Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Traditionally, it signals the start of the Christmas shopping period. Expect to get lots of your favourite products at discount prices and to see lots of shops bustling with people!

What once began as a day of shopping in the USA, has now spread to at least twenty different countries – and often lasts more than one-day. In fact, today there’s Cyber Monday, Singles Day and even Black November, where shoppers can start their shopping spree as early as the 1st of the month!

Love it or hate it, Black Friday is here to stay. To help you survive the mayhem, we’ve made a simple guide with all things Black Friday, starting with the history of where it all began, to the best vocabulary you’ll need for  shopping in English.


History and myths of Black Friday

The first use of the term Black Friday wasn’t related to shopping. It was actually related to the financial crash in 1869 when the US gold market collapsed.

Many people still believe, however, that the day has origins in commercialism. They suppose it dates back to a time when retailers made a loss all year and were ‘in the red’ until the day after Thanksgiving. On this day, stores would make so much money they’d finally make a profit and go ‘into the black’.

The real connection is actually – rather strangely – a law enforcement term from 1950s Philadelphia. Police used the term to describe the chaos, crowds and traffic that occurred the day after Thanksgiving, all thanks to the huge amount of consumers that rushed into the centre to go shopping. Not so different from the Black Friday we know today!


Sales vocabulary

Black Friday means discounts on a variety of products. To tempt you into buying their goods, shops will do anything they can, and that includes some expert advertising and some very catchy slogans. Here’s some key vocabulary to help you find the best deals when you are shopping in English this Black Friday.

Vocabulary for shopping in English Oxford House Barcelona

Shopping idioms

When you go shopping on Black Friday, impress your friends with some interesting idioms. If you find something expensive then say – ‘This costs an arm and a leg!’ If you find a bargain – ‘What a steal!’ Here are some of our favourite idioms to drop into conversation while you’re shopping in English.

Idioms for shopping in English Oxford House Barcelona


Expressions to use with the sales assistant

Approximately 52% of people who buy something on Black Friday say that they later regret it. So, there’s a good chance you’ll need some words and phrases for sending things back. You may also need help with vocabulary relating to the price or size of a product, or even language to help you in the changing rooms. So here are some useful expressions you can use. 


Asking for help

Sales assistants are often very helpful and might speak to you when you enter the shop or when you’re browsing the aisles. They may ask you questions like:

          – Do you need any help? 

          – Are you looking for anything in particular?

To which you can reply:

          – No thanks, I’m just looking.

          – Yes, actually I’m looking for____________.


In the changing rooms

You’re in the changing rooms and you’ve picked up the wrong thing. To save you from going to the other side of the shop, ask the shop assistant for some help:

          – Do you have this in a small / medium / large?

          – Do you have this in any other colours?



You’ve made your choice and now you’re ready to pay. Here are some of the questions they’ll probably ask you at the desk:

          – Did you find everything you were looking for today?

          – Would you like it gift-wrapped?

          – Would you like to pay in cash or by card?

          – Would you like a bag?

          – Would you like your receipt in the bag?


Making returns 

So you’ve got home and you’ve changed your mind – you never needed that orange sombrero in the first place! What do you do? Don’t panic, you can take it back of course!

You say:

          – Hi, I’d like to return this please. 

To which they may reply:

          – Is there anything wrong with it? 

          – Would you like a refund or an exchange? 

Or they may say:

          – We can’t offer you a cash refund, but we can offer you a gift receipt.

To which you may want to complain and demand your money back! Here are some ways to complain in English.


Extra activities for Black Friday

If you want to keep learning more about the history of Black Friday, or you want to pick up some extra vocabulary related to shopping to get you ready for the big day. Take a look at these other activities:

          – Quizlet has some great flashcards for learning Black Friday words. 

          – The British council has an excellent reading activity and quiz.

          – Watch this weird and wonderful video from Mr Duncan and practise your listening.

And while you’re here, why not check out our guide for communicating in a restaurant?

Happy shopping!

Glossary for Language Learners

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Bustling (adj): a very busy place with lots of energy

Mayhem (n): chaos and confusion

Stores (n): shops (US)

Catchy (adj): memorable or attention-grabbing

To drop into (pv): casually incorporate into something else

To send (smth.) back (pv): to return something

To browse (v):  to look or search for something


adj = adjective

n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

smth = something

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