The word hella has spread from the Southern California dialect to the point where most varieties of American English speaker (such as me in the Midwest) know that it exists and hear it used. I always thought that hella meant either very or a lot of, for instance:

(1) Vancouver is hella far.

(2) There were hella cars on the freeway.

The above two sentences (which I both made up) were the only contexts I assumed hella was used in. However, I've recently and very occasionally overheard something like this:

(3) You have to walk hella to get to that subway station.

Which doesn't fit with my understanding of the word. So, question to Californians or others familiar with the hella-using dialect: Is (3), and sentences like it (where hella comes immediately after a verb), common? Are there any other usages for this word that I'm missing?

  • 1
    A professor & student linguist team at NYU is doing research on exactly this question! Anyone with firsthand usage knowledge, let them know what makes sense to you, and what doesn't, here: docs.google.com/forms/d/… Thanks! Greg Regaignon New York, NY (I am not the linguist, just a friend of hers) – user143391 Oct 19 '15 at 12:57
  • Never heard it. "Eluvalottta" is as close as it gets here. – Hot Licks Oct 19 '15 at 13:07

Wikipedia has an article on hella:

Hella is a word associated with Northern California used throughout the United States and Canada. It is a contraction of the phrase "hell of a" or "hell of a lot [of]". It often appears in place of the words "really," "a lot," "totally," "very," and in some cases, "yes." Whereas hell of a is generally used with a noun, according to linguist Pamela Munro, hella is primarily used to modify an adjective such as "good."


While intensifiers similar to hella exist in many colloquial varieties, hella is unique in its flexibility. It can be used to modify almost any part of speech, as shown below.
That pizza was hella good: hella modifies the adjective good, where Standard American English would use very.
I ate hella pizza: hella modifies the noun pizza, replacing a lot of.
I hella bought four pizzas: hella modifies the verb to buy, replacing really or totally.
I ran hella quickly to the pizza joint when I heard about the one dollar cheese slices from my friend when we were talking at four in the afternoon one Saturday night: hella modifies the adverb quickly, replacing very.

This does at least answer your second question (whether there were any other usages for this word that you were missing).

Judging from what I've heard of the word, I would say that your third example usage is pretty uncommon. A more normal usage would be:

You have to walk hella far to get to that subway station.

A crude proof would be to Google "walk hella"; the results show walk hella far, walk hella slow, etc. There are no examples of walk hella.

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  • Yeah, I read that before asking my question, but they did not have any examples that correspond to you have to walk hella, which is why I asked here if that usage was standard. – alcas Dec 9 '11 at 1:39
  • The intensifier section of the Wikipedia article quoted here is not sourced. – D Krueger Dec 11 '11 at 17:11

Out of two native Northern Californians (myself and a friend), neither of us has ever heard usage 3. 1 is the most common and 2 is more unusual.

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  • Me either. Helluva, yes. – Lambie Nov 17 '17 at 20:28

As a native to the Bay Area, where the word first came into existence in Oakland, I've heard hella used and have used it myself as in example 3 a lot.

This is likely just a regional thing, as us East Bay-ers are intense in our love for hella and its less known and even more reviled couterpart, grippa. I'll try to explain:

Hella, I believe, is best understood from a sociolinguistic standpoint rather than a structural one. Hella first came to be as part of a pidgin that existed within the community speaking Ebonics. Ebonics is a spoken language, and as such hella's usage often feels instinctual.

In example 3, hella could mean several different things: You have to walk very far; You have to walk uphill; You have to walk through a bad part of town. Hella replaces what could appear to be a key part of the sentence, and when written, becomes confusing. However, meaning is conveyed when spoken.

I'll give you another example I used myself, just the other day: "I hella woke up this morning." Written out, it seems nonsensical and absurd, but I promise you every single person I was speaking to knew exactly what I meant, which was: "I was nearly late this morning because I slept through my alarm. I woke up very suddenly and had to race through my morning routine, forgoing coffee, in order to make it to work on time."

Hope this helps :)

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  • This is a great first answer from you, @debh. Usually, if you can find something to cite that makes the answer even better. Welcome to the site, and I hope you hella enjoy. – saritonin Nov 17 '17 at 21:17

I feel like I've seen the third usage more and more often these days. It seems to be related to a similar shift in usage where "hella" itself is synonymous with "good". I can't provide sources beyond reporting that I've heard it used by friends. An example would be "Oh, that movie is hella", meaning "that movie is excellent".

(It's worth noting that it's never used with intensifiers, probably because we all instinctively sense that the possible phrase "That's hella hella" would be awful and should be avoided at all costs.)

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That was a hella waste of time as there were a hella other things to be done a hella earlier, so now I'm hellannoyed I was here (to coin a phrase). :-0

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  • Good example of how the expression is used! Now if you could only translate it into English :-) – Mari-Lou A Nov 8 '14 at 12:31

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