Auld Lang Syne? What’s That?



If you’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve with American friends, you’ve heard the melody and maybe even the partial lyrics of the Robert Burns’ poem “Auld Lang Syne.” But if you are a non-native speaker, you are probably wondering, “What does this mean?”

Well, you are not alone.  Most of your American friends don’t know either.

Because Robbie Burns was Scottish—and wrote these words over 200 years ago—it’s not easy for modern English speakers to understand.

Robert Burns (1759-96)  source: Wikipedia

Robert Burns (1759-96) source: Wikipedia

Literally, auld lang syne means “old long since.”  Some people like to translate it as “a long time ago” or “times gone by.”  A broader interpretation might be “the good old days.”

Because Scotland’s national poet was writing about remembering dear old friends, I think the last interpretation is a good one.

At New Year’s, people get sappy, nostalgic, and a little drunk as they celebrate with friends. Usually, they remember the title line of the song, they remember the melody, but few of them remember the other words. So, if you learn the lyrics to the first verse and chorus, you will be ahead of many of your American friends.

Here are all five verses for you to enjoy singing the next time you’re at an English-speaking New Year’s Eve party.

Auld Lang Syne

1. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

 For auld lang syne, my dear,
 for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
 for auld lang syne.

2. And surely you’ll buy your pint cup, 
and surely I’ll buy mine!

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, 
for auld lang syne.

[Repeat CHORUS]

3. We two have run about the slopes,
 and picked the daisies fine,

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, 
since auld lang syne.

[Repeat CHORUS]

4. We two have paddled in the stream, 
from morning sun till dine,

But seas between us broad have roared 
since auld lang syne.

[Repeat CHORUS]

5. And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
 And give us a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

[Repeat CHORUS]

British pint  (source:

British pint (source:

Vocabulary and Pronunciation Notes

auld … syne = pronounced “old” … “sign”

acquaintance = people you know (or knew)

brought to mind = thought of

cup o' kindness = glass of alcoholic beverage

British pint = 0.57 liter

American pint = 0.47 liter (16 cups = 8 pints = 4 quarts = 1 gallon)

weary = tired

till dine = till dinner time

Broad seas have roared between us = Large distances have come between us; we’ve lost touch over time.

a hand = handshake

trusty = reliable

o’ thine = of yours

right good-will draught = very friendly drink

draught = pronounced “draft”

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.