Intermediate+ Word of the Day: screw

screw (noun, verb) /skru/ LISTEN

A screw is a metal fastener, similar to a nail but with a spiral body. As a verb, to screw means ‘to turn a screw,’ ‘to fasten something with a screw,’ or ‘to adjust something with a twisting movement.’ Screw also means ‘to distort something by twisting it’ and ‘to strengthen.’ In addition, screw is a slang term meaning ‘to cheat or take advantage of someone or something.’

Example sentences

  • I need to buy some screws to put that shelf up.
  • The workman screwed the hook in place on the wall.
  • Lara screwed the top of the bottle back on.
  • Peter screwed his face into a frown.
  • Ella screwed up her courage and told her parents she was leaving home.
  • That con man really screwed us!

Words often used with screw

screw around: this has two meanings, so use it carefully! The first is to waste time or mess around. Example: “Quit screwing around and help me with the housework!” The second meaning is to have sex with a lot of people. Example: “I can’t imagine Rachel ever settling down with one partner; she’s too busy screwing around!”

screw up: make a mistake. Example: “As the ship slowly sank, the engineer realized he had screwed up very badly.”

put the screws on/to someone: put pressure on someone. Example: “The criminal was determined not to rat on the rest of the gang, but the police were really putting the screws on her.”

have a screw loose: be crazy. Example: “You’re planning to fly solo around the world in a solar-powered plane? You must have a screw loose!”

In pop culture

Screw is also a vulgar term, meaning ‘to have sex with.’ Related to this meaning, the noun screw also describes the act of sexual intercourse. The vulgar expression screw you can refer to having sex with someone, but as an interjection, Screw you! is very rude and has a similar meaning to Go to hell!; you say it when you are really mad at someone.

At the end of this video clip, actors from the American TV comedy Scrubs sing a song called “Screw You.” Which meaning of the expression are they using in the song?

Did you know?

In UK English, screw is also a slang term for a prison guard. Example: “The prisoners were digging a tunnel to escape. Three of them were doing the actual digging and the other one was keeping a lookout for the screws.”

Other forms

screwer (noun), screwable (adjective)


Screw dates back to the late 14th century as the late Middle English noun screw(e), and it meant ‘a wooden or metal cylinder with a spiral ridge, or the hole in which it turns.’ It derived from the Middle French escro(ue), with the same meaning, but its origin before that is uncertain. Some linguists think it came from the Latin scrofa, which meant ‘digger, router.’ There are some similar Germanic words, like the Middle Dutch schrûve and the Middle High German schrûbe, with the same meaning, but those also came from the Middle French term. The verb comes from the noun and first appeared in the late 16th century. Screw has been used as a slang term for sex since at least the early 18th century, while it has been used to mean ‘cheat’ since around the year 1900. To screw up, meaning ‘to make a mistake,’ appeared in the 1940s.

Screw was suggested by Francesca, from Italy.

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