I heard somewhere that in English-speaking countries folks use just "traffic" instead of "traffic jam" and that it is used as widely as "see you" for "see you later". Now I tried to Google it, but have not found any evidence of it.

So is it common to say "traffic" instead of "traffic jam"?

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    It's hard to answer without some context. Do you mean something like "I'm sorry I'm late. I got stuck in traffic"?
    – stangdon
    Mar 16, 2017 at 11:35
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    Might I suggest a Google search for "stuck in traffic"? Mar 16, 2017 at 11:35
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    A short informal answer: yes, this is true, at least here in Canada. But watch out for grammar: don't say "I got stuck in a traffic," say "I got stuck in traffic."
    – Eric Dand
    Mar 17, 2017 at 2:11
  • There's also "a lot of traffic". if someone complains about the heavy traffic, and says "There was a lot of traffic tonight" it suggests that the roads were very busy, congested, and the journey home took longer than normal.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 17, 2017 at 23:23

4 Answers 4


In American and British English, this use of "traffic" implies "heavy traffic". A "traffic jam" is a kind of very "heavy traffic" that moves very slowly. Notice that this meaning of "traffic" does not need a determiner, but this meaning of "traffic jam" usually either needs a determiner, or needs to be plural.

"I got stuck in traffic" has a similar meaning to "I got stuck in a traffic jam."

"Watch out for traffic" could mean "There is often a traffic jam along that route."

"How do you like your new house?"
"It's great, except for the traffic."

is a shorter version of:

"How do you like your new house?"
"It's great, except that I often get stuck in heavy traffic."

As KSHuang and TRomano point out, "traffic" has other meanings besides "traffic jams".

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    I would say, "Watch out for traffic" could also be used to warn people about traffic when crossing the road. Mar 16, 2017 at 11:42
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    "the new house is great except for the traffic" could also mean that the street has a lot of traffic (noise, danger to kids playing, etc), not necessarily that it jams up, making for difficult and slow driving. Mar 16, 2017 at 13:27
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    But we also say things like "I got to work early today because traffic was light." Traffic means the number of people traveling, and whether it means a traffic jam is more about the context and not the word itself.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 16, 2017 at 15:08
  • I disagree with the implication. The "I got stuck in traffic" implies a heavy one only because the subject was stuck in it. The "It's great, except for the traffic." means that the subject dislikes the quality of traffic and from there it can be assumed that the traffic is bad, but we still don't know if it's heavy bad or some other kind of bad. You can say "I got there earlier than expected because I got lucky with traffic" and it means good traffic. "Traffic" means general movement on a road and it's from the context that we deduct what kind of traffic it was.
    – Agent_L
    Mar 17, 2017 at 9:37

I heard somewhere that in English-speaking countries folk use just "traffic" instead of "traffic jam"

This is not the case in the UK. "Traffic" is, in this context, the vehicles using the roads. If you say that you were delayed "because of traffic" it means that your journey took longer than you expected because there were more people using the roads than you anticipated, so people were moving more slowly. A "traffic jam" is specifically a large amount of stationary or almost stationary traffic.

So it's possible to be delayed by traffic without getting stuck in a traffic jam. For example, you might only be able to drive at 50km/h on a road where you'd normally drive at 80: your journey will take almost twice as long as normal, but you weren't in a traffic jam, since you were still moving at significant speed.

On the other hand, if you say you were "stuck in traffic", then you probably were in a traffic jam. "Stuck" implies that you weren't moving much, so the traffic was a traffic jam.

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    Traffic isn't just vehicles though - we can say "That store's location is perfect because there is a lot of foot traffic."
    – ColleenV
    Mar 16, 2017 at 15:11
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    @ColleenV Agreed but "traffic" on its own is implicitly vehicular. If somebody said they were late for work "because of traffic" that would be interpreted to mean "because there were so many cars on the road" not "because the sidewalks were full of people." I added "in this context" to my answer. Mar 16, 2017 at 15:22
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    @ColleenV I meant (but didn't say) that, in the context of travel, which is the context of the question, "traffic" on its own is implicitly vehicular. Mar 16, 2017 at 17:53
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    I sort of figured that's what you meant, but I'm not sure that someone less fluent in English would interpret that way which is why I'm being a little bit annoying about it :)
    – ColleenV
    Mar 16, 2017 at 19:12
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    I'd say that everything in this answer holds true here in the United States as well. Mar 17, 2017 at 4:12

There are certainly contexts where "traffic" is very well understood as "traffic jam" for instance in:

Sorry that I'm late, I got stuck in traffic.
Sorry that I'm late, I got stuck in a traffic jam.

However, "traffic" is uncountable in this context, whereas "traffic jam" is countable.


Whilst it is contextual, in everyday use if one bothers to employ a word, it's because it is relevant.

You phone somebody and ask where they are?

"On the way" "On the road" "Going to..." "On Logpile Street."

All imply normal conditions, as soon as traffic is mentioned it means the traffic is relevant to the statement.

This will of course be changed by local context, in poorly managed traffic areas, merely mentioning what road one is on at a certain time of day will imply traffic and probably delays.

So in the end we have "In traffic" can always mean "in a traffic jam" and we could say the same of "In a jam." If the context is road travel either word can cover for the other without any problem.

Clearly both words have other applications, which of them is being made use of is made apparent by context, as is so often the case.

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