mugging up

Indian English

Indian English comprises several dialects or varieties of English spoken primarily in India, and by first-generation members of the Indian diaspora. This dialect evolved during and after the British colonial rule of India. English is the co-official language of India, with about 90 million speakers, but with fewer than quarter of a million calling it a first language With the exception of some families which communicate primarily in English as well as members of the relatively small Anglo-Indian community (numbering less than half a million), speakers of Indian English have it as a second language, with an indigenous language such as Hindi as their native tongue.

Variations in the pronunciation of several phonemes are affected by the regional tongues (see Languages of India) across the Indian subcontinent. The greatest differences are between South Indian and North Indian varieties. Several idiomatic forms from Indian literary and vernacular language also have made their way into the Indian English. Despite this diversity, there is general homogeneity in syntax and vocabulary among varieties of Indian English.

Influences: British and American

The form of English that Indians (and other people of the subcontinent) are taught in schools is essentially British English. For most, it is desirable to emulate the brand of English that is linguistically known as Received Pronunciation or, more commonly, Television English. However, even during the time of British imperialism (before the creation of the separate states of Pakistan and Bangladesh), Indian English had established itself as an audibly distinct dialect with its own quirks and specific phrases. Indian spellings typically follow British conventions; however, American conventions are now increasingly being used.

After gaining independence in 1947, Indian English took on a divergent evolution; thus, many phrases that the British may consider antiquated are still popular in India. The legacy of the East India Company and its practices still prevails in all official correspondence in India. Official letters continue to include phrases such as "please do the needful," and "you will be intimated shortly". This difference in style, though, is not as marked as the difference between British and American English. Older British writers such as Thomas Hardy and P.G. Wodehouse, who made creative (and comical) use of now obsolete forms of colloquial English, are still popular in India. British writer, journalist, and wit Malcolm Muggeridge once joked that the last Englishman would be an Indian.

However, because of the growing influence of American culture in recent decades, American English has begun challenging traditional British English as the model for English in the Indian subcontinent. The proliferation of American Programming, especially through television and movies, and the increasing desire of Indians to attend colleges and universities in the United States, rather than in the United Kingdom, is leading to the spread of American English among Indian youth. American-English spellings are also widely prevalent in scientific and technical publications, while British-English spellings are used in other media. The economic and political influence of the U.S. often leads to heated debates as to whether British English or American English is the more practical dialect for emigrating Indians to adopt. It must be stressed, however, that British English retains its hold on the majority of Indians, particularly those of the older generation and the younger generation in smaller cities and towns.

Studies show that "the majority of the informants (70%) felt that RP (Received Pronunciation: BBC English; Standard English in Britain) would serve as the best model for Indian English, 10% thought General American English would be better, and 17% preferred the Indian variety of English.

Indian English literature

Spoken Indian English is often the butt of jokes by "educated" British-, American-, and Indian-English-speakers alike, as is evidenced by such characters as Peter Sellers' Indian party-goer in the movie "The Party" and the convenience-store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons; there is also no dearth of jokes among Indians 'riffing' the pronunciation and idiomatic inconsistencies of Indian English (see External Links at bottom).

However, in spite of banter regarding colloquial English, India has produced many notable writers in the English language, including Sri Aurobindo, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, the famous novelist R K Narayan, Ruskin Bond, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. More contemporary Indians, such as Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie, are acknowledged masters of English literary style. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a Kolkata-native, is a major figure in current literary theory notorious for her rigorous and, to some, incomprehensibly academic English prose. Indian-English writers and English writers of Indian origin—notably Booker Prize winners Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy; and Kiran Desai, Booker Prize shortlisted author Rohinton Mistry; Pulitzer Prize Winner Jhumpa Lahiri; and Nobel Prize winner V. S. Naipaul—have made creative use of more stereotypical Indian English through the characters in their works. It should be noted that while some of the novelists in this group often made use of Indian English in their dialogues, all of these aforementioned writers communicate in and write prose of standard English grammar.

"An Indian English Grammar"

The role of English within the complex multilingual society of India is far from straightforward: together with Hindi it is used across the country, but it can also be a speaker's first, second, or third language, and its features may depend heavily on their ethnicity. The grammar of Indian English has many distinguishing features, of which perhaps the best-known are the use of the present continuous tense, as in 'He is having very much of property', and the use of isn't it as a ubiquitous question tag: 'We are meeting tomorrow, isn't it?' The first example rejects another characteristic of the language, which is to include intrusive articles such as 'in' or 'of' in idiomatic phrases. Verbs are also used differently, with speakers often dropping a preposition or object altogether: 'I insisted immediate payment', while double possessives - 'our these prices' (instead of the British English 'these prices of ours') - are commonplace.

Formal British English is preferred over the layman's Indian English in educated Indian circles and higher Indian writing. Middle and upper-class Indians, especially those with greater and wider exposure to the West through books, electronic media (such as television or movies) and travel, tend to speak grammatically-standard English. English is an official language of central and some state governments in India. What is characterised as Indian English is not considered "correct usage" by either government-related institutions (such as offices and schools) or educated Indians who prize 'proper' English. Indian schools still teach grammar from (frequently older) British textbooks like Wren & Martin or J. C. Nesfield (1898): the grammar of higher British English is considered the only correct one. Efforts by the Oxford University Press to publish a dictionary of Indian English resulted in abject failure since customers in India preferred the 'proper' British dictionary.

The distinct evolution of regional variations in contemporary usage has led to terms such as Hinglish (Hindi + English), Kinglish(Kannada + English ) ,Telgish (Telugu + English) Tanglish (Tamil + English) and Minglish (Marathi + English). These terminologies are often referred to in a humorous way, but at times they also have a derogatory connotation, with each region or stratum of society having fun at the expense of others. Hinglish, Tanglish, Bonglish (Bengali + English) and other unnamed variations are particularly capitalised and made popular in the field of advertising. Here, the aim of reaching a large cross-section of society is fulfilled by such double-coding. There are thus many borrowed words from Indian languages that do find their way into popular writing, advertisements and newspapers, not to mention TV spots and shows.

Phonology of Indian English

Indian accents vary greatly from those close to a pure British (RP) to those leaning towards a more 'vernacular' (Indian language)-tinted speech.


Among the distinctive features of vowel-sounds of Indian English speakers are:


Among the most distinctive features of consonants in Indian English are:

  • Standard Hindi and most other vernaculars do not differentiate between /v/ (voiced labiodental fricative) and /w/ (voiced labiovelar approximant). Instead, most Indians use a frictionless labio-dental approximant [ʋ] for words with either sound, possibly in free variation with [v] and/or [w]. So wine and vine are homophones.
  • Because of the inability to pronounce [w] even in word middle positions, many Indians pronounce words such as as [flaː(r)] instead of [flaʊə(r)], and as [aː(r)] instead of [aʊə(r)].
  • The voiceless plosives are always unaspirated in Indian English, whereas in RP, General American and most other English accents they are aspirated in word-initial or stressed syllables. Thus "pin" is pronounced [pɪn] in Indian English but [pʰɪn] in most other accents. In native Indian languages (except Tamil), the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated plosives is phonemic, and the English stops are equated with the unaspirated rather than the aspirated phonemes of the local languages. The same is true of the voiceless postalveolar afficate /ʧ/.
  • The alveolar stops English /d/, /t/ are often retroflex [ɖ], [ʈ], especially in the South of India. In Indian languages there are two entirely distinct sets of coronal plosives: one dental and the other retroflex. To the Indian ears, the English alveolar plosives sound more retroflex than dental. In the Devanagari script of Hindi, all alveolar plosives of English are transcribed as their retroflex counterparts. One good reason for this is that unlike most other native Indian languages, Hindi does not have true retroflex plosives (Tiwari, [1955] 2001). The so-called retroflexes in Hindi are actually articulated as apical post-alveolar plosives, sometimes even with a tendency to come down to the alveolar region. So a Hindi speaker normally cannot distinguish the difference between their own apical post-alveolar plosives and English's alveolar plosives. However, languages such as Tamil have true retroflex plosives, wherein the articulation is done with the tongue curved upwards and backwards at the roof of the mouth. This also causes (in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) the /s/ preceding alveolar /t/ to allophonically change to ( /stɒp/ → ). Mostly in south India, some speakers allophonically further change the voiced retroflex plosive to voiced retroflex flap, and the nasal /n/ to a nasalized retroflex flap.
  • Many native languages of India (including Hindi) lack the voiced postalveolar fricative (/ʒ/). Typically, /z/ or /dʒ/ is substituted, e.g. treasure /trɛ.zəːr/, and in the south Indian variants, with /ʃ/ as in <"sh'"ore>, e.g. treasure /trɛ.ʃər/.
  • All major native languages of India lack the dental fricatives (/θ/ and /ð/; spelled with th). Usually, the aspirated voiceless dental plosive [t̪ʰ] is substituted for /θ/ and the unaspirated voiced dental plosive [d̪], or possibly the aspirated version [d̪ʱ]. is substituted for /ð/. For example, "thin" would be realized as [t̪ʰɪn] instead of /θɪn/.
  • South Indians tend to curl the tongue (retroflex accentuation) more for /l/ and /n/.
  • Most Indian languages (except Urdu variety) lack the voiced alveolar fricative /z/. While they do have its nearest equivalent: the unvoiced /s/, strangely, it is not used in substitution. Instead, /z/ is substituted with the voiced palatal affricate (or postalveolar) /dʒ/, just as with a Korean accent. This makes words such as and sound as [dʒiːro] and [roːdʒi:]. This replacement is equally true for Persian and Arabic loanwords into Hindi. The probable reason is the confusion created by the use of the devanagari grapheme < ज > (for /dʒ/) with a dot beneath it to represent the loaned /z/ (as < ज़ >). This is very common among the more uneducated people (dehāti or country-bumpkins) across India and is also reflective of their social status (as perceived by their accent).
  • Continuing the point above, most uneducated and rural people in India pronounce / f / as aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive [pʰ]. Again note that in Hindi (devanagari) the loaned / f / from Persian and Arabic is written by putting a dot beneath the grapheme for native [pʰ] < फ > : < फ़ >. This substitution is rarer than that for [z], and in fact in many Hindi-speaking areas /f/ is replacing /pʰ/ even in its native words.
  • Inability to pronounce certain (especially word-initial) consonant clusters by people of rural backgrounds. This is usually dealt with by epenthesis. e.g., school /is.kuːl/.
  • Sometimes, Indian speakers interchange /s/ and /z/, especially when plurals are being formed. Whereas in international varieties of English, [s] is used for pluralization of a word ending in a voiceless consonant, [z] for that ending in a voiced consonant or vowel, and [ɨz] for that ending in a sibilant.
  • Again, in dialects like Bhojpuri, all instances of /ʃ/ are spoken like [s], a phenomenon which is also apparent in their English. Exactly the opposite is seen for many Bengalis.
  • In case of the postalveolar affricates /tʃ/ /dʒ/, the native languages like Hindi have corresponding affricates articulated from the palatal region, rather than postalveolar, and they have more of a stop component than fricative; this is reflected in their English.
  • While retaining /ŋ/ in the final position, Indian speakers usually include the [g] after it. Hence /riŋ.iŋ/ → /riŋ.giŋg/ (ringing).
  • Syllabic /l/, /m/ and /n/ are usually replaced by the VC clusters [əl], [əm] and [ən] (as in button /buʈ.ʈən/), or if a high vowel precedes, by [il] (as in little /liʈ.ʈil/). Syllable nuclei in words with the spelling er (a schwa in RP and an r-colored schwa in GA) are also replaced VC clusters. e.g., meter, /miːtə(ɹ)/ → /miːʈər/.
  • Indian English uses clear [l] in all instances like Irish English whereas other varieties use clear [l] in syllable-initial positions and dark [l] (velarized-L) in coda and syllabic positions.

Spelling pronunciation

A number of distinctive features of Indian English are due to "the vagaries of English spelling". Most Indian languages have a very phonetic pronunciation with respect to their script, and unlike English, the spelling of a word is a highly reliable guide to its modern pronunciation.

  • In words where the digraph represents a voiced velar plosive (/g/) in other accents, some Indian English speakers supply a murmured version [gʱ], for example [gʱoːst]. No other accent of English admits this voiced aspiration.
  • Similarly, the digraph may be aspirated as [ʋʱ] or [wʱ], resulting in realizations such as [ʋʱɪʧ] found in no other English accent.
  • In unstressed syllables, native English varieties will mostly use the schwa while Indian English would use the spelling vowel, making sound as [sæ.ni.ti] instead of [sæ.nə.ti]. Similarly, and can be heard as [e.bʌv] and [e.go] instead of [ə.bʌv] and [ə.go].
  • English words ending in grapheme < a > almost always have the < a > being pronounced as schwa /ə/ in native varieties (exceptions include words such as ). But in Indian English, the ending < a > is pronounced as the long open central unrounded vowel /aː/ (as in ) instead of schwa. So, is pronounced as /ɪn.ɖɪ.aː/ instead of /ɪn.dɪ.ə/, and as /soː.faː/ instead of /soʊ.fə/.
  • The word "of" is usually pronounced with a /f/ instead of a /v/ as in most other accents.
  • Use of [d] instead of [t] for the "-ed" ending of the past tense after voiceless consonants, for example "developed" may be [dɛʋləpd] instead of RP /dɪvɛləpt/.
  • Use of [s] instead of [z] for the "-s" ending of the plural after voiced consonants, for example may be [dɒgs] instead of [dɒgz].
  • Pronunciation of as [hauz] in both the noun and the verb, instead of [haus] as noun and [hauz] as verb.
  • The digraph is pronounced as [tz] or [tdʒ] instead of [ts] (voicing may be assimilated in the stop too), making sound like [svit.zər.lænd] instead of [swit.səɺ.lənd].
  • In RP, /r/ occurs only before a vowel. But many speakers of Indian English use /r/ in almost all positions in words as dictated by the spellings. The allophone used is a mild trill or a tap. Indian speakers do not typically use the retroflex approximant /ɻ/ for , which is common for American English speakers.
  • All consonants are distinctly doubled (lengthened) in General Indian English wherever the spelling suggests so. e.g., /dril.liŋg/.
  • is pronounced as [heə(r)] (like in and ) instead of [hɪə(r)].
  • English pronunciation of the grapheme < i > varies from [ɪ] to [aɪ] depending upon the dialect or accent. Indian English will invariably use the British dialect for it. Thus, would be pronounced as [tɛn.saɪl] like the British, rather than [tɛn.sɪl] like the American; would be pronounced as [æn.ti] like the British, rather than [æn.taɪ] like American.
  • English words borrowed from French are often given a French-influenced pronunciation, but in India, such words are sometimes pronounced according to the rules of English pronunciation. e.g., as [ɛn.ʈriː] instead of [ɑn.t̪reː].

Supra-segmental features

Any of the native varieties of English is a stress-timed language, and word stress is an important feature of Received Pronunciation. Indian native languages are actually syllable-timed languages, like Latin and French. Indian-English speakers usually speak with a syllabic rhythm. Further, in some Indian languages, stress is associated with a low pitch, whereas in most English dialects, stressed syllables are generally pronounced with a higher pitch. Thus, when Indian speakers speak, they appear to put the stress accents at the wrong syllables, or accentuate all the syllables of a long English word. The Indian accent is a "sing-song" accent, a feature seen in a few English dialects in Britain, such as Scouse and Welsh English.

Reference: Varshney, R.L., "An Introductory Textbook of Linguistics and Phonetics", 15th Ed. (2005), Student Store, Bareilly.

Grammar, idioms and usage in Indian English

Grammar tweaks

John Lawler of the University of Michigan observes the following anomalies in the grammar of Indian English:

  • The progressive tense in stative verbs: I am understanding it. She is knowing the answer.; an influence of traditional Hindi grammar, it is more common in northern states. Also, "i am working at Oracle" instead of "I work at Oracle".
  • Variations in noun number and determiners: He performed many charities. She loves to pull your legs.
  • Prepositions: pay attention on, discuss about, convey him my greetings. Most prepositions of English are direct mental translations of the approximate postpositions of Hindi, but the Hindi-speakers fail to note that there isn't always a one-to-one correspondence.
  • Tag questions: The use of "isn't it?" and "no?" as general question tags, as in You're going, isn't it? instead of You're going, aren't you?, and He's here, no? ('na' often replaces 'no': another influence of languages like Hindi, this time colloquial, common all across the North, West, and East--the South replaces it with the 'ah' sound, as in Ready, ah?, an influence of colloquial Tamil and Kannada.)
  • Word order: They're late always (instead of "They are always late"). My friends are all waiting (instead of "All my friends are waiting")
  • Yes and no agreeing to the form of a question, not just its content A: You didn't come on the bus? B: Yes, I didn't."
  • Use of the indefinite article a before words starting with vowels (usually a slip of the tongue).

In addition to Lawler's observations, other unique patterns are also standard and will frequently be encountered in Indian English:

  • The past perfect tense used in verbs where International English speakers would use the past simple. I had gone for I went.
  • Use of would instead of will as in "I would be going to New York this weekend".
  • Use of do the needful as in "do whatever needs to be done" (particularly uncanny is the phrase "please do the needful", to mean "Could you help me with this?")
  • Use of the words but or only as intensifiers such as in: "I was just joking but." or "It was she only who cooked this rice." Or even "I didn't go only" to mean "I didn't end up going after all." (Influenced by Hindi syntax.)
  • People from South Indian state mainly Karnataka have the habbit of adding "U" to all english words when speaking Kannada. Eg.LeftU for left , BusU for Bus.
  • Anglicisation of Indian words especially in Chennai by adding "ify" to a local Tamil word.
  • Use of yaar, machaa, abey, arey in an English conversation between Indians, mainly by people of native Hindi-speaking origin; 'ra', 'da', 'machaa' is more frequently used in the South.
  • Use of the word ki (Hindi and Marathi) to mean, loosely, that, such as in "What I mean is ki we should adopt this plan instead." (Seen mainly in North and West India.)
  • Idiomatic English for quantification in use of preposition "of", as in "There is so much of happiness in being honest."
  • Use of the plural ladies for a single lady or a woman of respect, as in "There was a ladies at the phone."
  • Use of "open" and "close" instead of switch/turn on/off, as in "Open the air conditioner" instead of "Turn on the air conditioner", and "Open your shirt" for "Take off your shirt." This construction is also found in Quebec English and also among Arab speakers of English etc.
  • Use of "hope" where there is no implication of desire but merely expectation: "We don't want rain today but I hope it will rain." (Used mainly by people from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu)
  • Use of "off it" and "on it" instead of "switch it off" and "switch it on."
  • Use of "current went" and "current came" (also, "light went" and "light came") for "The power went out" and "The power came back"
  • Use of "y'all" for "you all" or "all of you", as used in Southern American English, especially by Anglo-Indians.
  • Swapping around the meanings of "slow" and "soft" as in "I shall speak slower for you" (actually means I will speak softly) or "make the fan softer" (actually means make the fan go slower/ reduce its speed)
  • Creation of rhyming double-words to denote generality of idea or act, a 'totality' of the word's denotation, as in "No more ice-cream-fice-cream for you!", "Let's go have some chai-vai (tea, "tea and stuff")." or "There's a lot of this fighting-witing going on in the neighborhood." (Prevalent mainly in Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking states.)
  • Use of "baazi"/"baaji" or "-giri" for the same purpose, as in "business-baazi" or "cheating-giri." (Also prevalent mainly in Hindi-speaking states.)
  • Use of word "wallah" to denote occupation or 'doing of/involvement in doing' something, as in "The taxi-wallah overcharged me.", "The grocery-wallah sells fresh fruit." or "He's a real music-wallah: his CD collection is huge."
  • Use of the word maane (Bengali) , "Yani" (Urdu) and matlab (Hindi/Urdu) to mean, loosely, "meaning" ("What I mean is..."), as in "The problem with your idea, maane, what I feel is missing, is ki it does not address the problem of overstaffing." or "Your explanation, matlab, your feeble attempt at one, was sorely lacking in cohesiveness."
  • Overuse of the words "Generally"/"Actually"/"Obviously"/"Basically" in the beginning of a sentence.e.g "Actually I am not feeling well."
  • Use of the word "since" instead of "for" in conjunction with periods of time, as in "I have been working since four years" instead of "I have been working for four years" or "I have been working since four years ago". This usage is more common among speakers of North Indian languages such as Hindi where the words for both "since" and "for" are the same.
  • Confusion, especially among North Indians, between the use of till and since, as in "Till you haven't finished your homework, you will not get dinner." Till and until are also used for as long as as in "I will never forget that until I am alive." These are directly traceable to Hindi grammar.
  • Use of the word "gift" as a verb : You are gifting me a new cell phone?
  • Use of "I can able to cook" instead of "I can cook" - a widespread grammatical error.
  • Use of "Can you drop me?" and "We will drop her first" instead of "Can you drop me off?" and "We will drop her off first"
  • Use of "throw it" instead of "throw it out"
  • Use of "wish her" instead of "wish her a happy birthday"
  • Use of "meet" or "met" to refer to spending time with someone as opposed to a first-time acquaintanceship: "i met my friend last night."
  • Omission of the definite article: e.g. "Let's go to city" instead of "Let's go to the city"
  • Usage of "out of hundred" instead of per cent: "He got hundred out of hundred" instead of "He got a hundred" or "He got one hundred per cent".
  • Pronunciation of "h" as "hech" instead of "eych" in South India.
  • Use of the Latin word "cum", meaning "with", as in "Welcome to the gymnasium cum swimming pool building." This was common in the past in British English.
  • In South India, phrases such as "that and all", or "this and all" are used roughly to convey the meaning "all of that (stuff)" or "regarding that". e.g: A: "Can I pay you back later? I don't have my wallet." B: "That and all I don't know. I need the money now."
  • Use of "the same" instead of "it", as in "I heard that you have written a document on .... Could you send me the same?" (this again used to be standard British English but now appears old-fashioned).

  • Use of "right?", a translation of Hindi kya, at the end of a sentence. Kya is also encountered in Indian English.
  • Skipping of verbs, as used in Hindi in the beginning of the sentence as in "What I did?", instead of "What did I do?"
  • Use of the plural form of the word stuff to refer to almost anything, as in "other stuffs".
  • Use of "told" instead of "said". An example would be "Ravi told he is going home" instead of "Ravi said he is going home" or "Ravi told me he is going home". This error is more prevalent in south india.
  • Saying "native" instead of "native place" or "home town". Example: I am going to my native tomorrow.
  • An extra "got". Example: "The job got completed" instead of "The job has completed'"

Idioms and popular words/phrases

  • First-class - also pronounced "fus-class" or slurred together; indicates high-quality material, used to describe many things - lodging, cars, food, drink, people.
  • boy/girl - unmarried persons of any age. Matrimonial ads might describe the candidate as a 'boy, age 28 yrs'. The words 'man' and 'woman' are thought to imply lack of virginity and are thus particularly inappropriate in matrimonial ads unless the candidate is divorced.
  • B.A. (fail) - used in matrimonial ads to describe someone who did not pass the final examinations but was admitted to college and did take college classes, as opposed to someone who did not go to college. 'Higher Secondary (fail)' and 'M.A. (fail)' are similar.
  • Condoled - as in 'The railway minister condoled the families of those killed in the accident'.
  • Gone for a six or Taken a six - to mean something got ruined. (Origins linked to game of Cricket)
  • Eve-teasing - 'Sexual harassment'

  • Pre-cap - 'like re-cap at beginning of serial TV show, a pre-cap at the end previewing the next one'
  • Convented - 'A girl educated well in Christian convent-style school'
  • I got a firing/I was fired by him - 'I got yelled at by him'
  • Sharma sir is not here - same as Sharma-ji is not here, a respectful address. No knighthood suffix.
  • I will make a move now - means 'I'm leaving', not 'making a move on someone', or anything related to chess.
  • Where are you put up? means 'Where do you live'?. Heard often in S.India.
  • Where do you stay? is the same as 'Where do you live?' or 'Where's your house?'
  • Cheap and best means good quality at a low price - a great deal
  • I don't take meat/milk/whatever - 'I don't eat meat/ drink milk' etc
  • It is worst - 'It is really bad or of very poor quality'.
  • She is innocently divorced or divorced (innocent)- not the party at fault, or the marriage was not consummated..
  • Wheatish complexion - Seen in matrimonial ads. Means 'not dark skinned, tending toward light'
  • "Your good name please?" to mean "What is your full name?" is a carryover from the Hindi expression "Shubh-naam" (literally meaning "auspicious name") or the Urdu "ism-e shariif" (meaning "noble name"). This is similar to the way Japanese refer to the other person's name with an honorific "O-" prefix, as in "O-namae" instead of the simple "namae" when referring to their own name. Such a questioner wants to know the person's formal or legal given name, as opposed to the pet name s/he would be called by close friends and family.
  • "Out of station" to mean "out of town". This phrase has its origins in the posting of army officers to particular 'stations' during the days of the East India Company.
  • "Join duty" to mean "reporting to work for the first time". "Rejoin duty" is to come back to work after a vacation.
  • "Hello, What do you want?": used by some when answering a phone call, not perceived as impolite by most Indians
  • "Tell me": used when answering the phone, meaning "How can I help you?"
  • "send it across" instead of "send it over", as in "send the bill across to me" instead of "send the bill over to me".
  • "order for food" instead of "order food", as in "Let's order for sandwiches".
  • "What a nonsense/silly you are!" or "Don't be doing such nonsense any more.": occasional - idiomatic use of nonsense/silly as nouns (although this use of nonsense is not uncommon in British English).
  • "pass out" is meant to graduate, as in "I passed out of the university in 1995."
  • "go for a toss" is meant to go haywire or to flop, as in "my plans went for a toss when it started raining heavily." Another cricket analogy.
  • "funny" is meant to replace not only "odd"/"strange" but "rude"/"precocious"/"impolite" as well. "That man was acting really funny with me, so I gave him a piece of my mind"
  • "on the anvil" is used often in the Indian press to mean something is about to appear or happen. For example, a headline might read "New roads on the anvil".
  • "tight slap" to mean "hard slap".
  • I have some doubts - 'I have some questions'
  • Timepass - 'Doing something for leisure but with no intention or target/satisfaction' For example, "Hows the movie?" reply - "Just timepass man... nothing great about it."
  • "maximum" is used where many other dialects of English would prefer "most."

Titles (of respect; formal)

  • Referring to elders, strangers or anyone meriting respect as "'jee'"/"'ji'" (Hindi: जी used as a suffix) as in "Please call a taxi for Gupta-ji" (North, West and East India)
  • Use of prefixes "Shree"/"Shri" (Devanagari: श्री meaning Mister) or "Shreemati"/"Shrimati" (Devanagari: श्रीमती meaning Ms/Mrs): Shri Ravi Shankar or Shreemati Das Gupta.
  • As with Shree/Shreemati, use of suffixes "Saahib/Sāhab" (Mr) and "Begum" (Mrs)(Urdu) as in "Welcome to India, Smith-saahib." or "Begum Sahib would like some tea."
  • Use of "Mr" and "Mrs" as common nouns for wife/husband. For example, "Jyoti's Mr stopped by yesterday" or "My Mrs is not feeling well".
  • Use of "Ms" (also Mr, Mrs) with first name. For example, Swathi Ashok Kumar might be addressed as "Ms Swathi" instead of "Ms Kumar". This is logical and perhaps the only possible correct usage in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, where most people don't use a surname.
  • Use of the English words 'uncle' and 'aunty' as suffixes when addressing people such as distant relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, even total strangers (like shopkeepers) who are significantly older than oneself. E.g., "Hello, Swathi aunty!" In fact, in Indian culture, children or teenagers addressing their friend's parents as Mr Patel or Mrs Patel (etc.) is considered unacceptable, perhaps even offensive—a substitution of Sir/Ma'am is also not suitable except for teachers. On the contrary, if a person is really one's uncle or aunt, he/she will usually not be addressed as "uncle"/"auntie", but with the name of the relation in the vernacular Indian language, even while conversing in English. For example, if a woman is one's mother's sister, she would not be addressed (by a Hindi speaker) as "auntie" but as Mausi (Hindi: मौसी) (by a Kannada speaker as Chikkamma" Kannada: ಅತ್ತೆ). It is interesting to observe that calling one's friends' parents auntie and uncle was also very common in Great Britain in the 1960s and 70s but is much rarer today.
  • Use of Respected Sir while starting a formal letter instead of Dear Sir. Again, such letters are ended with non-standard greetings, such as "Yours respectfully", or "Yours obediently", rather than the standard "Yours sincerely/faithfully/truly".
  • Use of "Baba" ('father' in its original sense, but colloquially meaning 'buddy') while referring to any person, such as "No Baba, just try and understand, I cannot come today".
  • In lengthy texts, such as newspaper articles, a person is referred to with his name, position, department and company without prepositions and often without the first name spelled out, leaving just the initial: "D. Singh, manager, department function ("tech sales"), company name". In South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, where surnames are not used, the initial stands for one's father's first name, e.g., in M. Karthik, the initial M could stand for Mani, Karthik's father's first name.
  • the phrase of 'the concerned person' is widely used in oral Indian English.
  • 'A child was born of wed lock' might mean the opposite in India, that the child's parents were NOT married.

Interjections and casual references

  • Casual use of words yaar (Hindi: यार meaning - friend, buddy, dude, man, mate), bhai (Hindi: भाई meaning - brother) and bhaiyya (Hindi: भइया meaning - elder brother) much as with the American English 'man' or 'dude', as in " Arey! C'mon, yaar! Don't be such a killjoy!", "Long time no see, bhai." or "Ay, bhaiyya! Over here!" Yaar is the equivalent of mate in Australian and British English. The word boss is also sometimes used in this way, among friends but also to male strangers, as in "How much to go to the train station, boss?", or "Good to see you, boss."
  • Informal and sometimes coarse assignations of familial relationships to friends. For example, alliyan in Kerala, machan in Chennai, mama in Hyderabad literally meaning uncle and sala (Hindi: साला) in Mumbai literally mean brother-in-law, but are informally used by the youth to refer to each other. Targeted at a stranger, such words may take a derogatory meaning (like "sleeping with your sister").
  • Use of interjections Arey!(Hindi: अरे) and acchha! (Hindi: अच्छा) to express a wide range of emotions, usually positive though occasionally not, as in "Arey! What a good job you did!", "Accha, so that's your plan." or "Arey, what bad luck, yaar!"
  • Use of the word "chal" (Hindi: चल - Imperative of the verb "to walk") to mean the interjection "Ok", as in "Chal, I gotta go now" at the end of a phone call
  • Use of T-K in place of O.K. when answering a question, as in "Would you like to come to the movie?" "T-K, I'll meet you there later." (Hindi: ठीक है Transliteration: Theek Hai, literally meaning "fine is", meaning "okay"). T-K is a anglophonic homophone of the Hindi phrase "Theek hai" similar to the French "Ça va" similar to the English phrase "Alright then."
  • Use of oof! (Hindi: ऊफ़ - an interjection in Hindi) to show distress or frustration, as in "Oof! The baby's crying again!"
  • Along with "oof!", there is also "off-oaf!" [of.fof] which is in a more whining voice which kind of means "oh, no!". Not many Indians will say this, but it is used widely in Hindi movies or soap operas. The South Indian equivalent is "Aiyo!" [əiː.jo],(Kannada: ಐಯ್ಯೊ) expanded to "Aiyaiyo!"(Kannada: ಐಐಯೊ) in proportion to the provocation. The latter phrase is the trademark of the South Indian, as caricatured in Hindi movies.
  • Use of "Wah" (Hindi: वाह) to express admiration, especially in musical settings, as in "Wah! Wah! You play the sitar so well!"
  • Use of "just" and "simply" in a seemingly arbitrary manner in southern India, especially Kerala. e.g. Q:"Why did you do it?" A:"Simply!" or "Just I was telling to [sic] him.
  • "Lady's finger" means "Okra" (as in some other English-speaking countries). "Brinjal" or "Bai-ngan" (Hindi: बेंगन) means eggplant or aubergine.
  • "Hill Station" means mountain resort.
  • "Hotel" means "restaurant" (as well as specifically "big hotel") in India: "I ate in the hotel". "Lodge" is used to refer to small hotels. Sometimes "Lodge" refers to a place where you stay (in rooms) and "Hotel" refers to a place where you eat.
  • "stepney" or "stepaney" refers to a car's spare tyre. It is also used to refer to a mistress (i.e., a "spare" wife!)
  • "specs" means spectacles or glasses (as in colloquial UK English).
  • "cent per cent" means "100 per cent" as in "He got cent per cent in maths."
  • "centum" is also frequently used to refer to 100.
  • Overuse of the word "Please" as an interjection, often over-stressing the vowel. This could stem from "please" being implied within the verb conjugation in Hindi, causing speakers to overcompensate for its absence in English.
  • Use of the verb "sit" in place of "located" e.g. "Where are you sitting?" for "Where are you located? (for one's location in a school or office but not home)"
  • Use of "chumma chumma" (Tamil: சும்ம means simply) at the beginning of a sentence. (eg. chumma chumma dont talk)
  • Unnecessary repetition of a word to stress on the general idea. Used mostly with words like Yes No Right Ok etc. (eg. A: Did you finish reading the book ? B: Yes yes !! ) It is generally accompanied by an emphatic shake of the head.

Anomalous usage

  • "Kindly" used to mean "please": "Kindly disregard the previous message".
  • "Paining" used when "hurting" would be more common in Standard American and British: "My head is paining."
  • "Cover" to mean envelope or shopping bag in South India. For example, "Put the documents in a cover and post it", and "Put the vegetables in a separate cover". In Western India, especially Maharashtra, a shopping bag is called as a `Carry Bag'.
  • "To fire" used to mean "given an oral (not written) dressing down by a superior" rather than "sacked" or "dismissed." Indian: I got fired today at the office. American: I got chewed out today at the office.
  • "Today morning" (afternoon, evening, etc.) instead of "this morning." ("I met with him today morning."). Similarly, "yesterday night" instead of "last night".
  • "Pattice" is used for a singular vegetable /Corn patty or plural Corn patties.
  • The verb "revert" used to mean "reply to" and the noun to mean a "reply" ("Why have you not reverted my letter?" meaning "Why have you not replied to my letter?")
  • The word "marriage" used to mean "wedding." ("I am attending my cousin's marriage next month.")
  • The word "holiday" used to mean any day on which a person is not at work, including official holidays, vacations, sick leave, weekends, etc. ("Sunday is my holiday.")
  • Treatment of the phrase "I don't think so" as a unit, as in "I don't think so I can do that" instead of "I don't think I can do that."
  • The word non-veg (short for non-vegetarian) is used to mean food which contains flesh of any mammal, fish, bird, shellfish, etc or even eggs. Fish, seafood, and eggs are not treated as categories separate from "meat," especially when the question of vegetarianism is at issue (milk and its products are always considered vegetarian). E.g., "We are having non-veg today for dinner", whereas the native varieties of English would have: "We are having meat today for dinner". This Indian usage with eggs is non-uniform, because many Indians have started considering eggs as vegetarian due to the fact that with modern technology they are unfertilized and unable to hatch into chicks.
  • The word "mutton" is used to mean goat meat instead of sheep meat (and sometimes in a broader, euphemistic sense to mean any red meat, i.e., not poultry or fish).
  • The word "hero" is used to mean a male protagonist in a story, especially in a motion picture. The protagonist need not have any specifically heroic characteristics. More significantly, "hero" is used to mean a movie actor who is often cast in the role of the protagonist. Thus, "Look at Vik; he looks like a hero," meaning "he is as handsome as a movie star."
  • "Music director" is used to mean a music composer for movies.
  • The word "dialogue" means "a line of dialogue" in a movie. ("That was a great dialogue!" means "That was a great line!") "Dialogues" is used to mean "screenplay." In motion picture credits, the person who might in other countries be credited as the screenwriter in India is often credited with the term "dialogues." (Note the usage of British spelling).
  • The verb "repair" in southern India is used as a noun for a broken object as in, "The TV became repair." The same word is used for saying when the broken object is fixed: "The TV is repaired and now it is working properly."
  • The word "stay" used for "live" or reside at": "Where do you stay?" meaning not "Where are you temporarily lodging" but "Where is your residence?" (though this is normal in Standard Scottish English)
  • The word "damn" used as an intensifier, especially a negative one, far more frequently and with far more emphatic effect, than in international English, as in "That was a damn good meal".
  • The word "healthy" to refer to fat people, in North India and in general as in "His build is on the healthy side" to refer to a positively overweight person. This is primarily because India used to have great food shortages and famines during early decades after independence, and a slim person would remind of someone malnourished and probably going to die, as compared to a fat person who would be seen as having enough food to eat.
  • The word "dress" (noun) is used to refer to clothes for men, women, and children alike: "She bought a new dress for her son", whereas in international varieties of English a dress is a women's outer clothing with a bodice and a skirt as a single garment. The usage of dress as clothes does exist in international varieties but only in very rare occasions and in relevant context., e.g. schooldress. Young girls in India invariably wear a dress, which is called a frock by the Indians.
  • The word "cloth" usually refers only to any clothes or fabrics that are not wearable, like "waste cloth": "Use that cloth for cleaning."
  • "Full Shirt or Full Arm Shirt" is used for "Full Sleeves" and "Half Shirt or Half Arm Shirt" for "Half Sleeves" or "Short Sleeves". Similarly full-pant means trousers and half-pant means shorts.
  • "Cloth" and "clothe" are used interchangeably.
  • "Shirtings and suitings" used for the process of making such garments and also to refer to shops specializing in men's formal/business wear.
  • saloon [sæ.'luːn] instead of salon, as in "I will visit the hair saloon."
  • "Bath" and "bathe" are also used interchangeably.
  • Usage of the word Mohammadans instead of proper Muslims by many Hindus. This is an example of hyperforeignism, i.e. since Mohammadan is a highly anglicized word, it is considered "more proper" term; in reality, most Muslims would consider it disrespectful. Similarly, many Indians would still call the Blacks as negro without knowing that in modern usage it is disrespectful.
  • Foreigner often means not just an alien in India, but any ethnic white Caucasian person (even if he or she has got an Indian citizenship). E.g., "Nina has such a fair complexion and blue eyes; she looks just like a foreigner".
  • Greetings like "Happy Birthday" are used even to say that "Today is my happy birthday". However, this usage is mostly restricted to children.
  • The use of "also" in place of "too" or "as well"; as in "I also need a blanket" instead of "I too need a blanket" or "He was late also" instead of "He was late as well"
  • Intensifying adjectives by doubling them. This is a common feature of most Indian languages. For example: "She has curly-curly hair"; "You are showing your hairy-hairy legs; "We went to different-different places in the city in search of a good hotel; "You will get used to the humidity slowly-slowly"; "Don't worry about small-small things" to mean very insignificant issues.
  • Use of "reduce" to mean "lose weight" as in "I need to reduce lot!!"
  • Use of "this side" and "that side" instead of "here" and "there." "Bring it this side." "We went that side."
  • Use of "engagement" to mean not just an agreement between two people to marry, but a formal, public ceremony (often accompanied by a party) where the engagement is formalized with a ring and/or other local rituals. Indians will not speak of a couple as being "engaged," until after the engagement ceremony has been performed. Similar to the use of term "marriage," a person may say "I am going to attend my cousin's engagement next month." Afterwards, the betrothed is referred to as one's "would-be" wife or husband. In this case, "would be" is used to mean "will be" in contrast with the standard and American and British connotation of "wants to be (but will not be)."
  • The word "marry" used to mean "arrange or organize a wedding for," as in "I will be marrying my daughter next month", meaning: "I will be hosting/organizing my daughter's wedding next month."
  • "Keep" is used to refer to a woman who is someone's mistress. For example, "She is his keep", and also "She is a kept woman".
  • "Graduation" used exclusively to mean completion of a bachelor's degree: "I did my graduation at Presidency College" ("I earned my bachelor's degree at Presidency College."), whereas in the United States it refers to completion of Highschool, Master's or PhD as well.
  • Word order following who, what, where, when, why, or how with clauses is anomalous. In standard American and British English, the following are correct

"Where are you going?"
"Tell me where you are going"
In Indian English, however, a speaker will tend to choose one or the other word order pattern and apply it universally, thus:
"Where are you going?" and "Tell me where are you going.", or
"Where you are going?" and "Tell me where you are going."

  • "Metro" to mean large city (i.e. 'metros such as Delhi and Chennai') This is a shortening of the term Metropolis. This can be confusing for Europeans, who tend to use the word to describe underground urban rail networks. However, following the popularity of the Delhi Metro, the word Metro now tends to be used to describe both the metropolis and the underground rail network.
  • Use of the word "shift" to indicate "move" (oneself with belongings to a different house or city), as in "When are you shifting?" (instead of "When are you moving?").
  • Use of "Sugar" to ask people if they are diabetic ("Do you have sugar?", instead of "Do you have diabetes?").
  • Use of "power" to ask people if they are wearing corrective glasses ("What is your power?").
  • Use of "blood pressure" or "BP" to refer particularly to high blood pressure, as in "I have BP!" to mean "I am suffering from high BP or hypertension".
  • Use of "off" as an emphatic. ("I did it off" to mean "I went ahead and did it", or "Do it off" to mean "Do it without hesitation".)
  • Dispose off (Dispose of).
  • Lifting the phone (picking up the phone).
  • Use of "doubt" to mean "a follow-up question", as in "I have a small doubt about this week's homework" or "Do you have time for a doubt?".
  • Use of "one another" instead of "one more" or "another"
  • "Yoghurt" is called as curd or Dahi (Hindi: दही) in Indian English, whereas in native varieties of English, curd is sour coagulated milk which is precursor to cheese.
  • Pronouncing words starting with the letter as if the [h] sound is muted, e.g. Heidi as [aɪ.ɖi] (mainly South Indian)
  • Pronouncing the word as [ɔn.ment] (mainly South Indian)
  • The use of 'why because' as a single word instead of 'because'.{not like the accepted usage "why? because"}

eg."These guys will not give us hike why-because they know we will jump out after it"

Words unique to or originating in Indian English (in formal usage)

Main articles: List of English words of Hindi origin, List of English words of Tamil origin, List of English words of Sanskrit origin, List of English words of Urdu origin, and List of English words of Malayalam origin

Indians frequently inject words from Indian languages, such as Marathi,Bengali, Kannada,Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Urdu into English. While the currency of such words usually remains restricted to Indians and other Indian subcontinentals, there are many which have been regularly entered into the Oxford English Dictionary as their popularity extended into worldwide mainstream English. Some of the more common examples are "jungle" (Hindi: जंगल), "bungalow" (Hindi: बंगला pronunciation: Bungla), "bandana", "pyjamas"; others were introduced via the transmission of Indian culture, examples of which are "mantra" (Devanagari: मंत्र), "karma" (Devanagari: कर्म), "avatar" (Devanagari: अवतार), "pundit" and "guru" (Devanagari: गुरु). The lead female character in the American pop sitcom "Dharma and Greg" has a Sanskrit name "Dharma" (interestingly, "dharma" (Devanagari: धर्मं) is masculine in Hindi and Sanskrit).

Words unique to (i.e. not generally well-known outside South Asia) and/or popular in India include those in the following by no means exhaustive list:

  • bunk orbunking is used (mostly by students) to mean skipping of classes for reasons such as the classes being boring,non completion of work, studying for upcoming exams,going to a cricket match /movie,etc.
  • batchmate or batch-mate (Not classmate, but a schoolmate of the same grade)
  • "eggitarian" for a person who is eats vegetarian food, milk and eggs but not meat. (See this blog)
  • compass for pencil box
  • cousin-brother (male first cousin) & cousin-sister (female first cousin); used conversely is one's own brother/sister (of one's parent, as opposed to uncle or aunt; English brother/sister): most Indians live in extended families and many do not differentiate even nominally between cousins and direct siblings.
  • Dicky/dickey the boot of a car
  • Double-confirm for re-confirm or just confirm.
  • eve teasing (catcalling - harassment of women)
  • foot overbridge (bridge meant for pedestrians)
  • godown (warehouse)
  • godman somewhat pejorative word for a person who claims to be divine or who claims to have supernatural powers
  • gully to mean a narrow lane or alley (from the Hindi word "gali" meaning the same).
  • Himalayan blunder (grave mistake)
  • mugging or mugging up (studying hard or memorising, and having nothing to do with street crime).
  • nose-screw or nose-ring (woman's nose ornament)
  • opticals (eyeglasses)
  • pass-out to graduate from college
  • to prepone (to advance, literally the opposite of 'postpone').

  • ragging for fagging(UK)/hazing(US).
  • rubber for eraser
  • In tension for being concerned or nervous
  • tiffin for lunch box
  • time pass or timepass to mean something that is good enough for killing time. For example, "The movie was not great, but timepass".
  • updation (used in out-sourcing to mean to update something, as in "I've completed the updation".)
  • upgradation (commonly used in business communication instead of 'upgrade')
  • uptil used for or "up until".
  • upto (a shortening of "up to")
  • villi used for villainess, especially in some parts of South India.
  • would-be (fiancé/fiancée)
  • co-brother indicates relationship between two men who married sisters, as in "He is my co-brother" (commonly used in South India)
  • Some Indians consider "baby" as applicable only to a female infant. A male infant would be called a "baba" [baːbaː] (in Hindi [i]-ending nouns are usually feminine and [a]-ending ones usually masculine.)
  • 'bla bla bla' to denote etc. or meaningless trivial conversation

The book Hobson-Jobson by Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, first published in 1886, gives a glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words.

Colloquial and slang words used in Indian English

The words below are not generally used in formal Indian English. These are mainly used by the younger generation and may not be used or understood by older English speakers in India.

  • arbit (a slang term and short for arbitrary. Can be used to mean "vague", "random" or "bad". e.g.: "What an arbit ending that movie had!" Used primarily by college students in the metros. It is pronounced either as "arbitt" or "arbid", usually with equal stress on both syllables)
  • buck (Rupee. This can be confusing for speakers of other varieties of English, for whom "buck" means only "dollar").).
  • funda short for fundamental. Refers to the background behind a concept - "I can't understand the funda of compactness!", "He explained the funda of Newton's Law of Cooling". Used almost exclusively by college students in large cities, esp. Delhi and Mumbai.
  • fundu or fundoo - great. Someone who has good fundas is fundu. 'Fundu grub' means great food. The word sometimes surfaces more publicly as in this ad for chips: 'Five fundu flavours', probably aimed at the young, college-going market
  • enthu, a short form for 'enthusiasm' or 'enthusiastic'. For example, 'He has a lot of enthu'.
  • despo, a short form for 'desperate'.
  • senti, a short form for 'sentimental'.
  • n - Many (He takes n troubles to stay neat).
  • time pass or timepass to mean something that is good enough for killing time. For example, "The movie was not great, but timepass".
  • "Deadly", "hi-fi", "sexy" are used in idiomatic ways as adjectives. Deadly means intense, "hi-fi" stylish or beyond the perception of the average person and "sexy" excellent or extremely cool. Examples are "That movie was deadly, yaar; what an action scene!", "Your shoes are hi-fi. Where'd you get them?" and "That's a sexy car, man!"
  • "Propose", to ask a person of the opposite sex if he/she is interested in him. Unlike Western usage, it does not imply marriage, instead it means asking someone out.
  • "Gone for a toss", to mean something got ruined.
  • ..freaking out - used (loosely) in place of "..having a good time", as in We are all going to the club tonight to freak out or it can also mean being worried about something, as in I am freaking out thinking about the exams

See also



  • Wells, J C Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press.

External links

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