Singlish – there is more to it than just ‘lah’ and ‘lor’!


There are two things unique about Singlish, the English creole has loan words from hokkien, teochew and Malay used everyday. Then there are sentence constructions and words in  English such as fetch and drop used as the same world, influenced by Hokkien again.

Before we look at some phrases, let us see how the sentences are constructed with some examples:

Singlish : Why you never bring come?

Standard English alternative : Why didn’t you bring it?

Singlish : He take go already.
Standard English alternative : He has taken it with him.

Singlish : Why he anyhow do things?
Standard English alternative : Why does he do it this way? / Why doesn’t he do it properly?

Singlish : I cannot ownself do.
Standard English alternative : I cannot do it myself.

Singlish : I’ll take for my ownself.
Standard English alternative : I’ll take it myself. / I’ll help myself to it.

Singlish : Want to rain, want to rain, never rain.
Standard English alternative : It looked like it was going to rain, but it didn’t.

Singlish : You very clever to arrow people ah, ownself never do.
Standard English alternative : Why don’t you do it yourself, instead of passing the buck to others?

Singlish : Why you always like that one?
Standard English alternative : Why do you always react in such a way?

Singlish : You don’t anyhow say leh.
Standard English alternative : You mustn’t say baseless things. / You mustn’t make baseless accusations. / What you say has no basis in fact.

Singlish : I also can.
Standard English alternative : I can do that, too.

Singlish : He also never do his homework.
Standard English alternative : He didn’t do his homework, either./He hasn’t done his homework, either.
(“Also” & “too” are used for agreement on something positive, “either” is used for agreement on something negative; “never” means “did not ever”�it cannot be used to mean “didn’t”.)

Singlish : Who say one?
Standard English alternative : Who says so?

Singlish : Like that also want to see.
Standard English alternative : That’s no big deal. / There’s nothing much to see.

Singlish : Don’t worry, sure can one.
Standard English alternative : Don’t worry; it’ll work.

Singlish : So late already you still want to go ah?
Standard English alternative : It’s pretty late; are you sure you still want to go?

Singlish : Last time we got different lecturer so the syllabus not same mah.
Standard English alternative : We had a different lecturer previously, so the syllabus was not the same.

Singlish : How come nobody tell us this exam is open book one?
Standard English alternative : Why didn’t anybody tell us this is an open book exam?

Singlish : Don’t say I never tell you we got test tomorrow.
Standard English alternative : (You’d better take note) there is a test tomorrow.

Singlish : Our drawing so simple how to score?
Standard English alternative : How can we expect to get good marks with such a simple drawing?

Singlish : You sit this bus 96 and drop at the bus stop in front of the Com Centre.
Standard English alternative : Take bus 96 and alight at the bus stop in front of the Computer Centre.

Singlish : Can you please alight me at the Centrepoint taxi stand?
Standard English alternative : Could I alight at the Centrepoint taxi stand? / Could you please drop me off at centrepoint

Singlish : Every faculty on campus also got a canteen.
Standard English alternative : There’s a canteen in each faculty.

Singlish : Irregardless of whether the consumers like it or not, we must try to market this product.
Standard English alternative : Regardless of whether the consumers�

Singlish : This new lecturer whole day talk so cheem; I really catch no ball.
Standard English alternative : What this new lecturer says is always going over our heads; I just haven’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about.

Here are a few phrases that are going to be useful for your next trip to Singapore.

1. Bo Jio

What it means: Arguably the most overused words in Singapore, “Bo Jio” is amazingly applicable to almost every situation in life. A hokkien phrase which means never invite, your friends will probably say it to you if you fail!

2. Anything lor:

What it means: Anything lor, whatever lor. The typical response when you have no idea what you want, but you are just too shy or lazy to suggest something. You’re likely to reject the first few suggestions too, shame on you!

To make it #SoSingaporean, we add the Singlish word “lor” for the emphasis.

3. Guai Lan:

What it means: Literally meaning strange dick in Hokkien, “Guai Lan” usually refers to people who are difficult to deal with or are just plain annoying.

4. Wah LAU Eh: 

What it means: A hokkien phase which when translated stands for “My Father Eh“, “Wah Lau Eh” is an expression typically used to portray surprise or disappointment.

Similiar phrases: Wah Piang Eh, Wah Kao

5. What time already:

What it means: “几点了” or what time already is meant for that one friend who is never, ever on time for gatherings.
The Everyday Singaporean:
A: Eh bro, where are you?
B: On my way, reaching soon..
*30 Minutes Later*
A: EH BRO, WHERE YOU?
B: Reaching reaching!! 10 Mins!! What time already?.

6. Pai Seh

What it means: A hokkien phrase which means a feeling of embarrassment. “Pai seh” is used mainly as an apologetic response or a portrayal of the feeling of embarrassment.

7. Kao Pei Kao Bu (KPKB)

What it means: Meaning cry father, cry mother in hokkien, the crying indicates noise and “KPKB” is used for people who kicks up a big fuss about something. It can also be used in short form “Kao pei la” to scold someone who sprouts nonsense.

Student: eh, teacher , teacher he take my pencil.

Teacher: KPKB lah

8. CB

CB is also known as “Chio Bu”, a Hokkien phrase which means actually means buxom lady. In the Singaporean context however, it is the guys’ favourite phrase to describe the presence of an attractive girl.  (Note as mentioned in the comment, CB is also a contraction for a commonly used expletive, so I would avoid that!)

9. Siao 

What it means: Meaning crazy in hokkien. “Siao” is used as a reply to a crazy idea or proposition by someone, or to describe a crazy person.

10. Come I Clap For You

What it means: “Come I Clap for you” is a sarcastic response to anything in which you know a praise is due or expected but.. you just didn’t feel like being genuine about it.
The Everyday Singaporean: 
A: Eh bro you know what?
B: What?
A: Yesterday I managed to get the girl’s number after planning my approach for 4 weeks!B: Come I clap for you!

11.. Pang Seh

What it means: A hokkien term which basically means to abandon. “Pang Seh” is used to describe someone who habitually does not turn up for meetings or appointments, or who always gives excuses to not show up at the last moment.
A: Don’t pang seh me tomorrow aaa..

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