Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you heard somebody say “that’s neat” in English before?

Is this confusing since you might associate “neat” with tidy or clean?

Have you found yourself wondering if this is another slang term that you aren’t used to hearing?

We’re going to look at when you might use the phrase “that’s neat”, what it actually means, and how it can replace other words.


When Neat Isn’t Just About Being Tidy

When you hear somebody say that something is “neat”, you can probably guess that in this context it’s not about being tidy.

When you hear somebody talk about something being neat, it’s usually to say that it’s cool or fun.

There are other ways to say this too, but saying that something is neat is quite common in English.


Today we have a great question from one of our longtime listeners and a student in our Connected Communicator course and the first Urban Immersion Adventure

I have a question about “That’s neat!”.

When I shared my latest news with my host family, he said: “that’s neat” with a smile. I have never heard it while I lived in the West Coast. Is this a cheesy phrase or just preference in some areas? I am wondering if it sounds weird when I use this phrase. However, the meaning sounds like “that’s great”. Could you give us some alternative ways to say this? Thank you!

Ai Shinozaki


Understanding The Word First

What is the literal meaning of “neat”?

Let’s start there and understand that being neat means that you are organized.

It may not necessarily mean clean specifically, but it can indicate that as part of a bigger picture.

The thing is that sometimes people can be clean but not neat.

Other people can be neat but not clean, so you can see that it can be a bit confusing and go one way or another.

Which are you?


Taking It Beyond The Definition and Moving To Conversation

The tricky part is that with this phrase we aren’t talking about the literal definition. Not at all!

So what does it mean when somebody says “that’s neat”?

In this context and within conversation, it means that’s cool, that’s great, that’s wonderful.

The strongest and most common definition means that’s interesting. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as amazing.

It’s a little less enthusiastic- you could interchange the two which we’ll show below.


Does Everyone Say This Phrase?

This is a great phrase to really pick apart because it shows that area of the country makes a big difference.

That means that not everybody says this phrase.

This is one of those phrases that tends to be regional, and so you might not hear it everywhere you go even within the United States.

Who says this phrase? Here’s the breakdown:

  • East coast
  • Women in particular those in their  50’s or 60’s – maybe who grew up in the 1950’s?
  • Upper middle class
  • Educated

Millenials really don’t say it to give you a point of reference.

Though it’s not limited only to the people referenced above, this is the common type of person who might say it.

Another example of a phrase like this that we don’t say anymore is “that’s swell.”

You might have heard this in the 1950’s such as in movies like “Dennis The Menace”.


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More Modern Day Alternatives

Since you are trying to use the right words to make connections, you likely want some good alternatives.

If you are searching for something to say that is more modern day than “that’s neat”, there are plenty of options.

Other things to say when you want to respond and show that you know just the right thing to say:

  • That’s fantastic
  • That’s pretty (cool, any word)- this shows restraint
  • That’s interesting
  • That sounds …(interesting, fantastic, great)
  • I like that
  • I find that… fascinating
  • Oh wow awesome
  • So cool
  • How wonderful, that’s wonderful



It’s good to keep your ears out for these new words like neat.

It doesn’t mean you have to add it to your vocabulary but it helps to understand its meaning.

Ai was living in Boston and she heard it, and this speaks to the value of immersion.

This is the kind of word you might pick up on if you join our Urban Immersion Adventure.

Knowing the definition and the way it can be communicated is an important distrinction.

Pay attention to who is saying certain words and what their age, gender, and background is.

You can tell if it’s fitting for your conversation or if another option may be better.

This is what fluency is all about–making great a CONNECTION and speaking as the natives do.


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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