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How Many Different Ways Can You Use "Thing"?

How Many Different Ways Can You Use "Thing"?

Have you ever thought about all of the ways you can use "thing"?

It's a very simple word, but you may be surprised at how many meanings and uses it has. We use it all of the time in our daily conversations without even realizing. It can refer to an object, a situation, an idea or something you enjoy doing.

Mastering this powerful word will bring you much closer to sounding like a native speaker. So in this article, we'll introduce the many uses of "thing" and give you some example sentences as a guide.

What does “thing” mean?

"Thing" comes from the Old English word "þing," which originally meant "meeting" or "assembly." This, in turn, came from the Proto-Germanic word "þingą," which is similar in meaning to "public gathering."

Over time, it began to refer more specifically to a matter or issue being discussed in an assembly. In the Middle Ages (the period between the 5th and 15th centuries), its meaning was expanded to include both physical objects as well as ideas and concepts. This is the usage that continues today, so let's take a closer look at it.

General meaning and usage of “thing”

A woman pointing at something while standing next to her boyfriend

Tangible objects and intangible concepts

Something that is "tangible" can be seen or touched, while something that is "intangible" cannot be. In other words, objects as well as ideas that have no physical form can be called "things."

What is that thing over there?
Sorry for the late reply. I had a lot of things to do yesterday.

Actions, events, thoughts or statements

When used figuratively, it can refer to activities and ideas.

I've been thinking about that thing you said to me last weekend.
Do you remember the thing we did the other day?

Like~ / Similar to~

It can also be used casually to say the subject of a sentence is similar or related to something.

Hey, what's this?
Oh, it's a massage thing for my back.

In the example above, instead of saying specifically what the object is, B simply says that it is somehow related to massages. This usage is common for communicating an idea quickly without giving detailed information.

This is closely related to the word "thingy." Just like above, it's useful for casual, vague statements.

Could you pass me that blue thingy over there, please?

There's also the strange word "thingamajig"! This is only used in very casual conversations.

The difference between this and "thingy" is that "thingamajig" usually refers to some kind of machine or device that is difficult to explain.

John is an inventor. He has strange thingamajigs all over his workspace. 

Idioms using “thing”

A man and a woman holding hands while lying on a blanket in a park

Next, let's look at some idioms that use "thing." There are quite a few!

The thing is … / Here’s the thing …

This expression means "Actually," and is often used to introduce information, especially if it is sensitive or unfortunate.

Why didn't you join us for the movie last night?
The thing is, I had an urgent project to finish at work.
Are you coming to the party tonight?
Well, here's the thing … I promised my grandmother that I would help her clean her house.

A thing or two

This is a casual way to talk about knowledge of or experience with something. 

He knows a thing or two about cars.
I know a thing or two about pop music.

Have a thing for

If you "have a thing" for something or someone, it means you like it/them.

She has a thing for Italian food.
I think he has a thing for Millie.

Do one’s own thing

This expresses the attitude of doing what you want without worrying about the opinions of others. It can have a positive or a negative nuance, depending on the situation.

He always does his own thing and never considers our opinions.
I admire her for having the confidence to do her own thing.

Sure thing

This is an informal way of saying "Of course."

Could you help me move these boxes upstairs, please?
Sure thing. I'll take some up now.

My thing / Our thing

This refers to something that you are good at or that you enjoy.

Are you joining us for the hiking trip next week?
Thanks for the invitation, but hiking isn't really my thing.

On the other hand, "our thing" refers to a custom or regular event that people share.

Remember how we used to go to the movies every Friday?
Yeah, that was our thing back in college.

Modern uses of “thing”

A man hosting a podcast from his home studio while sitting in front of a microphone and computer

A trend or fad

If something is "a thing," it is very popular at a particular time.

Podcasting is really becoming a thing. There are so many shows to choose from these days.

It can also mean that something is common or usual.

Unlike in Western countries, tipping isn't a thing in Japan.

A romantic relationship

If a couple are in a relationship, you can say they are "a thing."

Are those two a thing now?
Yeah, they've been dating since the summer.


As you can see, there are many types of situations in which you can use "thing" — each time with a different meaning! How many of these uses did you know? 

As you learn each usage and include them in your conversations, you will gradually get used to hearing and using them all naturally. Mastering them is essential for native-level English, so be sure to start practicing with them as soon as you can!

Written by Sana, adapted by David