On its last legs (Describing the condition of objects, Part 1)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

picture of an old, worn teddy bear against a dark red background
Pete Noel / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

A friend recently told me that she needed a new sofa. Her current one, she said, ‘had seen better days’, meaning that it was clearly old and damaged. This nice idiom (‘have seen better days’) got me thinking about the many ways we describe the condition of objects, both good and bad. This post, in two parts and covering both single words and phrases, is the result of this.

Continuing with idioms, another way to say that something is old and damaged is that it is or it looks the worse for wear:

Admittedly, some of the tabletops are looking a bit the worse for wear.

Something, especially a gadget or vehicle, that is (informal) on its last legs is so old and damaged that it will stop working soon, and an object that (informal) has had it cannot now be used because it is so damaged:

His van is twenty years old and it’s on its last legs.

I need some new trainers. These ones have had it.

If something is so damaged it cannot be repaired, you can say it is beyond repair:

The carpet was beyond repair, so we had it replaced.

There are a few adjectives for things that are old and damaged. Some have additional meanings and usually apply to a particular type of thing. For example, the adjective beat-up often describes old, damaged vehicles and rickety usually applies to old, damaged, wooden things that are likely to break soon:

Despite his wealth, he drove around in a beat-up old car. / She rides a beat-up old cycle.

I wasn’t confident that the rickety old chair would take my weight. / You have to walk up a rickety staircase to get there.

A lovely word for an old building that is in such poor condition it is likely to fall down is ramshackle. The adjective dilapidated also describes old, damaged buildings and sometimes vehicles:

They’d bought a ramshackle cottage out in the country.

At the bottom of the garden stood a dilapidated old shed. / He drove a dilapidated car.

The adjective shabby is usually used for old and damaged items that are made of material, for example clothes and furniture, while tatty describes things more generally that are old and damaged:

He was wearing a shabby old raincoat.

I have a tatty old copy of the novel.

Focusing now on the opposite condition, something that is in pristine condition is perfect and looks new. The phrase in mint condition means the same.

The doll was in pristine condition and still in its original box.

The book was eighty years old but it was in mint condition.

Something that is in good repair is in good condition and not damaged:

Any clothing to be sold must be clean and in good repair.

An item that is as good as new is in excellent condition despite not being new, especially after it has been repaired or treated in some way:

Maria sewed up the hole in my jacket and it’s as good as new.

That concludes my first post on vocabulary describing the condition of objects. In the second post on this subject, I’ll deal with words for specific types of damage.

29 thoughts on “On its last legs (Describing the condition of objects, Part 1)

  1. Jayanand

    All the idioms covered in this article/ blog are very useful and informative. More over listening it in voice of the author made it quite interesting. Thank you Kate Woodford

  2. J.F

    A couple of sugestions:
    In mint condition: Untouched, as good as new.
    Pristine: Perfect condition, as received originally.
    Tarnished: Used for cutlery (at least from what I’ve seen) or things made from metal, meaning it’s covered in a opaque layer of corrosion. That is, it isn’t as shiny anymore.

    1. Jazmin

      Tranks for that. When I read a post or blog, I usually look up the words I didn’t understand, but it’s much better if there’s a detailed explanation of them. In summary, I loved the way you described and add information about the topic.

    1. TimorF

      Adding to the comment about TARNISHED left by JF, “tarnished reputation,” in the case that a person’s believability of statement “may be less easily believed, if their prior comments may have been proven false, and their current statements may not be readily believed, unless Rigorous supporting facts are presented by evidence from a third party of their along side their presented assertion.

  3. Pranjal

    When you relate the idiom with the useful sentences it becomes literally so easy to understand. Thank you

  4. Carla

    I’ve discovered this blog and this article just a couple of minutes ago and I’m completely fascinated. This format for learnign seems awesome, and listening to the author was great. Thanks a lot for this work!

  5. Catherine

    I I’m starting a refresher course in English and I’ve enjoyed this article, which enriches my vocabulary and lets me hear the pronunciation at the same time. It helps me a lot.Thank you very much !

  6. Michelle Watters

    It’s nackerd, no use any more, poor old horse sent to the nackers yard. I’m so tired I feel nackerd.

Leave a Reply