Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

A huge part of succeeding as a leader in life in English or any other languages is anticipating people’s reactions and being prepared to respond.

The phrase “it doesn’t look like much” in English is one of the ways that you can communicate that something might not look great from the outside but it is actually wonderful.

Today we’re going to look at this phrase and others like it to show you how to read the group’s reaction if you are introducing them to a new place and put them at ease with this response or other phrases like it.

We have a great question from somebody who had this same phrase come up and wondered what it all meant.

Hi Lindsay and Michelle,

I listen to your podcast everyday. Learning a new language was quite stressful until I found you guys on the podcast. It has given me a huge motivation to listen to All Ears English, so I finally knuckle down to study English.

I started Italki, listening to NPR, reading some articles and watching children’s TV series. While I was watching Arthur the other day, I heard the phrase “look like much.” Although I know all three words, I don’t quite understand what it means. The sentence was, “You may not look like much, but he’s got me through some pretty tough times, like my first day of preschool.” Could you explain what it means in this context?

Many thanks,


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Using This Common Phrase The Right Way

As with a lot of things, it’s all about the tone of voice that you use as well.

Here are some phrases and different ways to say the phrase “look like much”:

  • Don’t/doesn’t look like much: Just the way you word this sounds a bit nicer. It’s helping to explain something and yet doesn’t come off as offensive at all.
  • May not look like much: This is a little less direct and therefore may be taken in a better way. Just having the word “may” makes a big difference in the delivery.

So the format would be (restaurant, house, etc.) don’t/doesn’t/may not LOOK LIKE MUCH, BUT (explain the positive points of it).

So what does this mean?

It’s not obviously wonderful, but behind the looks, it’s much better than what you would expect.

So in the example: , “He may not look like much, but he’s got me through some pretty tough times, like my first day of preschool.”

So this would mean even though this person doesn’t seem to be very helpful, they are extremely valuable.

It may have even been referring to an object, which would make more sense and make it much nicer.

How Would You Really Use This?

You can see the differences and which one may be taken better than another.

You can start to get a feel for how you would use this in conversation to a certain extent.

This is all about proving something is wonderful even though you may not expect it. It all about putting people’s minds at ease.

This is important for connection, as you can explain that you understand why someone would be skeptical, but they shouldn’t be.

So while something may not appear to be useful or valuable, you will find that it in fact is when you take a closer look.

Here are some more examples of how you might say this and use this phrase:

  • ”Here it is! It may not look like much, but the food here is amazing!”
  • ”These clothes don’t look like much, but they are actually really warm and comfortable.”

Different Ways To Say The Same Thing

There are other ways to say the same thing using different phrases.

You might not be familiar with them, and so practicing using them can be quite helpful.

If you feel like you want to say something similar using a different phrase, here are some other options.

  • Unassuming: This shows a certain sense of modesty and of somebody being humble. It’s as if to say you would never expect this, but here’s the truth and it’s a surprise. “He’s this unassuming little guy but he’s actually a professional wrestler!”
  • Never judge a book by its cover: This means that you shouldn’t just assume something after one quick look or interaction. It means that you should take the time to get to know something or somebody. “I didn’t think I would like this place because it’s run down, but I guess never judge a book by its cover”
  • Better than you’d expect: You might have expectations about something that are totally out of line. By taking your time to get to know something or somebody, it just might be better than you had it in your head. “I know the house looks a little dated on the outside but when you get in, it’s better than you’d expect!”
  • Unexpectedly good: You had no expectations that something would actually be as good as it is. So you are pleasantly surprised when you find that something is actually good, especially when you had no idea. “I wasn’t so sure about eating this quinoa salad, but it is actually unexpectedly good.”

All of these phrases are great to put people’s minds at ease and ask them to reserve judgement until they actually experience the thing that you are introducing them to.


These phrases are great for connection, and so they are important to understand and practice using. They are especially important if you are leading a group or taking on any kind of leadership role.

They say the speaker recognizes the thing they are talking about doesn’t look so great or doesn’t seem so great.

Yet they are using this phrase to instill confidence when others are skeptical.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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