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A Quick Guide to Singlish

Updated on September 15, 2011

What is it really? Words that have a different meaning and sentences that do not seem to make sense....


It's basically a mixture of English with words borrowed from Hokkien, the Chinese dialect native to more than 75% of the Chinese in Singapore, and from Malay. It is unique to Singapore and Malaysia, the latter having some variations of its own. The most well-known instance of a word borrowed from Hokkien is 'kiasu', which means "frightened of losing out", and is used to indicate behaviour such as queuing overnight to obtain something. The most commonly borrowed word from Malay would be 'makan', which means" to eat".

To the untrained ear, Singlish sounds uncouth and can easily give the impression of "broken English" or "bad English". Thus, in an attempt to curb this rising problem of substandard English, the government went on an onslaught with "Speak Mandarin" and "Speak Good English" campaigns. As a result, Singlish is heard less often in formal settings. However, it can still be heard in coffee shops and eateries.


Singlish Phrases The construction of Singlish is unlike that of English, and takes a little getting used to. There is a tendency when speaking in Singlish sentences to add in a 'ah', 'lah', 'leh', 'meh', 'ma', and 'one', at the end of spoken sentences. The words 'meh' and 'ma' are used most commonly at the end of questions. A few examples are given below:

Can like that meh? - Is it possible to do it this way instead?

How come never show up? - Why didn't you/he/it show up?

Not good one lah. - This isn't good.

Tomorrow dun need bring camera. - You don't need to bring a camera tomorrow.

He not feel well, so he stay home sleep lor. - He's not feeling well, so he decided to stay home and sleep.

The Way They are Used Below are examples how some words are used in sentences, from remarks to questions:


Can - It can be done

Can hor? - It can be done right?

Can wat - It can be done... shouldn't you know this?"

Can anot? - Can it be done?

Can meh? - Are you sure it can be done?

Can leh - Can't you see that it can be done?

Can mah - See?! It can be done!


Chop already - The seat(s) has (have) already been reserved.

Chopped le - The seat(s) have already been reserved.

Got chop seat? - Have you reserved any seats?


This bus got air-con or not? - Is there air-conditioning on this bus? / Does this bus have air-conditioning?

Got question? - Any questions? / Is there a question? / Do you have a question?

These are but a few examples of how words are used in the Singlish context.


No matter the amount of effort put in to eradicate Singlish from the face of the earth, it looks like Singlish is here to stay. For a better understanding of Singlish, you can click on the wikipedia link.



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    • profile image

      I luv singlish 

      7 years ago

      I am from singapore and i think i can understand this slang better than other slangs of other countries this is easier

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      It seems every language has borrowed from another and thus created new words and meanings.

      fun hub regards Zsuzsy


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