nag: meaning and explanation

The verb nag can be used to describe someone annoying you by repeatedly asking you something, telling you something, reminding you to do something, complaining about something, and so on.

The idea of repetition is important with this word.

Imagine someone asks you to do something (e.g. to take out the rubbish). You are planning on doing it later, but the person asks you again and again. They are nagging you.

If we are worried or anxious about something and we can’t stop thinking about it, we can say that these thoughts, doubts and worries are nagging (at) us.

We can describe these as nagging doubtsnagging fears and so on. e.g. People are often kept up at night by all kinds of nagging worries.

If an injury or some kind of sickness or illness (e.g. a toothache) causes us constant or persistent pain, then we can say that it is nagging (at) us.

Note that we wouldn’t use this for extreme or very serious pain. e.g. I’m not sure if I’m in the mood to go out tonight. This toothache has been nagging at me all day and I think I just want to go to bed.

Again, note that in all these cases the word nag communicates the idea of causing annoyance, worry or discomfort through repetition.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear the word ‘nag’ being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: England (RP)

please me? I would do up!
you please stop me? I already I would do washing up!

Dictation #2 // Accent: Northern England

this that iron on .
I this nagging that I left iron on this .

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • When you were growing up, did your parents use to nag you about anything?
  • Does anyone nag you all the time (e.g. your partner, your boss, a colleague)?
  • Do you have any nagging doubts or worries about anything at the moment?
  • Look at the woman in the photo on this exercise. What kind of worries or doubts do you think are nagging at her?

Photo by H A M A N N on Unsplash