examples of Colloquialisms in Everyday Speech
Colloquialisms in everyday speech come in three different types: words, phrases (often idiomatic ones), and aphorisms.
A statement qualifies as an aphorism if it expresses a truth in a pithy manner (think of Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet).
Idioms — or idiomatic phrases — are colloquial by nature; their literal meaning cannot be deduced from the words that make them up (unlike aphorisms). And they’re unique to speakers of a particular language or dialect.
If completing a task is “a piece of cake,” we may surmise from this idiom that it wasn’t completely unenjoyable, but its meaning is also not self-evident.
- “Wicked” (Northeast U.S.) = “very” or “really” (intensifier) Ex: “This soup is wicked good!”
- Contractions like “ain’t,” “gonna,” and “y’all”
- Profanity that’s specific to a country or region: “bloody” is profanity in the UK – but just an adjective in the U.S.
Colloquial Phrases / Idioms:
- “Hard to swallow” = difficult to believe
- “Kick the bucket” = to die
- “Stir up a hornet’s nest” = provoke a strong negative reaction
- “Up for grabs” = available to anyone
- “Knee jerk reaction” = a quick or automatic response
- “Head over heels” = in love
- “Elbow grease” = hard work
- “When it rains, it pours.”
- “Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Polonius)
- “All that glitters isn’t gold.”
- “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
- “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”
The easier it gets for disparate communities to connect — over the phone or via the internet — the more likely it is that colloquial speech will spread to other regions and even worldwide.
Examples of Colloquialism in Literature
Some of the most enduring works of fiction use colloquial language to make their characters more believable and their stories more authentic.
Enjoy the following examples, and see if a few others come to mind.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Southern U.S. vernacular):
“It’s not necessary to tell all you know. It’s not ladylike-in the second place, folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ‘em. You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.”
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (mimicking the lilt of the Scottish accent):
“Thing is, as ye git aulder, this character-deficiency gig becomes mair sapping. Thir wis a time ah used tae say tae aw the teachers, bosses, dole punters, poll-tax guys, magistrates, when they telt me ah was deficient:’Hi, cool it, gadge, ah’m jist me, jist intae a different sort ay gig fae youse but, ken?’ Now though, ah’ve goat tae concede thit mibee they cats had it sussed. Ye take a healthier slapping the aulder ye git. The blows hit hame mair. It’s like yon Mike Tyson boy at the boxing, ken?”
“The Class Game” by Mary Casey (UK):
“How can you tell what class I’m from?
I can talk posh like some
With an ‘Olly in me mouth
Down me nose, wear an ‘at not a scarf
With me second-hand clothes.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Southwest Missouri):
“What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and it ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?”
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Yorkshire vernacular):
Vinegar-faced Joseph projected his head from a round window of the barn.
‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’ fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him.’
‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ I hallooed, responsively.
‘There’s nobbut t’ missis; and shoo’ll not oppen ‘t an ye mak’ yer flaysome dins till neeght.’
‘Why? Cannot you tell her whom I am, eh, Joseph?’
‘Nor-ne me! I’ll hae no hend wi’t,’ muttered the head, vanishing.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (American Deep South):
“Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up the flowers, wind, water, a big rock.”
Pat of Silver Bush by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Irish vernacular):
“Oh, oh, is it Aunt Edith?” sniffed Judy. “And it was me fine Edith that dragged her in and blew it all afore Brian and his fine lady wife, ye’re telling me? Sure it was like her. It’s a pity a liddle thing like that cudn’t av been hushed up in the fam’ly. And to punish the tinder-hearted cratur so cruel! Ye ralely ain’t wise, Long Alec. A bit av a tongue-lashing might av been all right but to kape on torturing the poor jewel for a wake and her that fond av ye all! It’s telling ye to yer face, I am Long Alec, ye don’t deserve such a daughter.”
Examples of Colloquialisms for Everyday Items
Ever had a moment when you referred to an everyday object by the name you’ve always used for it, only to have someone from another state or country give you a funny look before calling the item a completely different name?
Here are some of the most well-known examples:
- Pop vs. cola or soft drink
- Nappies vs. diapers
- Hot-dish (Minnesota) vs. casserole
- Klick vs. kilometer
- Lift vs. elevator
- Flat vs. apartment
- Binky vs. pacifier
- Subs vs. hoagies vs. submarine sandwiches vs. heroes
- Parakeet vs. budgie
- Truck vs. lorry
- Soccer vs. football
- Pill bugs vs. Potato bugs vs. woodlice vs. roly-polies, etc.
Examples of Colloquialisms for People
We have colloquial names for the people in our lives, too, along with colloquial ways of addressing them.
Check out the following examples and notice which ones stand out for you — either because you use them or because you’ve read them in a book.
- Memaw vs. nana, gram, grammy, gramma, etc.
- Papaw vs papa or granddad (grandfather)
- Kinfolk (blood relatives)
- Bestie or BFF for best friend
- Y’all (you all)
- Boo or bae (significant other)
- Newbie or “noob” vs. newcomer or amateur
- Bloke (nickname for a male in the UK)
- Chap = gentleman (UK)
- Prat = a dim-witted or badly-behaved person (UK)
- Slug = hitchhiking commuter (D.C.)
- Table tapper = amateur preacher (North Carolina)
- Soak = serious drinker (South Dakota)
Why Use Colloquialisms in Writing?
As writers, we’re always looking for ways to hone our writing skills, whether through books, online courses, or blog posts.
Inspiration is everywhere if you’re open to receiving it.
Listen in on other people’s (public) conversations to pick up on colloquialisms you can weave into your dialogue and character development.
Colloquial language will make your story sound more authentic, giving it a more local flavor.
That’s because real people use colloquialisms in everyday conversation, and believable dialogue reflects that reality to build a sense of familiarity in the reader. That familiarity makes it easier for connections to form.
And a connected reader stays with the story to its end.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that your grammar checker will often flag colloquialisms. Words like “ain’t” and “innit” might fit your story’s dialogue just fine, but Grammarly will still call it out.
How Will You Use Colloquialism Examples in Your Own Writing?
Now that you’ve looked through all the examples in the list above, can you think of colloquialisms you’ve used in your work?
Think about why you used them, as well as what goes through your mind when you find colloquial language in a piece you’re reading.
As mentioned earlier, writers use colloquialisms in their writing because real people use them in everyday speech. And real readers like to find something familiar and authentic in what they’re reading.
So, how will you use colloquialisms in your next story?