10 Of The Most Common English Phrases You'll Learn Whilst Studying In The UK

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We always have a big, warm welcome for the international students moving to the UK to study and live in our luxury student accommodation.

You might have felt wary about moving abroad to study, and by no means is it a piece of cake, but sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet and take those bold steps towards a new life.

You might feel hit for six at first but then Bob’s your Uncle, all of a sudden everything will click into place, and you’ll feel right at home.

One of the strangest things about moving to a foreign country is the language.

You might be learning English for the first time when living in the UK or have a fairly good grasp of it from studying throughout your childhood.

Despite this, there are some quirky British sayings and different dialects that might take some time to get used to when you first arrive, so we’ve put together a list of some common English phrases that might confuse you when you first hear them!

1. “Bite the bullet”

bite the bullet

As you’ll find with many English phrases, this one originally came from the army and the navy, where it was meant that you would have to get on and do something that you didn’t necessarily want to do. This would be a task that was needed, but maybe unpleasant for you.

2. “Hit for Six”

hit for six

This English phrase comes from the traditional game of cricket, a score in the game where the batsman has hit the ball bowled at him with such power and force that it lifts into the sky, travels across the entire field and lands outside of the pitch boundaries without touching the floor, giving a score of 6 points.

In terms of phrasing, if someone says to you that they feel ‘hit for six’, it means that they are completely overwhelmed by something.

3. “Bob’s your uncle”

bob's your uncle

One of the strangest English phrases you’ll come across, as you are right to ask, “Who is Bob?”, this term originates from 1887 when the British Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil appointed his nephew as Minister for Ireland and subsequently the nephew was found to refer to the Prime Minister as ‘Uncle Bob’.

These days, it is used just as an expression to finish of an explanation or a set of directions. So you might ask someone how to login to a University computer and be told “do this, then that, you’re logged in, Bob’s your uncle!”.


4. By the skin of my teeth”

by the skin of my teeth

This is another one of the weird English phrases that you might come across when living in the UK. It means when you only just manage to complete something.

When you’re working on a project for uni and have a tight deadline to meet, if you finish it right at the last minute you could say “I just finished my essay by the skin of my teeth”.

The term originally is found in the King James Bible with the line: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”


5. “Canny”


For students moving to the northeast and Newcastle in particular, the accent and dialect might be a bit of a struggle at first.

There are a few things that Geordie’s say, and it’s good to understand as much as you can before you arrive.

It might look and sound like a completely new language actually, so we’ll give you an easy one to begin with.

If something is said to be ‘canny’, it just means that it is good, that you like it. Food can be canny, a walk can be canny, a drink can be canny, a person can be canny. Anything or anyone that you like.


6. “That’s sound/boss/belter la”

that's so boss belter la

For those students moving to Liverpool, be prepared to learn what sounds like a completely different language, especially if a Scouser has had a drink (much like the Geordie’s in Newcastle! – see above).

If you hear someone say that something is “sound”, “boss”, or “belter” it means that it is great. If they say to you “you’re boss la”, they’re just saying that they like you.


7. “Havnae a Scooby”

havnae a scooby

To repeat ourselves again, another city that you might be moving to as a student that has a tough accent and dialect to get your head around at first is Glasgow.

The Scottish accent is great once you get to know it, but as a student living in the city for the first time, it might be confusing, especially if you are a little lost and asking a stranger for directions.

If you ask for an address on the street and get a reply “I havnae a Scooby”, all it means is, that person doesn’t know how to help you. They don’t know the answer.


8. “Butter someone up”

butter someone up

You might discover that some fellow students talk up to your tutors to try and gain favour with them.

They might praise them all the time, flatter them and try to get onside and become a favourite student.

This could be referred to as ‘buttering someone up’. Apparently, this common English phrase actually originates in ancient India, where balls of butter were thrown at statues of gods when asking for a favour.


9. “Piece of cake”

piece of cake english phrases

If something is looked at as a piece of cake, for example, you might say that your latest coursework was a ‘piece of cake’, all it means is that something is easy.

We’d like to say it means you’re about to be given a big, delicious slice of cake to eat, but unfortunately this isn’t the case. The term originates from the 1870s when pieces of cake were given out as prizes in various competitions.


10. “Crying over spilt milk”

crying over spilt milk english phrases

The last of the common English phrases we’ve listed for those of you living in the UK for the first time is “there’s no point crying over spilt milk.” What is this milk and why has it been spilt? It refers to anything that has happened in the past and that you have no control over changing.

So if you are worried and anxious about a situation that has already taken place, you might be told that “there’s no use crying over spilt milk”, as it has already happened, and you should focus your energy on positive things that you can do moving forward.


We hope you enjoyed our introduction to English phrases! Of course, there are plenty more for you to learn, but I’m sure you’ll pick that up when you’re spending time with your new friends. After some easy mocktail inspiration? Click here for some recipes!