I recently read something like:

Mr X was able to get the job even though his English is awful.

In the above, suppose the background is Mr X landing a job for which good English skills were a requirement.

My first reaction was that the sentence was quite offensive. It felt like if the writer was "looking down" at Mr X, and did not sound very different than "Mr X sucks at English".

But then I realized that I actually might be wrong. I suppose the word "awful" by itself does not have an offensive connotation, and maybe that might be just a neutral statement to express that Mr X's skills are very bad.

If it depends on the context, could you give some examples? Thank you.

PS. Hope it's not an opinion-based question, but hopefully not. If so, please suggest how to improve.

  • 3
    Well, it's a rather blunt way of saying that his English is very bad. If you were making the comment to his face you would probably want to word it more tactfully. Jun 11, 2019 at 8:41
  • 1
    I might say it of myself: "My Russian is awful; I took only one semester in college."
    – GEdgar
    Jun 11, 2019 at 13:34
  • How would you feel if someone said this question is awful?
    – jimm101
    Jun 12, 2019 at 18:15
  • @jimm101 good point. I don’t know thought, they might be right. :)
    – Tommy
    Jun 13, 2019 at 0:19

1 Answer 1


I don't think this is a neutral choice of words:

Note how 'unpleasant' comes out first in the definition, which suggests subjective appreciation from the user.

  • What's more, the word's etymology shows very clearly as 'awe-inducing', which suggests an emotional statement rather than a factual one.

  • appreciation of a language skill can leave much to subjectivity : their English is awful could be used to convey that the locutor doesn't like the candidate's accent or dialectal specificities in general. The author probably meant that they didn't believe the candidate's fluency in English would suffice for the job, but this is left unclear.

For these reasons, I would certainly find this an offensive thing to say (or hear)! An expected choice of words in a professional setting would be, for instance:

… even though his English was poor. (still somewhat offensive because of the lack of specificity)

… even though his English seemed inadequate for the job.


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