What's the difference between 'lah' and 'lor': Poet Gwee Li Sui's take on nuances of Singlish goes viral

SINGAPORE- If you have ever looked for a way to explain the use of Singlish to a foreigner, a "guide" shared on Facebook might be handy.

On Thursday, blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as mrbrown, posted a photo of a Facebook post by another netizen who attributed an explanation of Singlish usage to poet, graphic artist and literary critic Gwee Li Sui.

The explanation shows how nine different Singlish words including lah, liao and hor have different meanings.

For example, "I don't have lah" means "I really don't have it", while "I don't have liao" says "I used to have it, but don't anymore".


The photo on mrbrown's Facebook page went viral, with more than 5,000 shares in a day. The photo received more than 4,000 likes and several comments, with netizens commenting that the explanation is "super funny".

When contacted, Dr Gwee, who provided the guide during a talk on Singlish at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on April 13, said that he was not very surprised that it went viral. He was more impressed with the memory power of a friend who attended the talk, and reproduced his speech from memory.

"I do know that Singlish is a beloved part of Singaporean life that intrigues many. Foreigners and Singaporeans alike can't get enough of it," he said.

He provided the exact explanation he gave:

I dun have lah. - I really don't have it.

I dun have leh. - For some reason, I don't have it.

I dun have lor. - I wish I had it, but sadly I don't.

I dun have liao. - I used to have it, but I don't anymore.

I dun have ha. - I remind you that I don't have it!

I dun have hor. - Don't look at me; I don't have it.

I dun have mah. - It would help if I had it, but I don't have it.

I dun have meh? - You think I don't have it?

I dun have siah! - I can't freaking believe I don't have it!


Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.