Today we are going to be more creative in our English conversations. We will help you spice up your English vocabulary skills. It is a really common thing to talk about good or bad in everyday conversations. In podcast 498 we showed you how to be more interesting talking about good. Today, we will make your conversation more thought-provoking when talking about bad things.
It is tempting when learning to speak a new language to over use generic vocabulary. Early on, this is fine. It gets the job done, you can interact with English speakers. But if you’re not careful, you can sound a little boring or worse still, you can appear to be dull. So, with a sprinkle of interesting English vocabulary, we can transform your English conversation into something much more expressive and precise.
We are going to learn some words and phrases that will bring your conversation to life. It will help the listener in your conversation understand much more about what you really think about the topic and help them visualise the subject. Ultimately, this makes your conversation a more memorable and enjoyable experience, and who doesn’t want that?
As always, we provide examples and spell out keywords in the lesson. If you don’t understand something or need to follow the text as you listen, we have a free pdf transcript for all our podcasts, including this one. You can download the transcript from our website. Or you can use the custom UK English subtitles we provide for every YouTube video we produce.
Lousy Spice Appalled Nastiness Memorable Atrocity Wicked Dread Awful Terror Horrible
Transcript: Be More Interesting And Memorable When You Talk About Something Bad In An English Conversation
Do you want to improve your English and speak less like a beginner and more like a native speaker? I’m sure the answer is ‘Yes’! Well, we have lots of words in English - a massive vocabulary and we like to use those words. We like variety in words. So if you want to sound more like a native speaker, making your language more descriptive, using more adjectives is key. Today, let’s take another phrase that’s used too much by English language learners.
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
That phrase is ‘very bad’. ‘How’s the weather?’ ‘It’s very bad’. ‘How is the traffic?’ ‘It’s very bad. ‘What’s on the news?’ ‘It’s very bad’. So let’s look today at some other ways to say ‘very bad’, let’s look at some more descriptive ways of saying this. And it’ll help you sound more expressive in English, more like an English speaker.
So there’s nothing incorrect about saying ‘very bad’. It’s just that most native speakers would find different words. When something is ‘very bad’, we’ve probably got feelings about it, so we want to express ourselves in a much more satisfying way. We might want to let out those feelings with the words that we use. So having a good vocabulary, not just for positive feelings, but for negative ones too, is important and part of English. I did a podcast recently on other, alternative words for ‘very good’, so I guess this podcast is the counterpart. ‘other alternative words for very bad’.
So here goes with some more descriptive words - I’ll add in things as we go, to make pictures in your mind and help you remember them. I’ve chosen nine words for ‘very bad’.
So very commonly used words for ‘very bad’ are ‘terrible’, TERRIBLE and ‘horrible’, HORRIBLE. And like many adjectives in English, these words ‘terrible’ and ‘horrible’ have nouns associated with them. So for ‘terrible’, the noun is….do you know? ‘Terror’, TERROR, which means ‘extreme fear’ - as in the word ‘terrorist’. And for ‘horrible’, do you know the associated noun? Well, it’s ‘horror’, HORROR. Both of these words come from Latin - ‘terrere’ in Latin is ‘to terrorise’, to make someone fearful and ‘horrere’ is ‘to make someone shudder with fear’.
Be More Interesting And Memorable When You Talk About Something Bad In An English Conversation Ep 521 Article Image
A photograph of a scary clown face. Overusing generic vocabulary in the beginning stages of learning a new language can be helpful at first, but it can backfire if you're not careful.
‘Shudder’ means brrrrrr! And ‘terribilis’ and ‘horribilis’ are Latin adjectives - remember the Queen perhaps talking about her ‘annus horribilis’? So there is a slight difference in flavour here, between ‘terrible’ and ‘horrible’. Terror is extreme fear, whereas horror - well, that’s the sort of shock, the sort of reaction that causes the hairs on your arms to stand up - like when you watch a ‘horror movie’! In ‘horror’, there is an element of disgust, repulsion - of shock which makes you shudder, brrrrrr!.
So in their origins, ‘terrible’ is something which should evoke extreme fear and ‘horrible’ is something that is so bad, it makes you bristle, it makes you shudder. It makes the hairs stand up on your arms. But these words are used so commonly now, that they’ve lost some of their original strength. We don’t reserve these words for the extremes - we use them to describe things which are just ‘very bad’ in an everyday kind of way. So ‘How was the traffic today?’ ‘Oh the traffic was terrible - it took an hour and a half to get here’.
Or ‘How was the meeting?’ ‘Oh, it was horrible - as usual they were all arguing’. So we use these extreme words in situations which don’t really deserve them. And this has had the effect of ‘watering down’ the strength of these adjectives, whereas the nouns themselves tend to retain more of their original strength of meaning. But we do still use these adjectives of situations that merit them too. We might say ‘a terrible car accident’ or ‘a horrible disease’ and we really mean it.
What about the words ‘awful’ and ‘dreadful’? These are commonly used adjectives which mean ‘very bad’. Like ‘terrible’ and ‘horrible’ - they have nouns associated with them. ‘Awful’, AWFUL - is associated with the noun ‘awe’, AWE. And ‘dreadful’, DREADFUL is associated with the noun ‘dread’, DREAD. ‘Awe’ is a word that we use to convey the feeling of being overwhelmed. And ‘awe’ can be used in a positive way.
If you stood on top of a high mountain - and you were speechless because the view was so dramatic, we might say that you were ‘in awe’, or that you were feeling ‘awe’. If you are ‘in awe of a person’, that would mean that you admire them so much that you wouldn’t know what to say to them if you met them. You would be ‘in awe’. So if we want an adjective to convey ‘awe’ in a positive way, we might say ‘awesome’. And if we want to convey ‘awe’ in a negative way, we might say ‘awful’.
It’s so bad, it creates ‘awe’ at just how bad it is! ‘Dread’ on the other hand, doesn’t have a positive meaning - it means extreme fear. There is a verb ‘to dread’ and this means that you are very fearful of something which is about to happen or which might happen in the future. The noun ‘dread’ and the verb ‘to dread’ usually mean ‘fear in relation to something in the future’, something that is about to happen in the future.
The noun ‘dread’ and the verb ‘to dread’ usually mean fear in relation to something future, something that’s going to happen. So you might ‘dread’ going into an exam, or you might ‘dread’ going to the dentist. So often, these words are used to describe something which is bad, but it’s ‘every day type bad’. When they’re used to describe something which is truly awful or truly dreadful, people will understand their origin meaning, of course. Examples? “Oh my goodness, she is an awful driver!’ or ‘That company has a dreadful record on deliveries’.
Rather like ‘dreadful’, the adjective ‘atrocious’ means really, truly bad. And it comes from the noun ‘atrocity’, ATROCITY. This noun is still a word that has most of its origin strength. If something is an ‘atrocity’, it’s a terrible situation, and it’s something that’s happened through someone’s wickedness, someone’s wicked, evil actions.
So wicked, WICKED means ‘evil’ - though people do use ‘wicked’ ironically in slang to as a positive adjective. ‘She’s got a wicked car’ - means it’s a cool car. But here an ‘atrocity’ is an awful act that’s been done through someone’s wickedness or someone’s evil. We might call war crimes ‘atrocities’. And gain, the adjective ‘atrocious’ gets watered down, it does get used for things which aren’t that serious. ‘His bedroom is atrocious - there are clothes all over the floor’.
Or ‘This student has an atrocious record of bullying’. And we do often use it of weather - ‘We had atrocious weather on our holiday’. This is nothing to do with an ‘atrocity’ being committed - ‘atrocious’ weather can just mean there was wind and rain. But like the other words I’ve described, if you use ‘atrocious’ to describe something which really is bad, people will understand its original power, its original meaning.
Another word for ‘very bad’ with an associated noun is ‘abysmal’, ABYSMAL. ‘Abysmal’ is associated with the word ‘abyss’, ABYSS. And an ‘abyss’ is a very large hole - but one that’s terrifyingly large, like the sort that you might find at the bottom of the ocean. ‘Abyss’ comes from the Greek word ἄβυσσος which means ‘without bottom’. And ‘abyss’ also has a sort of Existential meaning - it’s ‘dread without end’.
‘The abyss’ might be the kind of thing that you have a nightmare about! Anyway, the word ‘abysmal’ has also had its meaning rather watered down, through usage. We would tend to use the word ‘abysmal’ to describe things which are bad because someone else’s behaviour or someone’s performance has let us down. So examples might be ‘The local government had an abysmal track record for investigating corruption’ or ‘The school had abysmal attendance’. So if something is abysmal, generally someone is letting someone else down.
What about ‘nasty’? Nasty, NASTY is another word for ‘very bad’ that we use a lot. And there is a noun ‘nastiness’, NASTINESS. Nasty means ‘very bad’, but not in a ‘world-ending’ kind of way, like with some of these other adjectives. ‘Nasty’ is much more personal, much more of the moment. If you talk about a thing, an object being ‘nasty’, it also has the sense of ‘disgusting’, ‘Uhhh! Yuck’.
You might say ‘Uuh, one of the oranges in the fruit bowl had gone off - it was squishy and furry. Ugh, nasty!’. And if you talk about a person ‘being nasty’ - that tends to mean that they’re horrible on purpose. They’re trying to harm you or hurt you or make you feel bad. ‘Malicious’ or ‘spiteful’ might be other words that you would use to describe a nasty person. ‘Nasty’ invites that you dismiss the thing or the person. With the orange, you’d throw it in the bin and with the person, you’d have nothing more to do with them. That’s ‘nasty’ - there’s no rescuing the situation there.
Two last words for ‘very bad’? Appalling, APPALLING - just means ‘I’m appalled by this’. If you’re ‘appalled’ by something from the verb ‘to appall’, it means that you’re shocked, you are left open-mouthed by how awful something is. So again, we use ‘appalling’ for situations where someone’s behaved badly, someone should’ve done better - and we’re left ‘appalled’. We want to condemn their behaviour.
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If you use the word ‘lousy’, LOUSY - it just means bad, but it a ‘sub-standard’ sort of way. ‘Lousy’ means that it’s bad because no one could be bothered, no one wanted to put the effort in. ‘Lousy’ actually means ‘fully of lice’, LICE - and ‘lice’ are those things which might live in your hair and make you itch! ‘Lice’ is a plural - like ‘mice’ MICE - and rather like ‘mouse’, MOUSE, ‘louse’, LOUSE is the singular. As in ‘Who’s got head lice - I found a louse in the bathroom?!’ So we use ‘lousy’ to mean ‘full of lice’, but much more usually it means ‘bad’. So you might talk about ‘lousy behaviour’ or a ‘lousy hotel’.
A ‘lousy hotel’ is a sub-standard hotel! The only time when it’s used in a way that’s not condemning someone - you can use ‘lousy’ to talk about feeling ill. ‘Oh, she’s feeling lousy - she’s got Omicron at the moment’. Hmm, now I’ve talked about head lice, I’m itching. The power of suggestion - let’s move on!
So those are nine adjectives that you can use instead of ‘very bad’. They’re quite interchangeable - you can swap them around. How about I just give you some sentences, using them, to consolidate?
Before I do that, a reminder that if you would like to consolidate your basic vocabulary, The Most Common Five Hundred Words Course is available to buy on our website at adeptenglish.com. Consolidating the most common 500 words and then adding in some more colourful words for ‘very bad’ - will certainly improve your English!
Here goes with some example sentences.
- The train service into London is truly awful at the moment - it’s the terrible storms that we’ve had.
- The courier company are appalling. They operate an abysmal delivery service’
- I’m feeling really lousy today - I think I must have eaten something nasty!
- The local roads are in a dreadful state - the potholes are atrocious!
- Why are you being so horrible to me?
Well, I feel as though I’ve had a good moan there - a good old complain, using all of these words for ‘very bad’! But at your end, you don’t need to use the expression ‘very bad’ any more.
You’ve got a lot of other words you can use instead now! There are plenty more words for ‘very bad’ - so if you’d like another podcast like this one, just let us know. But in the meantime, listen to this podcast a number of times - and see if you can find opportunity to use these words!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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