If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you know that understanding different currencies and exchange rates can get confusing. This is especially true in the United Kingdom, where there many different terms for money. While some of these British money terms are more common in formal communications, others are more common in casual or informal conversations. In any case, let’s take a look at 20+ British money terms you need to know!
Official British Money Terms
The official term for currency in the United Kingdom is the pound sterling, often abbreviated as GBP. The term “pound sterling” would be equivalent to the “U.S. dollar” in the United States (though their exact values differ). If you would like to refer to more than one, the correct plural form is pounds sterling.
However, most people simply refer to the standard British currency as the pound (£). A pound is divided into 100 pence (p). Pence is the plural form, while penny is the singular form. Unlike pounds, which can be coins or paper, pence only appear as coins.
It’s also important to point out that people associate the term “bill” with paper money in the United States, while they associate the term “note” with paper money in the United Kingdom. For example, someone in the UK may ask for a “20-pound note” as payment for goods or services. Alternatively, Americans would typically refer to the U.S. equivalent as a “20-dollar bill.”
Whether you’re talking about notes or coins, the shorthand British money terms remain the same. The letter “p” is shorthand (in both writing and speech) for pence or pennies. Alternatively, the shorthand for pound sterling is “pound” (in speech) and £ (in writing).
British notes come in four standard denominations: £5, £10, £20, and £50. Coins come in eight denominations: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2. Therefore, the most valuable coin is worth two pounds and the most valuable note is worth 50 pounds. For reference, the British pound is worth about one and a half U.S. dollars (on average).
The British money terms listed above reflect the modern state of currency in the United Kingdom. However, money can change a lot over time. This is especially true in a country like England, which has a history dating back thousands of years. We will not spend time going through all of the different types of currency throughout British history, but it is useful to look at some older terms for money that you could still hear today:
- Shilling – The shilling was a British coin that was worth approximately 5p. It first came into existence during the reign of King Henry VII in the late 16th Century, and the shilling would remain legal tender until 1990. While the shilling is no longer in circulation, the word is still widely known as a general term for “old-fashioned British money” throughout the English-speaking world.
- Farthing – The British farthing was a coin that was worth about one-quarter of a penny. It was typically minted in either copper or bronze. Though it is no longer in use today, the farthing was a common form of currency starting sometime in the early 18th Century. In 1961, the coin was no longer recognized as legal tender in the UK. It would take another 10 years before the farthing was removed as legal tender in various British territories around the world.
- Threepence – The threepence coin was introduced in 1547 and would remain in use until 1970. While the coin did not hold much value, it went by many different names, including thruppence and thruppeny bit.
- Sixpence – The sixpence coin’s lifespan was similar to that of the threepence coin. The British monarchy first minted the sixpence in 1551 and later removed it from circulation in 1980. Also, like the threepence coin, the sixpence coin went by many names, including tanner and sixpenny bit.
Slang British Money Terms
Now that we’ve covered the official British money terms — and even some outdated ones — it’s time to see how people in the UK talk about money on a day-to-day basis. Like most languages, English has its fair share of slang terms related to a variety of topics — and money is no exception. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common British slang terms for money that people use today:
- Dosh — Money.
- He went and spent all his dosh on a new car!
- Coin — Money; when used in this way, “coin” becomes uncountable.
- How much coin do you have?
- Quid — One pound.
- Hey mate, can borrow a quid?
- Fiver — A five-pound note.
- It only costs a fiver.
- Tenner — A ten-pound note.
- I lent him a tenner, but he never paid me back!
Cockney Rhyming Slang
The Cockney dialect is a unique form of British English that comes from the East End of London. To the untrained ear, Cockney English can be very difficult to understand. Not only is it associated with a thick British accent, but speakers of Cockney also use hundreds of unique slang terms for a wide range of things. Many of these terms are based on Cockney rhyming slang, which uses rhyming words to signify a different meaning. Let’s look at a few British money terms that are unique to the Cockney dialect:
- Bread (or bread & honey) — Money.
- I need all the bread I can get!
- Bangers and Mash — Cash.
- You have to pay in bangers and mash.
- Lost and Found — One pound.
- Could you lend me a lost and found?
- Deep-Sea Diver — A fiver (5-pound note).
- I just need a deep-sea diver.
- Cock and Hen — 10 pounds.
- It cost a cock and hen yesterday.
- Score — 20 pounds.
- Do you have a score?
- Pony — 25 pounds.
- I only have a pony on me.
- Bullseye — 50 pounds.
- I would never lend out a bullseye.
- Ton — 100 pounds.
- Where am I going to get a ton?
- Monkey — 500 pounds.
- You can’t carry a monkey around with you in this neighborhood!
Other British Terms Related to Money
Finally, let’s look at a few more British money terms that refer to particular situations or types of money. These terms may not refer to specific amounts, but you could still hear them from a native British speaker on a regular basis. For Example:
- Readies — Cash or “ready money” that you can spend right now.
- My boss just gave me readies for the weekend!
- On the nail — Immediate payment.
- If you want to buy something, we’ll need cash on the nail.
- Filthy lucre — “Dirty money” or money that was acquired through illegal means.
- Don’t try to give me any of your filthy lucre!
- Shrapnel — A large amount of money, especially coins, carried around in one’s pocket.
- I’ve got so much shrapnel that I can’t even walk down the street!
- Wad — A large collection of money, especially paper notes.
- Don’t bring that wad out in public; someone might try to nick (steal) it.
Once you get the hang of them, British money terms are not too complicated. You just have to learn the official names and denominations, as well as a few different slang terms. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to use money in the United Kingdom without any problems!
We hope you enjoyed this guide on British money terms! If you’d like to learn even more terms from British, American, Canadian, or Australian English, be sure to subscribe to the Magoosh Youtube channel, join our Facebook Group, or sign up for our SpeakUp service today!