Episode 37: Money in the USA

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 37: Money in the USA

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The money of a country is its currency, and US currency is the dollar. In America, pieces of paper currency are called ‘bills’ or ‘notes’. Small, round, metal pieces of currency are ‘coins’.

Bills are used for amounts of one dollar or more, and coins are used for smaller amounts. Paper money and coins together are referred to as ‘cash’. Money used in daily life is said to be ‘circulated’. The face value of a bill or coin is called its denomination.

The dollar is abbreviated either as USD, or, more commonly, with the dollar sign, which looks like a capital letter S with a vertical line through it: $. Therefore, to write one dollar, write either 1 USD or $1.

US currency uses a decimal system, which means it is based on the number 10. That means higher denominations can be divided by ten into smaller denominations. So, a ten-dollar bill is equal to ten one-dollar bills.

The dollar can be divided into 100 cents. To write amounts under one dollar, use either the cent sign (99¢) or the dollar sign with a decimal point: $0.99. For amounts over one dollar, use only the dollar sign. For example, one dollar and ninety-nine cents is written this way: $1.99. Use a comma to separate every three digits for one thousand dollars or more. For example, ten thousand dollars is written thus: $10,000.

Paper Money

All the denominations of US bills are the same size. A one-dollar bill is the same size as the 100-dollar bill. Also, the back of each bill is green, and so dollars are sometimes called ‘greenbacks’.

Older bills were green on both sides. Newer bills show greens, grays and other colors on the front, depending on the denomination. Also on the front of each bill is a famous US leader, and most of those leaders are past presidents. Therefore, if someone speaks about ‘dead presidents’, they are talking about money.

Here is a list of currently-circulated US paper money, whose picture appears on it, and other information:

  • one-dollar bill: $1.00; President George Washington
  • two-dollar bill: $2.00; President Thomas Jefferson; rare/not commonly circulated
  • five-dollar bill: $5.00; President Abraham Lincoln
  • ten-dollar bill; $10.00; Alexander Hamilton (first Secretary of the Treasury)
  • twenty-dollar bill; $20.00; President Andrew Jackson
  • fifty-dollar bill; $50.00; President Ulysses S. Grant
  • hundred-dollar bill; $100.00; Benjamin Franklin (not a president but an important statesman)


Unlike bills, US coins are different sizes, depending on denomination. The smallest coin, the penny, is the smallest denomination. The dollar coin is the largest. Coins, too, have pictures of presidents on them.

Here is a list of presently-circulated US coins, their value, the president who appears on each, plus other facts:

  • penny: one cent (1¢); President Abraham Lincoln; copper-colored
  • nickel: five cents (5¢); President Thomas Jefferson; silver-colored because of the nickel in the coin
  • dime; ten cents (10¢); President Franklin D. Roosevelt; silver-colored
  • quarter: twenty-five cents (25¢); President George Washington; silver colored; a ‘statehood’ quarter has a picture from one of the 50 US states on the back
  • half-dollar: 50 cents (50¢); President John F. Kennedy; also called a 50-cent piece; rather rare to see this coin
  • dollar coin: one dollar ($1); four different kinds: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lady Liberty, Susan B. Anthony (who was the first woman to vote in the USA), and Sacajawea (an early Native American explorer); dollar coins are not used much; rather, people keep them for collections

A group of coins, such as may be in your pocket, is called ‘change’. For example, ‘change for a dollar’ is a collection of coins that adds up to one dollar. So, if someone asks if you have change for a dollar, they want to trade their paper bill for your coins.

A bonus document with additional information, slang words and idioms about Money in the USA is available for download FREE on the Patreon site at Patreon.com/slowamericanenglish. You will need the free download bonus material to answer some of the questions on the Exercise Worksheet.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.

Episode 26 (formerly 1702): Muhammad Ali


Boxer Muhammad Ali is one of the most notable American athletes in the world. When he died in 2016, he was considered one of the most influential people in the USA. He was known not only for his superior boxing ability, but also for his convictions and activities in the civil rights movement for African Americans.

When Muhammad Ali was born in 1942, his parents gave him the name Cassius Clay. He won his first professional boxing match in 1960. During the next three years, his boxing record was 19 wins and no losses, defeating well-known boxers of the time. Fifteen of those 19 wins were knockouts.

Cassius Clay was famous for an unusual boxing style, which consisted of avoiding punches instead of defending against them. He was also famous for being arrogant and vocal, and he often rhymed his speech, much like rappers do today. In 1964 during a pre-match weigh-in for a fight with Sonny Liston, he said he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. This phrase is still famous in American English.

Other well-known quotes from him:

  • I am the greatest!
  • I’m so pretty!
  • Don’t count the days; make the days count.
  • I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
  • I’ve wrestled alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning and throw thunder in jail.

In 1966, Clay was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war. However, Clay had joined the Nation of Islam, an extreme African-American political and religious group. When ordered to go to war, Clay refused as a conscientious objector on the grounds that it was forbidden by his religion.

It was during this time that he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He refused to respond to the name Cassius Clay and refused to allow other people to refer to him that way. Because of his refusal to go to war and his name change, he grew even more controversial than before.

Because of this controversy and many other reasons, Ali was banned from boxing in the USA for most of 1966. Instead, he fought abroad, continuing to win. In 1967, he was sentenced to five years in prison because of his refusal to go to war. That year, the professional boxing commission stripped Ali of his championship title and did not allow him to fight for more than three years afterward.

During the ban, Ali continued to speak out against racial injustice and to fight overseas. Although his conviction was overturned and he did not have to go to prison, his professional boxing career was permanently damaged. Many believe that Ali could have had an even greater boxing record if not for the ban.

He was again allowed to fight in the USA in 1970. In 1971, one of the most famous boxing matches was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Ali fought against Joe Frazier, who was the boxing champion at the time. Frazier beat Ali and remained champion.

Three years later, Ali boxed against George Foreman in another famous match called Rumble in the Jungle because it was held in Zaire, which is now the Congo, in Africa. Ali won this match, which gave him the right to fight Joe Frazier again.

The rematch with Frazier was held in Manila in the Philippines, and thus dubbed ‘The Thrilla (thriller) in Manila’. Ali won this fight and regained his world championship title.

Muhammad Ali retired in 1981 with an overall record of 56 wins and 5 losses. Thirty-seven of the wins were knockouts.

Doctors diagnosed Ali with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1980s, a chronic, degenerative nerve disease. It was caused by his boxing. However, Ali continued to be an active public figure and devoted himself to world humanitarian issues. In addition to his boxing awards, he earned dozens of other awards, both in the USA and abroad. They include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a non-military person in the United States; the BBC Sports Personality of the Century Award; and the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold from the United Nations Association of Germany. He also lit the Olympic torch for the games in Atlanta in 1996.

Filmmakers have produced numerous documentaries about Ali, and actor Will Smith played him in a 2001 biographical film.

Muhammad Ali died in 2016 of complications of his Parkinson’s. However, he continues to have influence through his non-profit Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as through many other projects he supported during his life.

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