9 Popular Colloquial English Phrases in Nigeria

Published on: March 28, 2021 (Updated on: April 22, 2024)

Confused by colloquial language

If you have Nigerian friends or watch Nigerian movies, you might have heard Nigerians use English phrases in ways that might seem odd before. In this post, I will tell you 9 popular colloquial English phrases in Nigeria and their meanings. So next time you hear any of those phrases, don't look perplexed.

First, here is a brief note about the official language in Nigeria

What is the lingua franca in Nigeria?

Though there are several indigenous tribes and languages in Nigeria, the lingua franca in Nigeria is English. This is due to the fact that Nigeria was colonised by Great Britain. Nigeria has become an independent nation since 1960 but English language still remains the lingua franca in Nigeria.

There have been many arguments in support of a declaration of an indigenous language as the lingua franca in nigeria but that is yet to happen. One notable problem with adopting an indigenous language as the lingua franca is that there are several indigenous languages in Nigeria. The question then is thus, which of the languages or how many should be declared as the lingua franca?

What is colloquial language?

Colloquial language simply means a form of language that is quite popular in a particular place or region. Although the language is usually well understood by residents of such place or region, it is usually categorised as informal.

Do people use American or British English in Nigeria

As a result of Nigerian colonial history, British English is more prevalent in written English in Nigeria. For instance date is usually written in the following format 31/03/2021 as opposed to 03/31/2021 which would be the format in US English.

However in spoken english, it is not uncommon for some people to use American English expressions such as 'the both of them'. Nevetheless, British english is more prevalent in spoken English as well. For instance many people say 'dust bin' rather than 'trash'.

Colloquial English in Nigeria

Confused by colloquial language

Nigerians have developed peculiar phrases in the English Language many of which, if not all, could only be understood by other Nigerians or people from neighbouring African countries. If you try saying some of these phrases to native English speakers, they might get confused or misunderstand you. These phrases shouldn’t be confused with pidgin English also known as broken english.

Difference between broken English and colloquial English in Nigeria

Pidgin English usually has bad syntax according to the rules of the English language.

Most colloquial English Phrases on the other hand usually have correct syntax and would sound grammatically correct. The problem is that they usually have different meanings contrary to what they might seem or sound like.

1. Come and start going

Come and start going is a popular colloquial English phrase in Nigeria

This is one of the most common colloquial English phrases in Nigeria and could be the most confusing for non-Nigerians. It simply means ‘it’s time for you to leave'. A friend could say this to you in a friendly way when you do something that upsets them. Someone could also say this in dead earnest if they get angry and they want you to leave.

2. Can you imagine?

Can you imagine? - A very popular phrase in Nigerian colloquial English.
Can you imagine?

This is another very common English phrase used colloquially in Nigeria. In other words, this phrase could mean: ‘Can you believe she did such a thing?’ So when you hear this phrase from a Nigerian, they are usually expressing surprise or disgust at someone’s attitude or behaviour.

Also, note that you don’t have to answer the question because it’s more of a rhetorical question. The speaker is most probably just expressing surprise or disgust.

3. As in

This phrase is popularly used to ask someone to elaborate or explain what they are talking about further. For instance, you tell someone to follow their heart, they could reply with ‘as in?’.

4. See yourself or look at yourself now

Usually said to someone who has ended up in an unfortunate situation that they had been warned about.

5. You don’t know anything

This is a colloquial English phrase in Nigeria that is similar to the English idiom ‘you don’t know the half’. It is usually followed by ‘let me give you gist’.

6. Give me gist or let me give you gist

Gist in regular English usually means a summary of a long story but when gist is used in this context in Nigeria, it usually means 'the whole story'.

7. See you

In regular English, this phrase would mean an expression of farewell as in ‘see you later’. However, in Nigerian colloquial English, it could mean something entirely different. It’s kind of similar to ‘you don’t know anything’ and is usually said by someone who is about to give you a gist.

8. So, this is you

Usually said to someone whose true character (usually a bad character) you have just seen or observed.

9. Borrow me

Borrow me is one of the most colloquial English phrases used in Nigeria.
Borrow me = lend me

Normally this phrase shouldn't fit in this post because it's more of bad syntax. But it's worth mentioning because of its popularity in conversations among many people in Nigeria. The phrase simply means 'lend me' in regular English. Eg "Borrow me your phone" = "lend me your phone"

Here is the humour: when the phrase is used alone, it sounds confusing; when used in a full sentence, it's obvious that it's bad grammar.

Hope you enjoyed reading!


Michael Akerele