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Can You Speak Singlish? Test Yourself With These Common Singaporean Expressions!

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As an expat, a great way to see if you’ve assimilated yourself well in Singapore is by testing your Singlish speak. Singaporean locals sure have a unique way of communicating, besides having to punctuate most of their sentences with a “lah”, “mah”, “lor” or “anot?”

If you know 8 out of 10 expressions, A+ for you! 6 out of 10—sorry, please work harder. 4 and below—we think it’s time you come out of your ivory cave and mix around with the locals a lot more!

Adapted from an article “11 Singlish Expressions That Only Make Sense To A Singaporean” by Cheryl Suah of TheSmartLocal, some expressions can be a tad crude, others cute and funny to boot. Start the test now and all the best!


Costs of living are rising. It’s getting so bad some have resorted to desparate ways of earning more. Selling backside is basically the new “selling kidneys”! While it does allude to prostitution, the Singaporeans (bless you!) have managed to make something crude sound quite funny. Sometimes, sarcasm is one’s best coping mechanism after all!

Example of expression in a sentence: If the GST raises to 10% and my salary doesn’t I really need go sell backside already!


You are selling unique quality services in the market for a good rate. Suddenly, some Joker comes into the picture and starts selling the same (if not better) services—for a fraction of the cost! There is no more healthy competition and Joker here has monopolized that ‘trade’.

Example of expression in a sentence: “Why you come here and spoil market? I still need to make a living!”


Funnily enough, many Singlish expressions all allude to money! When you’re broke and seem to have holes in your wallet, you’re considered “pok gai liao”. The “liao” is another one of those end words used to exaggerate your point even more (meaning, broke to the extreme)—a common Singaporean hyperbole inspired by the Hokkiens.

Example of expression in a sentence: “I can’t go to that expensive place to eat anymore. I pok gai liao!” 


Translated from Malay to English, the word literally means “cut queue”. To Singaporeans, “potong jalan” is an attached National Service man’s worst fear! It means to cut queue or commit the action of “cutting” a new road, and stealing someone else’s girlfriend.

Example of expression in a sentence: “The guy who potong jalan my girlfriend had better watch out, man!”


One of those expressions that sound like you’re singing a song, “siao ting tong” is a common phrase used in Singaporean primary schools. It’s used to refer to someone who is has gone crazy or have some screws loose upstairs

Example of expression in a sentence: “Why are you acting so strange? Siow ting tong already ah!”


Perhaps this phrase might be easier to get for expats—having similarity to the English idiom “happy as a lark”. It’s quite a direct poor translation though and breaks all grammar rules!

Example of expression in a sentence: “If I pass this exam happy like bird already!”


This expression is the equivalent of Americans’ ROTFL: Rolling On The Floor Laughing. It means something hilarious that will surely elicit laughter to the point of tears.

Example of expression in a sentence: “Come and watch this funny video. Confirm you chio ka peng!”


Okay, it’s not some skin condition that causes one’s bum to itch uncontrollably. Translated directly from Mandarin, it means “pigu yang” to describe someone who seemingly does things just to get punished, or someone who is itching to get his bum spanked!

Example of expression in a sentence: “My boy keeps getting into trouble, always itchy backside!”


Another one directly translated from Mandarin, this term expresses discontentment that one’s ability is being undermined. To expats, it may some seriously mumbo jumbo! But if you ever hear the expression used, knowing the meaning will quell all confusion.

Example of expression in a sentence: Don’t you remember how well I did in the past exam? Why you so see me no up one?


Singaporeans tend to be masters of hyperbole. In Hokkien, “jiak cao” means to “eat grass”. Meaning, one’s life is so miserable and poor that he has to eat grass just to survive.

Example of expression in a sentence: “Aiyo, pok gai liao. Where to find more money? I this week need jiak cao already.”

The 10 expressions given above are the tip of the iceberg in Singlish vocabulary—most of which were adapted from literal Chinese or Malay translations, and then sounded plain mangled in English! What other funny Singlish terms have you come across?

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