Differences Between British English and American English Words

In our recent post, we saw the differences between British and American spelling. The difference between British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) doesn't end only in the spelling. Entire words may be different; a word used in BrE may have an entirely different spelling and set of meanings in AmE, and some words with the same spelling can have entirely different meanings.

For instance, there is no 'ground floor' in AmE, which means 'first floor' is the ground floor itself, and the floor above it is 'second floor', while the floor above the ground floor is called 'first floor' in BrE. Another example is 'bill'. In AmE, 'bill' is a banknote, while in BrE, 'bill' is an invoice of products and services offered.

Here we have a table with several words in the British English and their corresponding American English words.

The Table

British English WordAmerican English CounterpartComments
aerialantenna
anywhereanyplaceThe same goes for somewhere
aubergineeggplant
autocueteleprompterautocue/teleprompter is the device that shows lines of text for newsreaders
autumnfall
banknote/currency notebillIn UK, the word bill is a note of charges for products/services offered, which in AmE is invoice
barrister/lawyer/solicitorattorney/lawyerIn AmE, solicitor is a top legal officer
biscuitcracker/cookieTo mean the explosive cartridge, use the word firecracker
bonnethood
break timerecess
boottrunk
bracessuspendersSuspenders may also be called stockings
car parkparking lot
chemical shop/pharmacy/chemist'sdrugstore
chipsfrench friesIn AmE, chips still exists, but it is used for the BrE term, crisps
cinemathe movies/movie theaterCinema is the place where films are exhibited. In UK, it can also mean movie industry. In India, the word theater is more widely used for cinema.
constablepatrolman
cookerstove
cotcrib
cottonthread
crashwreck
crossroadsintersection
curtainsdrapes
diversiondetour
drawing pinthumbtack
dustbintrashcan/garbage can
dustmangarbage collector
dynamogenerator
enginemotor
estatestation wagonEstate here is a large vehicle, and not the land property
filmmovie
flatapartment
flyover/overbridgeoverpass
footballsoccerIn the UK, the rugby is known as American football. Other terms like rugby, rugby football, etc., are also used.
gardenyard
grillbroiler
ground floorfirst floorYes, in American English, there is no ground floor.
gym shoe/trainerssneakersTrainers or sneakers is a better word than gym shoe.
hand brakeemergency brake
holidayvacation
illsick
intervalintermission
jersey/jumper/pulloversweater
knickerspanties
ladybirdladybug
liftelevator
lorrytruck
luggagebaggageThese words should be used in singular. In plural form, it should be 'pieces of luggage'.
main roadhighway
mate/blokedude/guy
mathsmath
motorwaysuperhighway/expressway
nappydiaper
newsagentnewsdealerNewsagent is anyone that sells newspapers at newsstands.
opticianoptometrist
paraffinkerosene
pavementsidewalk
peeppeek
petrolgasoline/gasThere are other words like 'gas station', which is 'petrol station' in UK.
postmail
postboxmailbox
postmanmailman/mail carrier
pubbar
toilet/loorestroomLoo is a rather less-used term in UK to mean toilet. There is also the term, 'bathroom'.
pal/matebuddy
postcode/postal codeZIP codeZIP is acronym for Zone Improvement Program
pushchair/buggystrollerPushchair is a baby's carriage.
queueline
railwayrailroad
riseraiseThis is especially in the case of salary
saloonsedanSedan is a type of car.
shopstore
silencermufflerMuffler is the device attached to firearms to silence shots.
sophistersophomoreSophister is a second-year undergraduate in the UK.
spannerwrench
stafffacultyThis is especially true in the case of staff of the universities or other educational institutions.
sweetdessert
sweetscandy/confectionery
tapfaucet
taxicabIn Indian English, you will find the word taxicab in widespread use.
tea toweldishtowel/dishcloth
termsemester
tightspantyhose
timetableschedule
tincan
toll roadturnpikeToll road is a road in which a toll (a fee) is levied to use.
torchflashlight
tramstreetcar
tramphobo
trouserspants
underground railroad/underground railwaysubwayUnderground road is also called subway.
undertakerfuneral director/morticianDefinitely I am not a fan of 'funeral director'.
vest/singlet/waistcoatundershirt
windscreenwindshield
zebra crossingpedestrian crossing/crosswalkZebra crossing comes from the fact that the crossing areas in roads have white stripes as a zebra.

Conclusion

Make sure you bookmark the list and use the appropriate word, depending on your audience. Always refer a dictionary when you are in confusion.

Important Note: If you are not seeing the table in good formatting, please visit the blog to view it. In RSS feeds, the table style will not be visible.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

6 Opinions:

  1. well, the one I like best is : to stand for parliament/to run for congress.
    fag is fun too but ancient: cigarette (as in I'm on 20 fags a day)/gay
    ass: the braying animal)/well, you know
    I'll knock you up in the morning (making pregnant) etc

    ReplyDelete
  2. This made me laugh as I posted something similar on my site recently. I'm neither British, nor American, but I have noticed the marked differences in the supposedly shared language. One thing that I do find funny is the American penchant for elongating the vowels when using European words. A couple of examples, pasta becomes Parsta, Milan becomes Milarn!

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  3. But Mike, neither Parsta nor Milarn is a word! In AmE. Thanks for the comment anyway.

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  4. No matter how many times I read these lists, it's always good for a refresher course and I generally learn something new. I also found the style guide that the Economist provides its journalists, which is quite British and has a section on "Americanisms":

    http://translation-blog.trustedtranslations.com/the-economist-cracks-down-on-americanisms-2009-01-22.html

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  5. As an American I'd argue that several of the British terms on the list are used as much, or more, than the American versions by Americans, such as pharmacy/drugstore and autumn/fall. A few more examples: I've only heard turnpike used when part of a road name e.g. New Jersey Turnpike. I've always used toll roads otherwise. I would've called the gun thing a silencer; I thought mufflers were only the things on car exhausts. I should apologize for being picky because plenty of the comparisons named are spot-on.

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  6. Those posts are really helpful. I'd really love to know the difference between American and British short stories. Can anybody help me please?

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