Luke’s mother scolded him for having spent too much money last weekend.

I've read in the Cambridge Dictionary that to scold is an old-fashioned term in British English, so I guess it wouldn't be used in a less formal context. How would you express the same idea in an everyday language?

  • 3
    What kind of English are you trying to use? It says old-fashioned under the "British" entry, but it does not say that under the American one. I would not say that scold is considered old-fashioned in the US.
    – Em.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 7:29
  • Oxforddictionaries.com gives synonyms
    – V.V.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 7:32
  • 1
    There are two "tabs"/links at the top. Click the American one. Also, in general, yes it can make a difference. Some words are unpopular in one place and not the other, not to mention other English speaking countries.
    – Em.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 7:44
  • 4
    admonish, reprimand, berate, chide - gosh we have a lot of words for this.
    – Strawberry
    Nov 14, 2016 at 14:39
  • 1
    @Strawberry - absolutely true, there are many synonyms, and it's too bad the O.P. didn't at least consult a thesaurus first and tell us what was found there. That said, I think that once that list of words is found, there's nothing wrong with a learner asking about the formality of some of the leading candidates.
    – J.R.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 18:14

9 Answers 9


Less formally, you might consider tell off.

tell sb off
— phrasal verb with tell
​to speak angrily to someone because they have done something wrong:

  • The teacher told me off for swearing.
  • Mum told me off for slopping water all down her shirt.
  • If you make your sister cry, you'll get told off.
  • Their teacher told them off for chattering in the lesson.
  • 2
    +1 for British English, but note that this doesn't work as well in American English, where telling someone off has more a connotation of speaking truth to power rather than power speaking rules to children.
    – 1006a
    Nov 15, 2016 at 2:53

The term "scold" meaning "reprimand/rebuke" is actually common, and as shown in Ngram its usage is not decreasing. The Oxford Learners Dictionary says it is formal , not old-fashioned, but I think you can use it also in colloquial contexts.

From Twelve Lauren Myracle - 2008

  • “Winnie and Ty, stop distracting your sister,” Mom scolded. “Driving is very serious business. One wrong turn and you could ruin a life forever.” “We know, we know, we know,” I said. Earlobes popping off, innocent bystanders getting killed in the blink of an eye—in Mom Land there was disaster lurking around every corner.
  • 7
    I agree that "scold" sounds neither old-fashioned, nor particularly formal (39-year-old native British speaker). Nov 14, 2016 at 9:40

The phrase 'to get after' would be a less formal American English way to say this. This phrase doesn't seem to appear in the Cambridge Dictionary, but does show up in Macmillan's.


Luke's mother got after him for having spent too much money last weekend.


Slang English would be "To bitch at".

"John's mom was upset he came home with bad grades and she bitched at him all night about it."

  • 1
    I think this is a good suggestion. I think of "bitch at" to mean more complaining or nagging than scolding, but it certainly is informal and fits in the context. I might mention in your answer that it's mildly vulgar - some people might not say it in front of very young children.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 15, 2016 at 0:48

If you wanted to go really informal, you might say "to bollock". As in:

  • "I got a bollocking from my boss this morning for being late again"

  • "My girlfriend bollocked me for putting her bra in the dryer"

  • 2
    I think you should add some more to this answer. For one thing, it's worth noting that at least one dictionary classifies this as vulgar slang and British.
    – J.R.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 18:15
  • @J.R. I guess vulgar slang qualifies as being "less formal" ^^
    – njzk2
    Nov 14, 2016 at 22:47
  • @njzk2 - For an English learner, that could create a very awkward situation.
    – J.R.
    Nov 15, 2016 at 9:40
  • As a non-native advanced speaker, I consider this use of bollock a bit obscure, and I usually only use it as an expletive. I agree it is vulgar slang. Nov 15, 2016 at 9:45
  • It's only slightly vulgar and commonly heard in Britain. Definitely slang though, and should not used in writing outside of quotation marks.
    – nigel222
    Nov 15, 2016 at 9:59

You've got a lot of options since your request is somewhat vague in context required.





Chew out

Read the riot act


Lay out

  • 1
    You forgot "upbraid."
    – Wildcard
    Nov 15, 2016 at 6:24
  • I have literally never heard a single person say upbraid before. Is it informal? If so, where is it used? I'm in the USA and have lived kind of all over the place, but not everywhere there. All kinds of weird sayings and word usage, like those filthy hill-people that say pop instead of soda... just kidding! Nov 15, 2016 at 7:47
  • I think I've heard it as often as "chide," which I've never heard said aloud either. ;) They're both words I've come across in print, though. It just seemed like you should have it in your list.... Anyway, upvoted.
    – Wildcard
    Nov 15, 2016 at 9:13
  • 1
    "Upbraid" is pretty oldfashioned, and definitely formal! "Chide" is less severe than "scold" and both are words more likely to be used in print rather than in speech (where "told off" is probable). All British English comments.
    – nigel222
    Nov 15, 2016 at 10:03
  • It would be helpful to use show how these are used in a sentence and explain the differences between them. Punishing is not the same thing as scolding.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 15, 2016 at 11:43

"Scolded" is fine -- it is not particularly formal.

Almost all of the suggested words are synonyms for "criticized," and many of these synonyms also carry with them an impression of the style (tone of voice, body language) in which the criticism is delivered.

  • If the criticism is intense, she "berated."
  • If the criticism is moderate, she "scolded."
  • If the criticism is mild, she "chided" or "reproached."

A truly formal ways of expressing criticism is "reprimanded," but this implies that the speaker is speaking in a distant or formal way, like a judge or employer. A common institutional phrase is "a formal reprimand."

Another set of more formal words are "admonish" or "rebuke." These may be forcefully stated but convey a sense of the speaker's moral authority, like a preacher or prophet, and are often associated with religious writing, in which a holy figure admonishes or rebukes sinners (or devils).


To "have a go at" is a fairly informal/colloquial alternative.


Some of the more informal ways of saying scolded/rebuked/chastised would be:

a) Gave a dressing down
b) went Ballistic/Postal on
c) tore into / tore a new one
d) bawled out

P.S. These are mostly used in everyday conversation in the U.S.

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