I hear the word "lovely" a lot in British English TV shows, movies and dramas etc. British people tend to use it a lot. I have been searching for its use in American English but sadly, I found nothing. Various sources on the internet associate it only with British English. I have an American friend who told me that they did not use it a lot.

I don't think I have heard it in American TV shows or programs. If I have, I can't remember.

According to Dailymail article, "lovely" is very British.

I am now wondering whether it is common in the USA. If not, in what contexts do Americans use it?

  • I've heard a few Americans use it when they're trying to imitate Brits.
    – Void
    Sep 15 '20 at 13:46

This ngram shows use of the word in British English: "Lovely" in British English

This ngram shows use of the word in American English: "Lovely" in American English

As you can see, it is used in both, but more so in British English.

American English speakers tend to use the word to mean that something is beautiful, or nice, particularly another person (for example "you look lovely" or "she is lovely"). British English speakers do the same but have a wider use of the term which includes using it in place of "beautiful" and extends to experiences in place of terms like "wonderful" and "delicious" (for example "we had a lovely time" or "that's a lovely cup of tea"). British speakers also use it sarcastically (for example "well that's just lovely!").

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    The difference is currently quite small, and used to be much smaller....
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 15 '20 at 13:02
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    I would say that Brits would be more likely to use it as an all-purpose word meaning "pleasant" e.g. a lovely cup of tea, a lovely day (i.e. when it is not raining) whereas Americans might use it more to mean "very beautiful". I always remember a character in a Mickey Spillane novel gazing at a woman's "lovely bosom". I read widely as a youth. Mind you, the phrase is in Robert Burns too. Also a translation of Homer's Iliad at Tufts University: "So spake she, and stirred Helen's heart in her breast; and when she marked the beauteous neck of the goddess, her lovely bosom, and her flashing eyes" Sep 15 '20 at 13:10
  • @MichaelHarvey Agreed, I've added similar thoughts to my answer.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 15 '20 at 13:12
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    @MichaelHarvey What a lovely image.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 15 '20 at 13:42
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    I'm an American English speaker. I think "lovely" works just fine in American speech in all the examples you gave as British. We just tend to use other words instead more often than British speakers do.
    – Daniel
    Sep 15 '20 at 21:44

As an AmE speaker, I know what the word means, and I take it at face value when I hear it from a BrE speaker since I know it’s more common for them, but I can’t think of any time I’d use it sincerely. There always seems to be a more specific word that fits better.

I do, however, use it insincerely, such as when damning with faint praise. For instance, when my mother set me up with a friend’s daughter, “She’s a lovely girl, but ...”

I may also use it sarcastically, which is not much different. In both cases, a polite word I’d normally never use is a perfect fit.

  • This. I can count the number of times I've used lovely as genuine praise on both my hands, whereas 'lovely' either via damning-with-faint-praise or straight-up cantankerous sarcasm is used multiple times a week.
    – Carduus
    Sep 15 '20 at 18:37
  • Bonus points if you pronounce it "lorverly". Sep 16 '20 at 5:44
  • Draws an interesting parallel with "awesome" — I don't know how much that's genuinely used in AmE or if it's more a cliched usage we get on TV, but on this side of the pond people tend to use it only sarcastically :) Sep 16 '20 at 9:08
  • @anotherdave “awesome” was big in the 80s but replaced by “cool” in the 90s. So it goes with slang.
    – StephenS
    Sep 16 '20 at 12:34

Honestly I'd probably only use it in a sarcastic way. Like I know what it means, but it is not used too often. Like if I saw a cute Llama or something, I might be like, "Oh, that was lovely" as kind of a cute alternative. People would notice if you said lovely rather than nice or pretty.

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