Intermediate+ Word of the Day: slum

slum (noun, verb, adjective) /slʌm/ LISTEN

A slum, often in the plural form slums, is usually an overpopulated part of a city where people live in extremely poor conditions. The word is common, but inhabitants of these areas often do not like their neighborhood to be referred to this way because of its derogatory connotation. Slum is used figuratively to talk about any place where living conditions are unpleasant or dirty. Slum can also be used like an adjective, to describe something related to a slum or someone who lives in one.

Example sentences

  • Many poor people live in the slums and can't afford to move to a different neighborhood.
  • You should see her house; it's an absolute slum!
  • The mayor vowed that all the slum properties would be demolished and replaced with modern homes.
  • A group of slum kids was playing outside one of the houses.

Words often used with slum

slum it: to visit places below your social status or to put up with standards of comfort that are less than you are used to; this informal expression is common, especially among younger people, but some people consider it offensive. Example: “I know the accommodation isn’t very good, but we can manage to slum it for a couple of nights, can’t we?”

slum conditions: the conditions of living in a slum. Example: “The slum conditions of the house next door lowers the value of all the houses on the block.”

slum-dweller: a person who lives in a slum. Example: “Although he was a slum-dweller as a child, he became a successful doctor.”

slumlord: an informal way to refer to a landlord who owns slum properties and rents them out to people. Example: “The slumlord charged high rents but did not maintain the building properly.”

In pop culture

Listen to The Kinks singing their song “Slum Kids” here:

Did you know?

Brazil is especially known for its slums, which are called favelas in Portuguese (and often referred to with that word in English). In Rio de Janeiro, a few of these neighborhoods have some of the best views in the city, and many foreigners are buying houses in them.

Other forms

slummer (noun)


Slum dates back to the early 19th century, and was a slang word that originally meant ‘room,’ particularly ‘back room.’ The sense we use today appeared in the mid-19th century, as a shortened form of the expression back slum (early 19th century), which originally meant ‘dirty back alley in a city’ as well as ‘city of poor people.’ Its use was spread by crime novels set in the East End of London, which were very popular at the time. The verb, meaning ‘to visit slums for disreputable purposes,’ dates back to the mid-19th century. The sense shifted to mean ‘to visit the slums of a city (for entertainment),’ probably also due to popular crime novels, in the late 19th century.

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