The English language has dozens of words for “friend”. These are slightly different depending where you are in the world, how close you are to a person and the context you’re using the word in. So how do you know which one to use?
Let’s start with the word mate. This is a very popular slang term in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and you would use it both to describe someone as your friend and to address someone in a friendly, informal way. For example:
“I’m going to the pub with some mates”
“He’s a mate of mine”
“Excuse me, mate, do you have the time?”
In Scotland, you’re also likely to hear the word pal used in much the same way.
You can also use the word “mate” to emphasise or strongly express an opinion/emotion, either if they are a friend or in friendly and informal context. For example:
“Have you been watching Game of Thrones?” “Mate! I love that programme!”
“Sorry if I’m a bit quiet, my cat died this morning.” “Ah, mate. I’m so sorry.”
Another word that’s used in a very similar way in Australia and the US, but less commonly in the UK, is buddy, or the plural: buddies. Again, you can use it to greet or address someone, or to describe your friends. It’s also used to mean “partner” in some situations. For example, a “study buddy” is someone you pair with to study together, to keep each other motivated. If you “buddy up” with someone, you partner with them to get a task done or work on a project together.
When you’re talking about a close group of friends that are all the same gender, English speakers from most countries will often call them the/my boys, guys or girls.
People from the UK and Ireland also describe groups of male friends as “lads”, and “guys” is sometimes also used when it’s a mixed group of men and women, although it’s more commonly used to mean men.
“I’m going to the football with the boys”
“I’m going out with my girls tonight”
“Are you seeing the guys later?”
“The lads are all going for dinner tonight”
Other slang terms that are commonly used in casual conversation to mean “friend” in many English-speaking countries include bro (short for “brother”) and fam (short for family, meaning someone you are close to).
In the US, you might also hear homey, and in Australia, cobber is sometimes used in the same way as mate, although it’s not as popular as it used to be!
When it comes to describing a best friend or very close group of (usually female) friends, in the UK, people sometimes shorten this to bezzie/bezzies or BFF (“Best Friend Forever”), although you’re more likely to see this written down than say this out loud. It’s also more of a jokey way to describe your best friends!
In England, there is a chance you might hear people use old-fashioned words for friend like chum, although they are usually saying it to be funny – very few people would use the word “chum” seriously.
However, you are more likely to hear people use chummy, for example “they’re very chummy these days”, which means that two people have become good friends. People also use this to describe a friendship or close relationship between people who shouldn’t be close. For example, “That politician is far too chummy with some newspaper owners”.
These are just some of many, many different words that are used to mean “friend” in English. But remember, slang is constantly evolving and new words for friend are invented all the time!
What’s your favourite slang word for friend? Let us know in the comments section below!