Level: B2/C1

What does it mean to be English?
What defines us as a people?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and, of course, no two English people are the same!

But here at Ingla, we’ve tracked down six quotes from some prominent British people which boil Englishness down to what it really means (much like the English boil down their food!) and the seven important things they refer to. Want an answer to the question: What does it mean to be English? Well, read on…


“Do we have carjacking in England? No, (thanks for asking), but we do have people who will clean your windscreen against your will”. -Douglas Adams.

This quote from the author and comedian Douglas Adams refers to a common street trade in which people will offer to wash the front of your car when you stop at a red light – and often won’t take no for an answer! It shows the somewhat tricky nature of English politeness – yes, we are courteous, and will never even think of breaking into a car – although, of course, people still steal cars in England. 

However, this courtesy can often be so intense that it makes people uncomfortable (this is in itself a big part of being English, as we’ll see a bit later!)


“To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day” – W. Somerset Maugham.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – to the English more than most. When it comes to giving your day an invigorating start, a hearty breakfast is not to be missed. 

Although the total of three breakfasts that the playwright W. Somerset Maugham recommends here might be a little excessive, no self-respecting English breakfast is complete without a couple of rashers of bacon, a fried egg or two, and maybe some hash browns! As for a drink, a cup of tea is more traditional, but we won’t blame you for having some orange juice or a cup of coffee!


“The readiness of the English to apologise for something they haven’t done is remarkable” –  Henry Hitchings

Have you ever noticed that, even if you accidentally bump into someone in England on the underground, that THEY will apologise? One of the most curious aspects of English people, as stated by the playwright Henry Hitchings, is that we will apologise even when something isn’t our fault!

This is because, in general, we dislike confrontation. This is part of a general social awkwardness to our character : you can also blame our reluctance to clearly express our feelings, and discomfort when other people do, on this! Sorry about this – it’s just how we’re made!


There’s an accent shift, on average, every 25 miles in England”. David Crystal

The islands of the United Kingdom have been invaded many times in their history – by the Romans, and then by the Normans from Northern France, to name a few! We’ve also seen immigration from a huge number of countries and cultures, which enriches our culture and country to no end!

The result of this is that England is home to a huge variety of accents – not just the relatively posh one you hear in Hollywood movies! Someone from the East End of London (a Cockney), will sound completely different to someone from Newcastle (a Geordie), or someone from Liverpool (a Scouser). How many different types of English accent do you know?


“The sun doesn’t live in England; it comes here on holiday when we’re all at work”.  – Benny Bellamacina

In England, it’s always a bit of a gamble planning to have a picnic. How do you know that, while you’re enjoying your sandwiches  in Hyde Park, clouds won’t suddenly appear and rain all over your food?

Yes, the weather in the UK can be a little unpredictable – but that makes it all the sweeter on those rare times when the sun does decide to come out, and we all dash to the parks to make the most of it! 


“Tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country” – George Orwell

After a long hard day of trudging through the rain and awkwardly apologising to strangers on public transport, there’s nothing the British like more than getting comfortable at the end of the day with a cup of tea – a delicious hot drink made from hot water, a tea-bag, milk, and sugar if you like it – though some English people like ONLY the hot water and tea-bag!

This quote, from famous British author George Orwell, sums up the importance of this delicious warm drink to the British. We have it with our breakfast in the mornings. We have it with our dinner in the evenings.It’s the very fuel of our souls!

Well, it’s a pretty nice-tasting warm drink that banishes the cold (though, to be honest, I personally prefer coffee!)

So, are you ready to test how prepared you are to be English? See if you can work out what the words in bold mean, using the clues below!

  1. To walk in a sad and depressed way (verb)
  2. In a big way (adverbial phrase)
  3. To run quickly (verb) 
  4. Upper-class (adjective) 
  5. Famous (adjective) 
  6. Polite (adjective)
  7. To make something or someone leave (verb)
  8. Not wanting to do something (noun) 
  9. Something that makes you feel stronger (adjective) 
  10. To make something simpler (phrasal verb)
  11. To attack a place (verb) 
  12. Without you wanting it (adverbial phrase) 
  13. To steal a car by forcing someone out (verb) 
  14. To make something better (verb)
  15. Too much (adjective) 
  16. Not feeling comfortable (noun) 
  17. Strange (adjective)
  18. To insist on doing something (verb phrase)
  19. Culturally normal (adjective) 
  20. Directly dealing with trouble (noun)
  1. To walk in a sad and depressed way (verb) – trudge
  2. In a big way (adverbial phrase) – to no end
  3. To run quickly (verb) – dash
  4. Upper-class (adjective) – posh
  5. Famous (adjective) – prominent
  6. Polite (adjective) – courteous
  7. To make something or someone leave (verb) – banish
  8. Not wanting to do something (noun) – reluctance
  9. Something that makes you feel stronger (adjective) – invigorating
  10. To make something simpler (phrasal verb) – boil down
  11. To attack a place (verb) – invade
  12. Without you wanting it (adverbial phrase) – against your will
  13. To steal a car by forcing someone out (verb) – carjack
  14. To make something better (verb) – enrich
  15. Too much (adjective) – excessive
  16. Not feeling comfortable (noun) – discomfort
  17. Strange (adjective) – curious
  18. To insist on doing something (verb phrase) – not take no for an answer
  19. Culturally normal (adjective) – traditional
  20. Directly dealing with trouble (noun) – confrontation

This is Ingla School of English‘s weekly blog, intended as reading practise for our students in Turnpike Lane, in London, and around the globe. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and take a look at the rest of our writing, much of which has activities for teachers to use in the classroom.