Today, let’s learn some excellent ways to describe the weather, and boost your English vocabulary at the same time!!
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Earlier this week I was having a conversation with a student of mine who had recently been on vacation. I asked him how his vacation was, what he did during his trip, and if the weather was nice. He told me how relaxing and enjoyable his time was, how he spent the days visiting tourist destinations with his wife, and that the weather was a little cloudy and rainy. Cloudy and rainy. These two words stood out to me. Why? Well, they sound like something a child would say.
Thinking about the hundreds (probably thousands) of different students I’ve taught over the last five years, ranging from elementary school children all the way to advanced business executives and diplomats, people are not very good at talking about the weather. Using adjectives like rainy, sunny, cloudy, windy, snowy, foggy, is a relatively basic way of talking about weather conditions. In fact, as an elementary school teacher, these were the words I taught to 6 and 7 year olds! Many adults have never tried to improve their vocabulary in this area!
There are many more interesting, nuanced, and detailed ways of talking about weather. I’m sure the same is true in your language. Actually, I was listening to an interview with an Sami indigenous activist from Finland, who talked about how her language has hundreds of ways to describe snow. English doesn’t have this much vocabulary, but we do have a lot more than just rainy and cloudy.
Why is it important to learn more advanced ways of talking about the weather? There are a few good reasons. First, it is one of the most common conversation topics. British people in particular are known for always using the weather as a form of greeting. So learning a few more advanced or interesting terms can help you understand what native speakers are saying and help you to contribute to the conversation! Second, they often ask about the weather in English proficiency tests like IELTS and TOEFL – you are not going to get top marks using vocabulary like cloudy or rainy!
Third, it will help you to use English language weather applications and TV weather forecasts – for example the BBC weather in my country often uses more technical words! And fourth, the weather is going to become an increasingly important and common conversation topic. Global warming and climate change are causing strange weather events, so we are going to find ourselves talking about it a lot in the future!
This will be a two part episode as I thought of so amny different vocabulary terms I want to include. This week I will talk about ways to describe hot, cold, sunny, and cloudy, while next week I will cover rainy, snowy, windy and other less common weather vocabulary! So, without further adieu, let’s learn some advanced ways to talk about the weather!!
Let’s start with temperature. What are some different ways to talk about the heat? It turns out there are a lot of ways!
If we want to say the temperature is “really hot,” there are numerous different adjectives we can use. For instance, try using boiling, baking, roasting, blistering, or scorching. These can be used to describe the word hot – for example “it is boiling hot outside today.” Or they can be used by themselves – for instance “Thailand is scorching in the middle of August!”
Scorching also has an interesting noun form. If it is incredibly hot, you use the term a scorcher – as in, “I heard tomorrow is going to be a scorcher! Let’s go to the beach!” Another adjective I like is balmy. Balmy is used to describe nice, pleasant warm weather. Unlike the other terms which describe very high temperatures, balmy is used for more comfortable weather!
A few more terms that might come in useful include heat wave and humid. A heat wave refers to a long period of heat, especially when it is hotter than average! During heat waves you probably need to take extra care and waste less water! Although humidity is not necessarily associated with heat, it is often used in combination with hot weather. I remember the first time I ever travelled to Asia, on a university summer programme in Malaysia 7 years ago, and being shocked by how humid the country was during the summer!
As it will soon be winter (at least for most of my listeners who live in the northern hemisphere) let’s take a look at some alternatives to saying cold! Two of the most common that you may encounter will be cool, crisp and chilly. We use cool as the opposite to warm, to describe a condition where it is less warm than you expected. Chilly is a colder temperature, often used to describe early in the morning and winter months! Crisp refers to cool, fresh, and invigorating weather. My favourite time of year is a beautiful, crisp Autumn day. If the temperature is less than zero, we can say it is below freezing. As in, “be careful on the roads, it is below freezing right now!”
Similar to the vocabulary for hot, there are many adjectives we can use to describe cold temperatures. If it is freezing cold the temperature is cold enough to freeze water! Another way to say it is very cold is to use the phrase bitterly cold. Moreover, freezing and bitter can be used by themselves. For example, “my house is absolutely freezing at the moment” or “I hate bitter February days.” Also, the opposite of a heat wave is a cold spell. Cold spells are periods when the temperatures are lower than expected!
Sunny is such a boring way to talk about the weather. Of course, you can describe sunny days with a number of different adjectives: a few popular options include bright, brilliant, fine, and fair. For example “What a brilliant morning!”, “I hope we have fair weather tomorrow!”, or “If it is a bright afternoon, let’s go to the park!”
A different way to talk about sunny conditions is to focus on the sky instead of the sun! Clear is perhaps the most useful word in this case. If you describe the weather as clear, it means there are no clouds in the sky (thus it must be sunny). Clear up is a phrasal verb used to indicate that the clouds have left the sky, or cleared up, and now it must be sunny. In weather forecasts, you may hear the phrase clear blue skies – i love a crisp winter day with clear blue skies! Moreover, the phrase not a cloud in the sky is another popular option.
It is also useful to learn a few phrases to describe when cloudy weather turns to sunny. I already taught you clear up – as in “I hope the weather clears up before I walk to the station.” English speakers also like to say that the sun comes out. Imagine a day when the sun is behind clouds, and then eventually comes out! Another popular term in weather forecasts is sunny spells. What is a sunny spell? Well, a sunny spell is a period of time when it is sunny during the day – it is kind of used to describe a situation when there are blue skies for a while, then maybe a little rain and cloud, then more sun!
How about cloudy? Are there better ways to talk about this kind of weather? Of course there are! We can start by describing the colour of the sky. White skies are when the sky is completely covered by white clouds – maybe it will soon snow! Grey skies are quite common in my country of the UK – sometimes it rains, sometimes it stays dry. Black skies are perhaps the scariest – if I see black skies I always think there will be a storm!!
Some adjectives we like to use to describe cloudy days include gloomy, dull, and dark! These words do have other meanings too, but are useful to describe lack of light, and general greyness that comes with clouds!! As in “it seems pretty gloomy outside today” or “let’s go hiking when the weather is a bit less dull!” An alternative to cloudy often used in weather forecasts is overcast – for example, “expect an overcast day with a slight chance of rain.” And finally, just like when talking about alternatives to sunny, we need to remember that the weather can change. For that reason, try using cloudy spells (used in the same way as sunny spells) or partly cloudy!
This episode of Thinking in English has looked at advanced English vocabulary to describe hot, cold, sunny, and cloudy. Make sure you tune in next week for part 2, where I will describe rainy, snowy, windy, and other less common types of weather!