Learning Singlish: 80 Essential Phrases for Visitors and Expats

If you’re gearing up for a trip or a potential move to the vibrant city-state of Singapore, get ready to acquaint yourself with Singlish. Short for Singaporean English, Singlish is a captivating blend of English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, and assorted dialects spoken by the island’s residents. It’s more than just a means of communication; Singlish embodies the multicultural essence and vitality of Singapore.

As you navigate through the bustling streets and diverse neighbourhoods of Singapore, mastering Singlish will not only facilitate smoother interactions but also immerse you in the colourful fabric of local life. In this guide, we’ve curated 80 common Singlish phrases to equip you with the language skills to converse like a bona fide Singaporean. Let’s delve into the intricacies of Singlish!

80 Common Singlish Phrases

1. Lah

This ubiquitous word is used for emphasis or to soften a request. “Come on, lah, don’t be late!”

2. Can

Short for “can do,” indicating agreement or affirmation. “Can lah, let’s meet at 7.”

3. Shiok

Used to express delight or satisfaction, especially about food. “This laksa is shiok!”

4. Chope

To reserve or save a seat, often by placing an object on it. “I’ll chope the table while you order.”

5. Kiasu

Fear of missing out or being overly competitive. “She’s so kiasu, always rushing to be first in line.”

6. Blur

Confused or unaware. “He looks blur, like he doesn’t know what’s going on.”

7. Sian

Bored or fed up. “I’m feeling sian, let’s do something fun.”

8. Bo Jio

Not invited or left out. “Why you bo jio me to the party?”

9. Atas

Refers to something that is high-class or sophisticated. “She always shops at atas boutiques for her designer clothes.”

10. Makan

To eat. “Where shall we go makan tonight?”

11. Alamak

Expression of surprise or frustration. “Alamak, I forgot to bring my umbrella and it’s raining heavily.”

12. Aiyo

Expression of dismay or exasperation. “Aiyo, I spilled coffee all over my new shirt.”

13. Ang Moh

A person of Caucasian descent. “The ang moh tourists are exploring Chinatown.”

14. Sabo

To play a prank or deliberately cause trouble. “Why you sabo me like that?”

15. Chim

Complicated or difficult to understand. “The instructions are so chim, I don’t understand.”

16. Jalan Jalan

To walk or go for a walk. “Let’s jalan jalan around the park this evening.”

17. Diam

To keep quiet or be silent. “When the teacher asked who broke the vase, everyone went diam.”

18. Orh

Acknowledgement or understanding. “Orh, I get what you mean now.”

19. Paiseh

Embarrassed or shy. “Don’t be paiseh, just give it a try.”

20. Barang Barang

Refers to various items or belongings. “I need to pack all my barang barang before moving to the new apartment.”

21. Kena Sai

To be in trouble or to suffer a misfortune. “I really kena sai with this project deadline.”

22. Kaypoh

Nosy or overly curious. “Stop being so kaypoh about my personal life.”

23. Wah

Exclamation of surprise or admiration. “Wah, your new car is impressive!”

24. Siao

Crazy or insane. “She’s siao if she thinks I’ll lend her money again.”

25. Hao Lian

Showing off or boasting unnecessarily. “He’s so hao lian about his new car, he won’t stop talking about it.”

26. Lobang

Referring to an opportunity or insider information. “Thanks for the lobang on the job opening, I’ll apply right away.”

27. Buay Tahan

Cannot endure or tolerate. “I buay tahan this heat anymore.”

28. Jialat

Serious or severe. “The situation is jialat, we need to act fast.”

29. Nua

To be lazy or idle. “After a long day, I just want to nua on the sofa and watch TV.”

30. Blur Like Sotong

Extremely confused or disoriented. “She’s blur like sotong during the presentation.”

31. Lai Liao

Here comes or arrived. “The bus lai liao, let’s go.”

32. Tio

To be hit or affected by something. “He tio flu after the rain.”

33. Jiak Kantang

To eat potatoes, meaning to do nothing. “He just jiak kantang at home all day.”

34. Eeyer

Expression of disgust or distaste. “Eeyer, there’s a cockroach in the kitchen!”

35. Act Blur

Pretend to be unaware. “She’s just acting blur, she knows what’s going on.”

36. Boh Chup

Not bothered or indifferent. “Even after the accident, he remained boh chup about his damaged car.”

37. Powderful

Describing something as impressive or powerful. “Her presentation skills are powderful, she always captivates the audience.”

38. Kan Cheong

Anxious or nervous. “Don’t be kan cheong, everything will be fine.”

39. Obiang/Orbit

Referring to someone or something that is old-fashioned or out of touch with current trends. “Oh my god, his bell-bottom jeans is so obiang!”

40. Shag

Exhausted or tired. “After a long day of hiking, I feel completely shag and just want to collapse into bed.”

41. Bo Pian

No choice or unavoidable. “Sorry, bo pian, we have to cancel the trip.”

42. Buay Song

To be unhappy or dissatisfied about something. “He’s buay song because he didn’t get the promotion he wanted.”

43. Chey

Expression of disappointment or disdain. “I thought I’d aced the exam, but chey, I only got a passing grade.”

44. Mai Tu Liao

Don’t delay any longer. “Mai tu liao, let’s get started.”

45. Boh Eng

Not free or busy. “Sorry, I’m boh eng right now, can we talk later?”

46. Chin Chye

To be easy-going or relaxed. “She’s very chin chye about where we eat, as long as it’s not too expensive.”

47. Bo Liao

Boring or uninteresting. “The movie was so bo liao, I fell asleep.”

48. Tio Bo

Is that right? “Tio bo? Did I get it correctly?”

49. Huat Ah

Expressing good luck or prosperity. “Huat ah! I hope we win the lottery.”

50. Buay Paiseh

Shameless or unembarrassed. “He buay paiseh about asking for favours all the time.”

51. CMI

Short for ‘Cannot Make It’, indicating failure or incompetence. “His presentation was a disaster, total CMI.”

52. Kena Arrow

To be assigned an undesirable task. “I kena arrow to clean up the mess.”

53. Da Bao

To pack or take away food. “I’m too tired to cook, let’s just da bao dinner tonight.”

54. Kena

To be affected or struck by something. “I kena food poisoning after eating at that restaurant.”

55. Tompang

To hitch a ride. “Can you tompang me to the airport tomorrow?”

56. Meh

Questioning the validity or truthfulness of something. “This shirt got discount, meh?”

57. Goondu

Goondu – Stupid or acting like an idiot. “I locked my keys in the car again. Can’t believe I did that, I’m such a goondu.”

58. Catch No Ball

Not understanding or confused about a situation. “I catch no ball what they’re talking about.”

59. Chop Chop

Urging someone to hurry up or do something quickly. “Chop chop, we’re running late!”

60. Walao Eh

Expression of frustration or annoyance. “Walao eh, why is the queue so long?”

61. Chiong

To rush or hurry. “We need to chiong to finish this project before the deadline.”

62. Dao

Being aloof, unfriendly, or arrogant. “He always acts so dao towards new colleagues, making it hard to approach him.”

63. Siam

To avoid or dodge something. “I had to siam my ex when I saw her at the party.”

64. Don’t Play Play

Warning against taking something lightly or joking around. “Don’t play play with your studies, exams are coming up soon.”

65. Jiak Liao Bee

Someone who is idle or lazy. “He always jiak liao bee, never want to do any work.”

66. Swee Swee

Perfectly done or executed. “The plan worked out swee swee, just as we hoped.”

67. Jiak Simi

What are you eating? “Jiak simi for lunch today?”

68. Gostan

To reverse or move backward, especially in a vehicle. “I had to gostan a few times to get out of the parking spot.”

69. Wah Piang

An expression of surprise or disbelief, similar to “Oh my goodness” or “Wow”. “Wah piang, you won the lottery?!”

70. Heng Ah

Expressing relief or gratitude for narrowly avoiding a negative outcome. “Heng ah, I almost missed the train but managed to catch it in time.”

71. Steady Pom Pi Pi

A phrase used to praise someone for being very reliable, dependable, or cool under pressure. “He handled the situation like a pro, steady pom pi pi.”

72. Jiak Zua

To skive or slack off. “He always jiak zua during work hours, never getting anything done.”

73. See How First

Expression meaning to wait and see how things develop before making a decision. “I’m not sure if I can make it to the party tonight, I’ll see how first.”

74. Suay

Refers to bad luck or unfortunate circumstances. “It’s so suay that my car broke down on the way to the job interview.”

75. Ulu

Remote or secluded area. “Their new house is so ulu, it’s miles away from the nearest town.”

76. Yaya Papaya

Used to describe someone who is arrogant or pretentious. “She acts all yaya papaya just because she got promoted.”

77. Vomit Blood

Expression of extreme frustration or annoyance. “I feel like I’m going to vomit blood if I have to deal with this problem any longer.”

78. Understooded

Incorrect use of the word ‘understood’, often used humorously to acknowledge comprehension. “Understooded, I’ll make sure to double-check the details.”

79. Orbi Good

Expression used to suggest that someone got what they deserved, often in a humorous or sarcastic manner. “You didn’t study for the exam and failed? Orbi good!”

80. Malu

Feeling embarrassed or ashamed. “I felt so malu when I tripped and fell in front of everyone.”


Congratulations! You’ve now mastered 80 essential Singlish phrases that will make your time in Singapore even more enjoyable and immersive. Singlish isn’t just a language; it’s a vibrant expression of Singapore’s multicultural identity. So go ahead, use these phrases with confidence, and embrace the rich tapestry of Singaporean culture. Remember, whether you’re ordering kopi at a hawker centre or lepak-ing with friends at the beach, speaking Singlish adds an extra flavour to your Singapore experience. So, lah, what are you waiting for? Start practising your Singlish today!

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