American English

The English language: How and why it’s different

Common Misconceptions

English is very different from other languages. Some find it less formal. It’s easy to misinterpret some questions and phrases.

Some phrases and words can be confusing. Here is some clarification.

  • “Cool”
    • This word is commonly used to describe temperature. For example:
      • “It is very cool outside today.”
      • “Let the cake cool before we eat it.”
    • “Cool” also describes something unique or enjoyable.
      • “She’s a really cool girl.”
      • “The special effects in that movie were so cool.”
  • “Hot
    • Like “cool,” this word is also used to describe temperature.
      • “Today is a hot, sunny day.”
      • “That soup is very hot.”
    • “Hot” is also used to describe a very attractive person.
      • “Did you see that hot guy?”
      • “That actor is totally hot.”
  • “How are you?”
    • People ask “How are you?” to see how you’re doing.
    • “How are you?” is also used as a casual greeting.
      • It’s sometimes another way of saying “Hello.”
      •  “How are you?” can depend on how well you know the person asking.
      • If a good friend asks, you can give a more elaborate answer, such as:
        • “I’m a little tired. I did a lot of work today. How are you?”
        • “I’m great. I did really well on an exam. And you?”
        • “I’ve been better. I miss my family. How about yourself?”
      • Give a brief answer if someone new asks. Also be more casual if you are asked by a casual acquaintance.
        • “Doing well, thanks. And you?”
        • “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
        • “I’m okay. How about you?”
  • “Like”
    • “Like” is usually used to express approval.
      • “My class likes this professor.”
      • “I like Mexican food.”
    • It can also be used to compare things.
      • “This tastes like chicken.”
      • “She is a lot like my sister.”
      • “This city is much like Hong Kong.”
    • It is also used as word to pause in sentences.
    • Here are some common uses:
      • “During class, I was, like, totally overwhelmed.”
      • “That was, like, the best concert I’ve ever been to.”
      • “That’s, like, the most gorgeous dress I’ve seen.”
    • “Like” is also used as another word for “said.” For example:
      • “I was like, ‘Please don’t call me.’”
      • “My mother was all like, ‘Be careful!’”
  • “Nice to meet you.”
    • Americans say “Nice to meet you” in many situations.
    • Sometimes, they say it if they’ve barely spoken to someone at all.
    • You can say “Nice to meet you” when:
      • You are first introduced to someone.
      • You briefly speak with someone new.
      • You have a longer conversation with someone new.
  • “No way!”
    • “No way” is used to express disbelief. For example:
      • “You won the lottery? No way!”
      • “No way. You haven’t started your paper yet?”
  • “Shut up!”
    • The use of “shut up” depends on context. Sometimes, it is driven by anger. In these cases “shut up” is an abrupt and rude way to speak to someone.
      • “Shut up. I’m trying to study.”
      • “He’s annoying. I wish he would shut up.”
    • Other times, it is said in jest, as a way to express disbelief.
      •  “Shut up. I don’t look like a supermodel.”
      • “You were in a movie? Shut up!”
  • “What’s up?”
    • Similar to “How are you?”
    • Your response depends on who asks.
    • It is also another way of asking:
      • “What’s going on?”
      • “What’s happening?”
  • Other expressions you might find fun, surprising, or odd
    • “It’s raining cats and dogs.” – means it is raining very hard
    • “My alarm went off early this morning.” – means the alarm rang early this morning. It does not mean that the alarm failed to ring.
    • “The professor told me the essay should include ‘everything but the kitchen sink’.” – means the professor wants the student to put as much information in the essay as possible.