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Feature Photo and Above Photo: geoftheref

You may speak English, but can you speak it Kiwi-style?

Yes, New Zealanders do speak English. But they speak their very own English, commonly referred to as Kiwi English. It’s been the subject of lectures, investigations, documentaries and never-ending mockery, and, as with any other aspect of language, it’s a reflection of their culture.

No matter how good an English speaker you are, if you are going to New Zealand for the first time, there will be words you have never heard before. They might appear combined with a bunch of other words that you already know – in which case you’ll easily deduce their meaning – or they might come to you surrounded by other examples of the finest Kiwi speech – in which case, you’re likely to need an “excuse me?”

Photo: PhillipC

The following is an overview of the expressions that are going to pop up everyday in Kiwi life.

1. Sweet as, bro!

That’s great. You’re likely to hear this one many times because, as far as my experience can tell, everything is always “sweet as” for kiwis.

2. Good on ya, mate!

Congratulations, well done or good for you.

3. Bugger all

Very little. E.g. I bought this book for bugger all.

Photo: geoftheref

4. Heaps

A lot. E.g. They say “sweet as” heaps of times.

5. Jandals

– flip-flops. A ubiquitous Kiwi fashion choice.

6. Kia ora

Maori for hello.

7. She’ll be right

It will be ok. The “she” here refers to no female in particular – just things in general.

8. Bob’s your uncle!

There you go! E.g. Click this button and bob’s your uncle.

9. Knackered

Very tired.

10. Togs – swimsuit
Life in New Zild

Photo: geoftheref

Another characteristic of the way Kiwis speak is the shortening of words. Their usage of language is very economical (and, in that sense, efficient) and they will abbreviate pretty much any word they can. Kiwis watch telly (television), visit their rellies (relatives), eat brekkie (breakfast), and wear their sunnies (sunglasses) if it’s sunny in the arvo (afternoon).

You are also likely to come across people that will say “cheers” to you without a glass in their hands. They’re not making an imaginary toast – “cheers” is a kiwi way of saying “thanks” or a casual goodbye.

If you’re traveling around New Zealand and feel like a hot dog, make sure to call it an “American hot dog” – otherwise the bun will be left out and you’ll be served a Kiwi hot dog, which is just a battered sausage on a stick.

Last year, the adventures of a whale that woke up on a New Zealand beach went viral on You Tube and the words “I’m beached as, bro!”, said with a thick kiwi accent, were in everyone’s mouths (and on some people’s t-shirts).

The short /i/ vowel that causes kiwis to have “fush and chups” instead of “fish and chips” for dinner will also be new to your ears.

Another distinctive characteristic of the Kiwi accent is the high-rising intonation at the end of sentences, even though they’re meant as statements rather than questions. A kiwi friend describing a visit to a shop might say: “So I went there? And had a look around? And couldn’t find anything?”

Kiwis speak in a very relaxed way – if you pay attention, the lips of a person with a strong kiwi accent hardly move – which can work as a reflection of their own outlook on life: laid back, relaxed and with a genuine “she’ll be right” attitude.

And don’t get me started on Maori place names! Wanna meet up at Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu?

Community Connection

Interested in New Zealand? Read Matador member threespoons blogs from Auckland. Looking for work? Read up on working in New Zealand’s wineries. And check out why New Zealand is your safest travel bet.

Language Learning


About The Author

Vera Alves

Vera Alves is a Portuguese girl that is currently living in New Zealand but always thinking about the next place to go to. She’s a writer with very itchy feet, an outdoors lover, coffee-addict and part-time geek.

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  • Sarah Menkedick

    Love it! Thanks, Vera. I think the part about the intonation in particular is great.

  • vmcalves

    Thanks, Sarah! I love the Kiwi accent and apparently I’m not the only one: a BBC survey that was just released says it is the “most attractive English accent outside the motherland” – :)

    • Sarah Menkedick

      Ohhh, that is so, so BBC! By the way, anybody here a fan of Flight of the Conchords? Is that even big in New Zealand, Vera?

      • vmcalves

        Oh yeah, NZers love Flight of the Conchords! And so do I – have seen all the episodes at least twice! Their accents make it even funnier. :)

  • Christine Garvin

    Yeah, and the intonation part is definitely shared by the Brits, so maybe it goes way back.

    The Kiwis and Aussies def share a love for shortening words. When I was in Tassie, I was amazed by all the Syders, brekkers, and beauts flying around. Fun to try and come up with new words to shorten, though!

  • Mauro Paim

    Thank you, Vera. Loved it, too. Keep those articles about New Zealand coming. It is always good to be informed by an insider.


  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Wow, there must either be a lot of Irish in NZ or a lot of kiwis in Ireland. Half of that list applies to us too. I’d say 2., 4., 7., 8. and 9. as well as telly and brekkie, and most definitely cheers without any glass in hand.
    Interesting stuff!

  • Marie

    Kia ora and haere mai in Aotearoa, Vera. Big ups to you for the article! Hope you’re enjoying your time here in NZ. I promise it’s going to get warm again any day now so you can get ya jands on!

    The Whale video was made by some cheeky Aussies who thought they’d have a go at making fun of our accent. But in the end, we’ve pretty much taken it on board and everyone loves it.

    Ka kite!

  • Rose

    Love the article – so cool to have my Kiwi accent explained without feeling mocked! I don’t know how many times I have been asked to say “pen” by Brits – so frustrating!!

    Benny, yep, there are heaps of Irish descendants in NZ (I’m one) also Scottish, English, Welsh, French….. and pretty much every country in the world which is how we end up with such a different accent.

    One note – on using “Sweet as, bro” – be careful using in an American accent or with Americans. A friend who was working as a tour guide once offended a client as the client thought he was talking about his daughter’s backside (“Sweet ass”)!!

  • Stephanie

    My Australian Roommates used all of these phrases as well. I always wanted to ask them “sweet as what?!?!”

  • Turner

    Sweet as, Vera. I hadn’t caught the “she’ll be right” until now. Cheers.

  • Kelly

    Ive been living in NZ for almost a year now, and LOVE the accent. Ive never heard anyone say “Bob’s your uncle” here, although my 7th grade match teacher in Canada used that daily.

    One phrase your list needs is “how’re you going?”, meant to mean “how’s it going” in North American English. It used to drive me a little nutty, but its grown on me =)

    I think it’s also important to mention that Kiwi English includes a number of Maori words in everyday use (more so in some areas than others, but definitely regularly used by the media!): whanau, kia ora, haere mai, Aotearoa, whare, marae, iwi, and kai to name just a few!

  • vmcalves

    Thank you all for the comments! Glad to see so many people find the Kiwi accent as interesting and funny as I do.

  • Emm

    Haha, i love this. Anyone who has traveled with Kiwis can vouch, this is dead on bro.

  • Fern

    A few of these aren’t Kiwi-specific. These are the ones I recognised as being common/not out of the ordinary in British English:

    Good on ya, mate!
    Bugger all
    Bob’s your uncle!
    Togs (in Britian, this just refers to clothes in general, not specifically a swimsuit)
    Cheers (sans glass)

  • Natasha

    I don’t know about New Zealand, but in England you can counter a ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’ with a ‘and Fanny’s Your Aunt’ if you’re especially pleased about it.

    And I’m sorry but I have to disagree. There is nothing sexier in this world that a strong Glaswegian accent…

  • Travelfusion

    Great post – I loved watching the whale video with examples of the accent…it’s true that it’s so different from any other accent in English!

    Kathryn @ Travelfusion

  • Pingback: How To Speak Like a Kiwi: Essential Words, Tips, and Phrases | The SWAP Blog

  • Sophie

    My kids and I lived in NZ in 2003. Now I want to go back.

    Wonderful list! Many of the words are the same in Australian, but Kiwis tend to speak much quicker, so I think it sounds a bit different when spoken.

  • Pingback: 9 New Zealand Adventures Worth Bragging About |

  • tommyh

    New Zealander but been in England since twelve, nobody understood when I used to say going to hospital because they say going to the hospital and the chilly box.
    Thes website is ‘crazy as’

  • It

    This is awesome! I’m a kiwi, and it’s great that the accent isn’t simply described with ‘fush and chups’ and left at that!! Some newer ones from my generation are ones like ‘shot bro’(thanks) and ‘chuuur’(kind of like ‘right on’ or ‘yeah’

  • Kathy

    Thank you for this, it would have been so helpful if we learned all this (and the other words) before we moved to NZ for three years! We learned QUICKLY, and messed-up a few times, like the time when eating at a nice restaurant near our house, I asked our male waiter for a “napkin”! Later, at that SAME restaurant with friends, after completing a WONDERFUL meal, leaned-back and remarked “I’m STUFFED”!! Wellll…those followed me all the years we lived there!

    Now living in Maine, USA, we visit when we can.

  • Diogo

    How about the eh at the end of the phrases. or Ta for Thanks. hahaha they are really awesome people. I am brazilian and I am lovin’ it. And I get used to all of this stuff.

  • Natasha Kershaw

    New Zealanders sound like Australian robots to me.No offence, just my way of describing it.

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