English has a range of swear words. Some are unlikely to offend other people, while others are much stronger and more likely to upset people.
If you spend any time at all in an English-speaking country, or if you watch English films, etc; you’re going to hear swear words.
In this blog post, I’ve got a few guidelines about swearing, plus some common expressions about it.
Types of swear words
Different languages have different types of words which can be used as swear words. For example, Italian swear words tend to be blasphemous (insulting religion) while Dutch swear words tend to be about terrible illnesses.
English swear words are generally about bodily functions and sex. Some English swear words – especially the least offensive – have religious origins. These could be words like “Blimey!” (to show surprise) or the adjective “bloody”, as in “Bloody hell!” which shows surprise or anger.
Should you ever swear?
Research shows that people swear in many different situations. Most of the time, we swear when we are frustrated, angry or surprised. (But we also swear to show a positive emotional response to something.) We also swear when we’re in physical pain. Apparently it can make it less painful.
But before you swear, you need to know if it’s appropriate for the situation you’re in, and the people you’re with.
As a general rule:
1. Swearing is less acceptable in ‘mixed’ company
It’s somehow less rude if men swear when they are with men, and women swear when they’re with other women. (This is especially true for stronger swear words.)
2. Swearing is not acceptable in formal company
Don’t swear in formal situations, in front of your boss or people high up in your company, or with people you don’t know.
3. Avoid swearing on social media
You don’t know who will read what you say, and very often, what you say can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. At the worst, you can get banned for “profane” or “abusive” language.
Using alternative words
You often hear words starting with the same letter as the swear word. These words are particularly used by women. Here are some common ones in English:
“Oh sugar! I’ve forgotten my umbrella.”
“Oh fiddlesticks! I’m supposed to be at the meeting now.”
Freaking (to replace “effing”)
“He’s so freaking jealous!”
How to talk about swearing
Here are some things you can say – and things you might hear – in the context of swearing.
“Scuse my French” / “Scuse the French”
You can say this if you use a (generally) mild swear word like “Bloody”:
For example: “Oh bloody hell. Oops, ‘scuse my French.”
effing and blinding = using lots of swear words
“The man in the post office was effing and blinding about something or other.”
(drop) the F-bomb = use the swear word beginning with “f”
The “F-word” is rude and can offend. If you use it in the wrong situation or with the wrong people, it can have an effect like a bomb.
“He dropped the F-bomb in the middle of his presentation.”
swear like a sailor / swear like a trooper = swear a lot
“Have you heard her speak? She swears like a sailor.”
have a potty mouth = have a “dirty” mouth (A “potty” is the bowl we use when we want to toilet-train children.)
“He’s become a bit of a potty mouth recently.”
use foul language / a foul-mouthed tirade = use swear words
“I asked him to move, and I got a foul-mouthed tirade.”
“Safe” swear words
These British English swear words are more or less inoffensive, but all the same, be careful. Don’t use them in front of your boss, a particularly religious person, or an elderly person.
bloody = to show surprise / anger
“Bloody hell! What time do you call this?”
“The bloody shop’s closed!”
bollocks = “rubbish” / when you don’t believe someone
“He’s talking bollocks again.”
bugger = to show irritation
“Oh bugger. I’ve missed my train.”
“Bugger off! I don’t want to talk to you any more!”
damn = when you’re angry with yourself
“Damn! I left my wallet at home.”
God! / Jesus! = to show surprise, anger, frustration or annoyance
(For most native English speakers, these words are not considered blasphemous.)
“God! You can be so annoying at times!”
“Jesus! Is that the best excuse you can find?”
Improve Your English Fluency
A quick way to speak English more naturally is to use common expressions in everyday situations.
In my fluency program Real English Conversations, I show you the most common collocations and expressions in spoken English.