Are you a ‘exhausted,’ ‘dead on your feet,’ or ‘worn out?’ On today’s episode of Thinking in English, let’s learn some excellent vocabulary to describe tiredness in English!!
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Last week, I released an episode on lazy vocabulary. I told you quite a few different ways to describe that lazy feeling we all get from time to time. However, while writing and researching for the episode, a lot of the words, phrases, and terms I came up with didn’t necessarily describe “laziness” – instead they referred to “tiredness.”
What is the difference between being lazy and being tired? Often, we use similar language to describe both feelings, but they are different! “Lazy” means you are unwilling to do work or any effort, and “tired” means you need rest or sleep.
Sometimes these two situations can look similar – if you spend a lot of time sleeping in the morning you could be either “tired” or “lazy.” However, if you are “tired” you need to rest or sleep, but if you are “lazy” you want to rest or sleep (or perhaps more accurately, if you are lazy you don’t want to do anything else).
Being tired is incredibly common – you can be tired in the evening before you sleep, tired in the morning after you wake up, tired after a long day at work, tired after physical exercise, or tired after sitting down all day on a plane. I’m tired right now – I tend to write podcasts late at night and as I’m taking some short trips over the next few weeks I’ve been working a lot to prepare podcasts in advance. So, I’m always tired.
With all of these different situations and circumstances, surely there are different and more interesting ways of saying that you are tired? English actually has hundreds of different ways to describe this feeling! Throughout the rest of this episode, I’m going to introduce some of my favourite alternatives to “tired” – I’ll try to introduce a mix of the most common synonyms, formal options, slang, and maybe a few phrases and idioms!
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Weary is definitely one of the most common and useful synonyms for ‘tired’ in the English language. The word weary suggests that you feel weak due to a lack of energy. If you are weary, you are very tired after working hard for a long time! Weary comes from Old English, so it has been a part of the English language for over a thousand years!
“The traveller was weary after a long journey”
Fatigued is another very common alternative to the word “tired.” Fatigue traces its origins back to a Latin word meaning “enough”: so if you are fatigued you have had enough! We use both the noun fatigue and the adjective fatigued when we are very, very tired!
“She was so fatigued, that we could all see the dark circles under her eyes”
Even stronger than “fatigued” is “exhausted.” We use exhausted to describe the feeling of being really tired. All of your energy has been taken out of you, and now you are exhausted you are completely empty of energy!
“I was absolutely exhausted after a long week at work”
Similar to “exhausted” is drained. Drained also has a similar image in the head of a native English speaker – both “exhausted” and drained mean to be emptied of energy. If you are drained you are really tired. We also use drained a lot to describe being “emotionally tired” – not just physically!
“You look drained – why not go to bed early?”
Now let’s have a quick look at a few phrasal verbs that we often use when we are tired. Worn out suggests a similar level of tiredness to “exhausted” and “drained.” If you are worn out, you are extremely tired. A person who is worn out is exhausted after working hard or going through a difficult or unpleasant experience.
“He was worn out after hiking up the mountain!”
Burnt out refers to a specific type, or instance, or tiredness – and it is very commonly used, especially in recent years. If you are burnt out, you make yourself exhausted and extremely tired by working too hard and too much. Working long days, without taking breaks or time to relax, can lead to burn out! Many companies have been allowing employees more flexible working schedules to help prevent their employees becoming burnt out!
“After not taking a day off for over a year, the manager was always burnt out”
Informal ‘Tired’ Vocabulary
The rest of the “tiredness” synonyms I’m going to introduce today are going to be less formal – they are still commonly used, but less so in formal or professional situations!
Spent is an adjective that we use to mean exhausted. Like “exhausted” or “drained,” spent has a similar idea of being empty of energy. We can say we spend energy, so if your energy is spent there is none left! Something that is spent has been used so that it no longer has any power or effectiveness!
“Sorry, I have to cancel our plans tonight – I’m absolutely spent”
Sleepy was the favourite adjective of my students while I was a teacher in Japanese elementary schools. Sleepy goes beyond “tired” to suggest that you are also “worn out” and able to fall asleep at pretty much any time. Sometimes, you can be “exhausted” without being sleepy – for example after taking part in a sports game! So it is important to use sleepy in the right context.
“The child was so sleepy that she fell asleep almost as soon as she got into bed”
Drowsy is another way of saying sleepy – but with a slightly different emphasis. Drowsy is kind of in between being awake and being asleep. If you feel drowsy you cannot think clearly and probably want to fall asleep. We are often drowsy when we wake up in the morning or after we eat a big meal!
“The room is so warm it’s making me drowsy”
Dead on one’s feet
Dead on one’s feet means to be almost falling asleep because one is so tired. This is an English idiom, and is used quite often by people! If your are dead on your feet you are extremely tired. Dead on your feet is often used to describe feeling exhausted while you are still working or walking around.
“That football player ran so much today that he was dead on his feet by the end of the game!”
Pooped is a slang term to describe being tired. If you are pooped, you are very tired from doing a lot of physical activity. Pooped is informal, and tends to be more common in North American English!
“He was pooped after cleaning the entire apartment”
Barely Able to Keep One’s Eyes Open
The final phrase I want to introduce today is barely able to keep your eyes open. You can probably imagine the meaning of this one – you are so sleepy that it is difficult to keep your eyes open. I’m sure we’ve all been hardly able to keep one’s eyes open. It is an idiom similar in meaning to “sleepy” and “drowsy.”
“I was barely able to keep my eyes open during that class”
On this episode of Thinking in English, I have tried to introduce you to some alternative ways of talking about tiredness! Everyone gets tired, so I think it is really useful and important to have a few different ways to describe feeling tired! I’m sure all of you have been exhausted, dead on your feet, or worn out at some point.
Do you know any other ways of saying “tired” in English? Let me know in the comments!
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