Describing friendship in English

From best friend to deadliest enemy, and all the variations between. This page will help you learn some common English words and phrases to describe friendship.

BFF (best friends forever)

best mate = your best friend.

a good friend = someone in your “inner circle” of friends.

to be really close to someone = be good friends with

pal = friend (UK slang)

buddy (best buddy) = friend (mainly US English)

to go back years = to know someone for a long time: “Steve and I go back years.”

an old friend = a friend you’ve known for a long time: “He’s an old friend of Dave’s.”

a friend of the family / a family friend = someone close to your family: “John was an old family friend.”

a trusted friend = someone you can trust

a childhood friend = a friend from when you were very young

a circle of friends = all the friends in your group: “She’s got a great circle of friends.”

be just good friends = when you want to say you’re only friends with someone of the opposite sex: “We’re not going out. We’re just good friends, that’s all.”

More casual friendships

penpal / epal = someone you know from corresponding / writing: “Find a penpal on our Penpals forum!”

someone you know from work (or another interest group): “Andy? Oh, he’s someone I know from work.”

someone you know to pass the time of day with = someone you know to say “hello” to.

casual acquaintance = someone you don’t know very well: “She’s just a casual acquaintance of mine.”

a friend of a friend = someone you only know because they’re a friend of one of your friends. “Dave’s a friend of a friend.”

a mutual friend = someone that two people know: “Karen’s a mutual friend of both me and Rachel.”


classmate = someone in your class at school.

workmate = someone you work with

flatmate (UK English) roommate (US English) = someone you share a flat or house with

soul mate = someone you’re very close to because you share the same opinions and beliefs

Not good friends

on-off relationship = where you’re sometimes friendly, and sometimes not: “Cath and Liz have an on-off relationship.”

fair-weather friend = a friend who’s never around when you need help: “She’s only a fair-weather friend.”

a frenemy = someone who’s a friend and an enemy at the same time.

Other expressions

strike up a friendship with = make friends with someone

be no friend of = not like someone / something: “I’m no friend of his!”

have friends in high places = know important / influential people: “Be careful what you say. He’s got friends in high places.”