What does “Ish” mean in British Slang?

After a long day at work my partner always asks how I am feeling. I usually reply with one of the two:

  • hungry-ish or tired-ish.

So what does this ‘ish’’ mean? Do I need to eat or go to bed?

Ish spelt I-S-H is an informal suffix used to say about or approximately. This informal suffix can be added to many words including numbers or times of the day. For example:

  • How old is she?
  • Umm 40ish…


  • What time will you be at home?’
  • Around 2ish…

You can also use ish with gradable adjectives. A gradable adjective is one that can have different levels of intensity. An example of a gradable adjective is hot, so you can be a bit hot, fairly hot or hot ish.

For centuries now, “ish” has been rather promiscuous in English. In 1894 in an article from The Daily News, a London newspaper of which Charles Dickens was briefly the editor! We can find an example of ish being used while describing a house, they wrote:

  • Some huge pile of building, generally much more Queen Anne-ish than the houses of Queen Anne’s own time.

Here the building was being described as similar to the style of Queen Anne but not the same, hence the use of ish.

Nowadays ish can be used, not only as a suffix but alone, in this sense ish means more or less the same thing: kind of, thereabouts, in a way.

As described by the linguist Stefanie Kuzmack, ish refers back to a particular idea. So we have a breakaway from a suffix to a stand-alone word. So instead of simply adding ish to an adjective, I am coldish. It can be used alone:

  • Are you cold?
  • Yeah, ish.

So how are you feeling? Hungry-ish? Tired-ish? English-ish? Let us know!

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