I'm researching if a "to do list" is a familiar term or concept to English speakers around the world.

I found this related question on how to spell to do. Specifically, Hugo's answer hints that to-do list may be familiar at least to the US and UK.

My specific scenario is explaining the idea of a "task" (for example, what Microsoft calls a task in their Outlook program). Would a to do list be an okay comparison for English speakers of various countries (the US, UK, Netherlands, and Japan could be the primary audiences)?

  • I've never thought of the Netherlands or Japan as an English-speaking country, especially the latter.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 20:37
  • 1
    I agree they're not English-speaking countries. The explanations will likely be given in English to audiences that understand English, possibly as a second language. Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 21:01
  • @tchrist in Japan, there's English, Jim, but not as we know it. (Note for pedants: yes, I'm snowcloning a "Beam me up Scotty").
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 2:23

4 Answers 4


As far as the U.S., I think it's safe to say that it's almost a universally understood phrase.


It's fine for the UK.

I'd definitely hyphenate it, though: "to-do list".


Do not worry. I am not a native speaker, but the first time I saw this expression I immediately understood what it meant and adopted it. This sort of construction is one of the beauties of the English language when compared with more cumbersome languages. (Liste des choses à faire is word for word list of things to do and the correct translation of to-do list into French.)

  • Ok, I'm getting a sense the phrase is easy to understand. Animadversor has a point that it may not be a good fit for the explanation. Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 3:47

I'm not sure that one should equate a to-do list with a list of tasks; consider this list:

  1. Mow lawn.
  2. Pick up dry cleaning.
  3. See movie.
  4. Go bar-hopping

There are four things to be done (or four to-do's, if you like), but only two tasks.

  • Ah, maybe I should just use real world tasks to explain tasks in software. :-) In my case, these tasks include subject, action or description, assigned user (owner), location, and due date. Examples from tasks in projects might be a better fit. Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 3:50
  • That said, I think that Outlook doesn't make the distinction. I'm pretty sure that plenty of users have what are in fact non-task to-dos listed as tasks, or should I say Tasks, in Outlook, and that they do so untroubled by any of this. Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 4:32

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