Talking about towns and cities

Talking about towns and cities is a common activity in both English language exam tasks, and in everyday conversation.  Whether you’re verbally comparing and contrasting two pictures or writing an essay about the benefits of living in a city as part of a Cambridge Assessment English Exam; or, just telling a work colleague about a weekend trip to another town.  Having a range of vocabulary for talking about these environments can be very useful.

So, cue this week’s vocabulary blog post…

The common nouns that identify the size and type of place where people live and work are: Megacity, city, town, village and hamlet.

Here are some informal colloquial expressions that refer to towns and cities:

 The big smoke (noun) – a large town or city

‘After a day in the big smoke, it’s always good to arrive back home’

The bright lights (Noun) the excitement, glamour and activity of a big city

‘it’s nice living in the countryside. Although, we do occasionally miss the bright lights of the city’

A one-horse town: A town that is small, boring and unimportant.

‘I hate living in this one-horse town, let’s move back to the city’

A ghost town: A town that is empty, where all the people have left, and nothing happens.

‘Many busy costal towns become ghost towns during the winter when all the tourists and holiday makers are not there.’

Areas and locations in and around towns and cities

The next set of words are all for taking about areas in, and around, towns and cities:

County / region:

The areas that a country is divided into with a local government responsible for them. Usually containing one key city, a number of towns and their surrounding rural areas.

Image Credit:


Noun (countable) – An area where many people live that is on the edges of a large city or town (outer-suburb) or inside the city or town but still away from the city centre (inner-suburb).

Image Credit:


Plural Noun – More general and collective term for the areas and communities furthest away from the centre of a town or city .

Image Credit: Glen Bowman on Flickr. Usage rights CC 3.0

Commuter Belt

Noun – the areas surrounding a large city and from where many residents travel every day into the city for work (noun: commuters – people making a regular journey to work).

Image Credit London Commuter Belt map by Nilfanion, created using Ordnance Survey data usage rights CC 3.0


Noun – An area or geographical community that is part of a city or town

Image Credit: GooseGoddessS on Flickr Usage rights CC 2.0

The Inner city

Noun – An area or location near to the centre of a large city. often has negative associations with high population density, poverty and social problems – adjective: inner-city (‘inner-city schools/housing’ or ‘inner–city regeneration project’)

Image Credit: Manchesterphotos accesed via Usage rights CC 3.0

City Centre

Noun and Adjective – the area of a city that contains the main shops and businesses. Also called ‘downtown’ in American English.

Image Credit: Tristan Surtel via Usage Rights CC 4.0

The High Street

Noun – the main shopping street of a town or city – see last weeks vocabulary post here

Describing towns, cities and their areas.

Now that we’ve seen some different areas of towns and cities, lets look at some of the more descriptive language we can use to talk about these places and their characteristics.

Talking about buildings

Verbs related to towns and cities

Why not use some of the language in this post to tell us about where you live and make a comparison to another location in your area. You could share you work in the comments below

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Until next week, bye for now