7 Common Singlish Phrases Every Expat Should Know

Ohmyhome

Ohmyhome

Share on facebook
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

Written by: Marissa Saini

Singlish is a perplexing, hybrid language that borrows largely from Malay, English, and Chinese. Today, it is an integral element of Singaporean identity. When you relocate and make a home in Singapore, you’ll inevitably encounter Singlish in everyday interactions.

It is used in casual workplace chatter among colleagues (although it’s usage is frowned upon in a formal setting), networking, shopping, ordering food and drink (like coffee!), when asking for directions – you name it. This is why it’s always good to be prepared for such situations.

Let’s break down the top phrases you’ll hear and with practice, adopt in your day-to-day vernacular.

Top 7 Singlish Phrases

1. La

The term “la” is commonly used to punctuate the end of your sentences. For instance, when speaking with locals, you may hear “Of course la” or “That’s why la” pop up frequently in conversation. Pro tip: You can slowly start integrating this suffix in your day-to-day conversations by answering yes or no questions with “la”. Sooner or later, it’ll just roll off the tongue!

Other popular syntaxes include “lor”, “meh” and “leh”. The meaning entirely depends on the context of the sentence, such as resigned acceptance (“No more buses already so I took taxi lor”), minor disagreement (“I don’t think so leh”), and tongue-in-cheek disbelief (“The class is at 8 am. You can meh?”).

2. Kiasu (kee-ah-su)

7-common-singlish-phrases-every-expat-should-know-kiasu

A Hokkien word meaning fear of losing out, “kiasu” is famously used to describe the competitive nature of Singaporeans. It may also have negative connotations of someone who wants to get ahead of others (read: selfish tendencies). Yes, tread lightly with this term. Oftentimes, it’s used to poke fun at people who would go out of their way to snag a bargain. For example, “My kiasu friend queued for 2 hours to get the one-for-one promotion at Starbucks!”

3. Sian (see-an)

This Hokkien expression is used to describe something boring or monotonous. You’ll hear this come up when someone needs to do something that they’d rather not. For example, one might say “Sian. I need to pull an all-nighter to make the deadline.”

4. Jio (jee-oh)

This word is used to invite someone to do something or simply hang out. It can be used as a substitute for the word “invite”. For instance, you can invite someone out by asking them, “Come I jio you to this party on Thursday.”

Pro tip: Bojio, its antonym, literally means not invited. For example: “I can’t believe you guys went out for lunch without me. Bojio.”

5. Tabao (dah-pao)

7-common-singlish-phrases-every-expat-should-know-dabao

Use tabao when taking out food or referred to in Singapore as takeaway. Alternatively, you can also use “packet” after the plastic or styrofoam packaging. For example, when placing an order, you can say “One char kway teow, please. Tabao.” Now with this term in your back pocket, you won’t be surprised when a hawker asks you, “Having here or tabao?”

6. Makan (mah-kan)

A Malay word meaning to eat, it can also be used to invite people out for lunch/dinner. A common example would be when a colleague might ask you, “Hey, want to makan or not?”. For starters, simply swap out the word eat in conversation. When asking “Where do you want to eat today?” you can instead ask “Where do you want to makan today?”

7. Chope

To make a reservation or call first dibs on something, such as seats at a crowded hawker centre. You’ll typically hear, “I already chope this table for us with my tissue packet.” Yes, everyday objects like name cards or umbrellas can be used to mark a table as taken, especially during the ever-crowded afternoon peak hour.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Bookmark this list and start brushing up your Singlish with your friends and family!

Decided to move to Singapore? Why not let Ohmyhome take care of home finding with our Destination Services?

We analyse your needs, select possible residences that fit your budget, and help you negotiate the lease.

Consult an expert for free!

Send us your details and we’ll be in touch within 15 min (daily 9am to 9pm GMT +8).

or

Contact us your way

Talk to us today. Available daily 9 AM to 9 PM (GMT +8)

Subscribe Now

Get a notification every time we upload a new blog post.

Let us take care of everything, saving you time to focus on what matters to you most.

Planning to relocate to Singapore?

Let us take care of everything, saving you time to focus on what matters to you most.

Planning to relocate to Singapore?

SHARE WITH YOUR FRIENDS!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Consult an expert for free!

Send us your details and we’ll be in touch within 15 min (daily 9am to 9pm GMT +8).

or

Featured Blogs

Highlighting unique property views for every Singaporean

get an agent

Sell with an Agent

Dedicated experts at your service

Documentation Services

Leave the paperwork to us

do it yourself

Prefer to do-it-yourself?

Check out how our platform can help

Post a Listing for Free

Download the app and connect with buyers

RESOURCES

Ohmyhome E-Valuation

Know the value of your property in seconds!

Calculate Seller’s Stamp Duty

Find the amount payable when selling

How to Sell an HDB

A step-by-step guide to selling HDB

How to Sell my Private Property

A step-by-step guide to selling condo/landed

OHMYHOME E-VALUATION