How to use the word ‘worth’

Welcome to today’s Lunchtime Lessons post. This week we are looking at how to use the word ‘worth’ in English. Our Lunchtime Lessons are free Online English classes where we look at areas of English which are often difficult for students.

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How to use the word ‘worth’

Today we’re going to look at the word ‘WORTH’. So, the reason I’ve chosen this is because it’s one of these words that I notice comes up quite a lot with my students. Quite a lot of people are never quite sure how to use it, or if they’re using it correctly. It’s quite confusing. The reason it’s quite confusing is because we use it in lots of different expressions, and often as part of another word as well. And we might not be quite sure how to apply it. It is really worth knowing, though, and that’s because of the frequency of the words. OK, so just to show you what I mean by that, we’re going to use the  Longman Online Dictionary ?

It’s a really useful dictionary. It’s one of my favourite online dictionaries. I like moving between Longman and  Cambridge online . But Longman is a really, really great one for the purposes of what I’m going to show you just now. If you have a look here, you can see these two things, the S1 and the W2, and this is why this word is a useful word to know. When you use the Longman dictionary and you see words that have three red dots, that tells you that they are in the top three thousand most frequent words used in English. So, if a word is in the top three thousand words, those are important words to know and useful words. The S stands for speaking and the W stands for writing. So what this means is that ‘worth’ is in the top one thousand spoken words and it’s in the top two thousand written words, and what that means is that it’s a word that’s used a lot.

If you check another word that’s maybe not a common, for example ‘auxiliary’, it doesn’t have those things. You see, it doesn’t have the three dots and it doesn’t say S1 or W2 because it’s not used as much. But if you’ve got words which are using this, then it’s a word that you want to know and you want to think about. If you are following our vocabulary building course, we base a lot of the vocabulary that we choose from this collection of top three thousand words. So that’s why it’s a really good course to follow on Fridays, because it’s going to help you develop that core vocabulary that we really need.
So, you’ll see as well there’s we’ve got the word ‘worth‘ here, but then we’ve got all of these different variations of it. Some of them are expressions. Some of them are following with different patterns. And all of these are adjectives. And we’ve also got some nouns. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to look at some of these. We’re going to just discuss the differences, OK? And we’re going to think about how we use them and also any errors that tend to be made by other students.
So let’s begin thinking, first of all, about what the word worth actually means, and the best way for me to explain this to you is if we think about a very well-known brand of makeup’s advertising campaign. This is obviously not their actual advertising campaign, this is Thor, but I’m sure you’ve all seen the L’Oréal advert. OK, so think about in your language. What is the advertising campaign for L’Oréal? Because the campaign in English is “because I’m worth it”- and that’s what worth means, right? So it has lots of different uses, but the sort of intrinsic meaning of the words is value. So if we think about L’Oreal,  what they’re basically saying here is that you have value, right? That’s the purpose of their advertising campaign. Let’s look at a few more examples of this idea of value, of having value so we can say

  •  making homemade food takes time, but it’s worth it.

 There is value in doing that. OK, you feel so much better when you eat it, right? So there’s value in making that homemade food.

  •  learning English is difficult, but it’s worth it,

 because if you learn English, you’re going to get more job opportunities. So there’s value in doing it.

  •  It’s really hard getting up early to go running, but it’s definitely worth it

because after I do that I get a lot of value from it and I feel better afterwards.OK, if you look at how we’re using worth in this explanation to say that something has value, we always need an object. It’s worth it.  You don’t always need to start with it,  but we usually do. So you could say

  •  getting up early to go running is worth it


  • making homemade food is worth it.

 We can change that subject, but we very often just use ‘it’.
OK, let’s have a few more expressions with ‘worth. So

  • I have a flat in London. It’s worth a lot of money.
  • It’s worth taking some exam preparation classes.
  • Some people feel it’s not worth their while working
  • Any player worth his salt would love to play for his country
  • In these mountains an experienced guide is worth his weight in gold.
  • The fire caused thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Be worth something
 We’re really talking about money and or you have possessions, or money that will give value. OK, so the two examples:

  • the book is worth three thousand pounds


  • J.K. Rowling is worth billions.

 So the first example I’m talking about the value of the book in the second example, I’m saying the value of that person, not their personal value as a human, but how much money they have.
Then we’ve got this expression ‘worth a fortune’, which is informal. For example,

  • the art collection is worth a fortune – meaning it’s a very large amount of money.

And be careful because it’s not a verb. So we don’t say that something ‘worths’ something. It’s an adjective.
Be would be worth doing something
Here instead of talking about money, we’re really talking about whether something is interesting or useful or helpful. So, I can say

  • the film is well worth seeing – it’s worth doing the activity or
  • the city is worth a trip – it’s good value of your time and you won’t waste time if you go to do something like this.

You’re going to gain something from doing it. So, if I say

  • it’s worth checking the details of that contract before you sign it

 that means it’s going to be a good use of your time because you will gain some extra information or you’ll gain some security from doing it.
And then we also have these expressions which are quite common, be worth the time or be worth the effort or be worth the work.

  • it was a great evening and definitely worth all the hard work.

You’ll see it quite often collocate with those three words there.
It’s worth somebody’s while to do something
We use this especially in spoken English and it means that you should spend your time or your money doing that or on something because again, it’s called value and you’re going to gain that value from it.  So

  • it might be worth your while to talk to the head of the department – it’s a good, positive use of your time
  • some people feel it’s not worth their while working, if they can get money from the state

You’ll quite often see that sometimes used as one individual word ‘worthwhile’ , it doesn’t have to always be split. So what that means is it’s useful, it’s important or it’s good enough to be a suitable reward for the time that you’re doing it right. So

  • she considers teaching worthwhile career.
  • the time and expense involved in keeping up to date with all the changes has been worthwhile.

Worth his or her salt
 If someone does their job well or they deserve respect, we would use this expression 

  • any player worth his salt would love to play for his country – any player who does the job well or deserves our respect would would like to do it.
  • Any accountant worth their salt should be aware of the latest changes in taxation – so if they are doing their job properly, they will know these things.

You’ll usually not always, but you’ll usually see this expression using the word ‘any’ at the beginning, so

  • any teacher, any accountant, any parent etc worth their salt.

 And also just to remind you as well, in English we use the pronoun they, or their if it’s the possessive, when we’re being gender non-specific. So if I don’t know if I’m talking about a man or woman or if it’s somebody who doesn’t want to identify as either gender, that’s the pronoun that we use.
Worth your weight or worth its weight in gold
 This expression just means that it’s really useful and valuable. So

  •  In these mountains,an experienced guide is worth his weight in gold.
  •  My son is so thoughtful, he really is worth his weight in gold. 

So if you think about it, literally, imagine the physical weight of a person being exchanged for gold. They have a lot of value.
Worth as a noun
So in all of the examples we’ve just seen, the word worth is being used as an adjective, remember, not a verb. But we do also use the word worth as a noun. So, for example,

  • 10 pounds worth or five hundred dollars worth of something 

That would mean that there’s an amount of something that is worth ten pounds or the amount that is worth five hundred dollars. To give you an example,

  • There is a chance to win two thousand pounds worth of computer equipment – so the value of the prize will be two thousand pounds.

Or I could also use it to talk about time.

  • 10 minutes worth or a week’s worth of something.

So here we’re talking about amounts of time instead of amounts of money.

  •  We only had three days worth of food left –

So the quantity or the value of what we had was equivalent to three days.
Common mistakes
I just want to highlight the word ‘worthy‘, because that’s often where people make mistakes. I quite often hear students say the word ‘worthy’ when they mean to say it ‘is worth it’. So you might hear something like

  • doing this course is worthy.

we should say

  • doing this course is worth it.

The actual meaning of ‘worthy’ is that you deserve respect from people and it has to be used before a noun. So, 

  •  Leeds United, the football club,  were worthy winners of the competition – they deserved to win that. They deserve the respect to win that. 

Or you might describe somebody as a worthy opponent. You’re competing against them, but you respect them because of what they do. They’re like your equal.

We sometimes use this to say to be worthy of something, so that means that you deserve to be thought about or treated in a particular way. So

  •  a couple of other books are worthy of mention –  they deserve a mention.

So rather than value, when we use the word worthy, it does still have this idea of value, but we’re talking more about deserving something rather than the actual value of it. And the other thing to say is the word worthy is actually generally more formal. So it doesn’t really get used as much. So just be careful with that. It does exist, but it does quite often get used incorrectly.
Another good word involves the word ‘worth’ is worthless. When we say something is worthless, it has no value, whether that’s because of money or because of time and it has no importance. So

  •  the house was full of worthless junk – everything in it had no monetary value


  • the information was worthless to me – They didn’t give me any information.

The the extreme opposite would be priceless. So if something is worthless, it has zero value. If something is priceless, it’s extremely valuable and it is so valuable, it’s impossible to say how much money it’s worth?. So you talk about, for example, priceless antiques.  Or

  • the Mona Lisa is priceless because it is worth so much money – we can’t actually say how much it is.

So just be careful because again, sometimes people confuse these two words.
So let’s test ourselves to finish. Here are all of the examples that we saw before. Take a second individually and read through those examples and just think to yourself, how confident am I now that I can remember each of these, or is there anything that I’m not quite sure about?
What I would suggest you do is later on today or tomorrow or maybe in , three or four days time,  you watch this video again and.see if you can remember the differences with the word and how we should be using it.

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