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SKILLS: Understanding reviews in English

In this lesson, we will look at some of the indirect language commonly used when reviewing something (for example, Google reviews or TripAdvisor).

It’s very good practice to read and understand reviews in English as you will often get a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary. Remember to search on the internet for the meaning of new words!

Look at the sentences in bold below and decide which of the following three meanings is correct.

1. For the size of the meal, the price was a little steep.

  1. The meal was too big and should have cost more.
  2. The price was lowest than expected, but the meal was small.
  3. The cost was too high for what the person had to eat.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is C. It is common in English to refer to the price of something as ‘steep’ if it costs more than expected or more than the person thinks something is worth. The reference to the size of the meal suggests that the speaker thought there should be more food for the price paid.

2. I was really looking forward to eating there, but I would have thought that a place with such good reviews would have been more more impressively decorated.


  1. The person thinks the reviews needed to be more positive.
  2. The appearance of the place was not as good as the person had expected.
  3. The person thought the food was not as good as the reviews.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is B. The person does not say what the food was like, only that they were looking forward to eating there. However, the speaker did not like the look of the place and was surprised because it had received so many good reviews.

3. I was not very hungry so I only ordered a coffee, but the food they were serving looked well worth the price. I’d like to go there again sometime and definitely have something!

  1. The person only had a drink because the food was too expensive.
  2. The food seemed to be good value.
  3. The person has a plan to go there again.
Show the correct answer
This is a tricky one – the speaker says ‘I’d like to go there again’, but this is a wish or hope, not a plan. The correct answer is the food seemed to be good value.

4. I have no complaints about the food, but the service was definitely sub-par.

  1. The speaker did not like the food.
  2. The speaker wanted to make a complaint about the meal.
  3. The staff were not as good as the speaker hoped.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is C – the speaker had ‘no complaints’ about the food, but the phrase ‘sub par’ means ‘below standard’ and is used to review something negatively.

4. The least they could do is provide a free breakfast considering the eye-watering price of the room.

  1. The person thought the room was well priced.
  2. The person liked the fact that breakfast was included in the room price.
  3. The person thought the price of the room was so high that it should have included breakfast.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is C. Describing a price as ‘eye-watering’ means it was much higher than expected or considered worthwhile. The speaker thinks that because the room was very expensive, so breakfast should have been included.

5. The gardens, the staff, the food, the atmosphere – I can’t fault any of it! Can’t believe there were so many negative reviews online.

  1. The person thought that the people, food and place had problems.
  2. The speaker seems to have enjoyed all parts of the stay.
  3. The person thinks there should be more negative reviews.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is B. The phrase ‘Can’t fault it’ is used to say that something was very good – there was nothing negative. In reviews (especially online), it is quite common to drop the injection (‘Can’t believe there were so many negative reviews’ rather than ‘I can’t believe…’).

6. The road was a little noisier than I would have expected, but the location made it worth any minor issues with traffic noise.

  1. The person thought the location made up for the traffic noise.
  2. The person thought the traffic noise was not worth the convenient location.
  3. The person expected the traffic noise to be louder.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is A. Although the speaker says the traffic noise was louder than expected, the location was good (it was worth accepting the road noise).

7. 4 Star service? Not what I would consider to be anywhere near that level.

  1. The person was happy with the service,
  2. The person was disappointed with the service.
  3. The person thought the service was 4 star.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is B. The use of ‘anywhere near that level’ means the speaker thought it was not 4 star. 5 star is the maximum commonly used, so if it not near that level it must be lower.

8. My enjoyment of the place was reduced because of a very noisy group of people in the room next door, partying until the small hours. The staff did everything they could to help, but it was still too noisy.


  1. The staff were not interested in helping.
  2. The party went on late into the night.
  3. The person enjoyed the party.
Show the correct answer
The correct answer is B. ‘The small hours’ is a common expression for late into the night, and the staff did everything they could to help.

So for a quick review, here is some of the vocabulary that can be used to help in understanding reviews in English (you might also want to take a look at some other common phrases used in English).

  • The price was a little steep – something that costs more than expected or more than the person thinks something is worth
  • Well worth the price – something that was good value
  • Sub-par – below a reasonable standard or level
  • Eye-watering price – much higher than expected or considered worthwhile.
  • Can’t fault something – there were nothing bad about it / everything was good
  • The small hours – late at night or early into the following morning
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