Intermediate word of the day: peak

If something peaks, it reaches its highest or best point, value or level of skill before then becoming worse, lower or less successful. So what kind of things can peak?

  • Athletes and sports players generally peak at a certain age. Some players peak quite early on – and by the time they’re 30, their careers are basically over. However, some players don’t peak until they’re well into their 30s. Like a good wine, they just seem to get better and better with age!
  • We often talk about numbers peaking, so unemployment – a situation in which people don’t have work or money coming in – may peak one month at 17% before dropping back down to around 10% in the months to come; inflation – the process in which prices increase and money becomes less valuable – might rise dramatically over a period of time before peaking at, for example, 27%.
  • Global oil production peaked around 2005 or 2006, and since then less and less oil has been produced every year!
  • In London at the moment, lots of people are saying that house prices have peaked and that once Brexit finally happens, they’ll start to drop to more sensible levels and property will become more affordable for normal people again!
  • When there’s a terrible storm, and the rain is really heavy, it starts to flood. Eventually, the flooding peaks and then the waters start to go down again.
  • The number of people leaving an area can increase over time and then peak. For example, in 2015 the migrant crisis peaked as record numbers of people fleeing Syria and other countries terribly affected by wars arrived in Europe.

Peak can also be a noun and an adjective. The peak is the time when something or someone is at their highest or greatest level. We also call the highest part of a mountain the peak. A peak time or period is when the largest number of people are doing or using something – and a peak level of something is when it’s at its highest.

  • In most cities, the traffic reaches its peak at about 8.30 in the morning – and travelling around during peak hours can be very stressful indeed.
  • The population of Liverpool, in the north-west of England, now stands at around half a million, but it might surprise you to know that this is a lot lower than it was a hundred years ago. The population actually reached a peak of over 850,000 in the 1930s.
  • We often talk about athletes or sports players being at their peak, so tennis star Pete Sampras was really at his peak in the 1990s, while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are arguably both still at their peak!
  • We can also talk about an empire being at its peak, so the Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the 15th and 16th century.
  • Politicians and celebrities may be at the peak of their popularity – or at the peak of their success, although this often only becomes clear after the moment has passed and people look back and realise they’ll never again be that popular or successful!

We also often use peak in a joking way to describe something that has become so popular and common that it’s no longer fashionable and people have started to dislike it, so a couple of years ago in London people started noticing we’d reached peak beard – beards were fashionable, but suddenly too many had them! Maybe this year we’re more or less reached peak craft beer!

Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say five things that might peak – and what happens afterwards.
  • Why did the migrant crisis peak back in 2015?
  • Why might house prices in London peak?
  • Why is a good idea to avoid public transport during peak times?
  • Say three ways you could finish this sentence: He’s at the peak of his . . .
  • Which verb often goes with the noun peak? Things can …….. a peak.

Read about peaks in the news

There have been a lot of stories in the press recently about the fact that many young people are less interested in social media than their parents are. In a recent study, almost two-thirds of all schoolchildren questioned said they wouldn’t care if social media had never been invented, and there are fears that even Instagram, which has so far remained popular, may have peaked – and that from now on, the content will become less interesting and more and more commercial.

There have also been stories about recent trends peaking, and articles claiming that we’ve already reached peak craft coffee and peak emoji! At the same time, there are fears that the growth of the far-right has not yet peaked and that Europe will see yet more extreme right-wing politicians and voices emerging in the months and years to come.


  • Can you think of any sports stars who are really at their peak at the moment?
  • And can you think of any stars who still haven’t reached their peak?
  • Can you think of any trends that have peaked where you live? For example, have you reached peak beard yet? Or peak craft beer?
  • How often do you have to travel during peak hours? How is it?
  • When’s peak season in most holiday resorts where you live? Why?
  • When do your think your country / city was at its peak? Why?

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