Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you know to add the suffix -ish to the end of a word to give a general idea of something?

Today we’ll talk about this and we’ll start with a couple of sample sentences.

Here they are:

  • I have to head to the airport around 3-ish to make my flight!
  • Let’s meet up for coffee tomorrow. Do you want to say around 10-ish?

What does “ish” mean?

Is that even a real word?

Does that even make sense?

What you mean by this phrase is that you intend to leave or meet up somewhere around that time.

It may be a few minutes before or a couple of minutes after.

Adding this to the end of a time makes it a bit more casual and keeps it a bit loose.

This is probably very confusing to you when you see it, because this isn’t a word.

Therefore it’s unclear as to what exactly this means.

This sort of thing happens more than you might think though, so mastering this sort of slang can really help a lot.

So how can you use something like this and do so correctly?

How can you feel normal inserting something like this into conversation?

This is what you’re going to learn in today’s episode.

As you know by now, going through examples always helps to drive the point home.

Understanding how other people view this can help you to gain some clarity.


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Here’s a letter that may ask the same sort of questions that you have from a student:

Hi Lindsay, and hi Jessica and Michelle!
I  hear a lot in TV shows or in movies people adding the suffix “-ish” at the end of words. I think I know what it means: for example, if I say “I’m ready-ish”, it means that I’m almost ready or that I’m not really ready. Or if I say “I’ll arrive at 5-ish”, it means that I’ll arrive around 5.

I tried to use it in every day situations, but I didn’t really feel that it connected me with people.

So, I was just wondering: is it common to use and should it be used?



Great question!

See you aren’t alone in wondering about this situation.

Adding a suffix to a word like that can be confusing and you want to be sure that you understand it well.

First of all, it’s so great to go for trying to use a pattern that is so natural and so in style.

When you can really listen to natives using phrases like this then you can pick up on a lot of cues.

You can listen to conversations or even look at elements of pop culture to see these examples of work.

When you start to see enough of these in daily examples, then you can begin to understand how to use it yourself.


Here is a pop culture example:

So there’s a show on right now called “Blackish”.

In the very title of the show you see this phrase used because it’s that common and widespread.

If you look at an official write up on the show it says that this show approaches the life of an African American family in the US.

It speaks to how the show lightly highlights heavier topics like racism but with a different angle.

The topics are not very heavy, but  the show addresses  not only the racism that the Johnsons face as an upper-middle class African-American family, but also includes the racism African Americans from a variety of backgrounds face in America.

The “Pilot” episode starts off the series by introducing Dre’s fear that his kids are too assimilated to their primarily white surroundings and are losing their black culture.

The episode also addresses the racism African Americans face in the workplace when Dre gets excited for a promotion at his advertising agency, which turns out to be for Senior Vice President of the Urban Division.

In response, Dre questions, “Did they just put me in charge of black stuff?” This episode raises the question of where the line is drawn so that you are not defined by your race but your culture still remains relevant.

It’s a lengthy example but you can see what the show is about. You can then come to understand So Black-ish- that title signals that the show is about issues where people are playing around with race and identity.

This all fits, the cast members all fit, into society.

It may be an unconventional or nontraditional way but somehow it works and comes together.


More examples:

So this -ish has always been used to mean “somewhat like” something or “more or less”.

It may not fit the typical description but it’s understood.

It’s something that you can relate to in a manner of speaking.

It’s always been common to say it about time:

A: what time will you be there?
B: Probably 7’ish- but don’t wait outside. I’ll come find you inside the restaurant.

Lately though it is much more used to express deeper things such as in the example of the show. 

It may be used to express your thoughts or the stance that you take on things in general.

Another possible definition is that it can be put at the end of a different kind of time marker- like

Here is an example of this:

A: So are you planning to make any big changes in your life?
B: Yeah I want to do something new – maybe move to CA.
A: oh yeah? When are you thinking of doing that?
B: Oh maybe next year- ish. Not sure exactly

Really you could add it to anything to emphasize approximate, a vague feeling, giving the sense of something, more or less, without coming straight out and making a strong definitive statement. 

It may help to give a ball park or make something a bit more casual in nature too.

It’s one of those slang words that is understood and you will see once you start using it.



Listen carefully for how a native uses a word or phrase like “ish”. If you keep listening for it long enough then you will hear it and pick up on when it’s appropriate. Try to mirror how natives use it and know that it’s okay if you’re not sure at first.

You may make some mistakes at first, but don’t give up on it.

Always try to make your language more fun and step outside of your comfort zone a bit. 

*pro tip- you could also add a gesture – wave your hand in a more or less gesture.

For example: “We are looking to move to the west coast in 2019-ish”

What questions do you have from today?

Please leave us your questions in the comments below.

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