5 English Phrases You Shouldn’t Take Too Literally

This post originally appeared on become Canadian, a blog about how to blend in with with locals on the West Coast, on March 22, 2016. If you want to get more tips on language, food and lifestyle in Canada head over and/or follow my Twitter and Instagram for regular updates.


Learning a second language is hard. All of them have their little tweaks and endless exceptions. It doesn’t help, then, if you’re getting to a level of informal speech that shouldn’t be translated word for word.

Next to carefully placed and crazy metaphors like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “I quit cold turkey” (what?), English uses a lot of those in daily conversations. So much that native speakers might not even realise they aren’t taking these 5 phrases literally.

1. “Let’s hang out.”

Can you imagine if we would take this one literally? Yeah:

English Phrases you shouldn't take too literally -- hang out

“Let’s hang out for a bit.”

No worries, “to hang out” actually involves neither hanging nor being outside. It simply means to spend time together.

2. “Hit me up!”

I rather don’t want to imagine this one literally… It actually doesn’t hurt but is used when someone should get in contact with you, for example if they want to hang out.

3. “See you later!”

Of course, sometimes you see your friend at school and also go to that party together tonight — actually seeing them later. However, I’m a bit concerned when the bus driver says “see you later.” Like, I don’t expect him at that party tonight.

4. “How’re you doing?”

Why is this friendly question on the list, you ask? Well, the cashier doesn’t really want to hear about your problems. Asking the question seems to be more important than answering it.

5. “Nice to meet you.”

Sometimes you might use this one literally. For example, if your friend has told you so much that it seems like you already know that person. But otherwise… you don’t know each other yet. How should you know if it’s actually nice that you met?

Did you have misunderstandings or funny situations because you took English too literally? Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @mountainofwords!

photo credit: Coalition Builds New Playground in One Day for Chicora-Cherokee Community via photopin (license)

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