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Travel topics > Talk > English language varieties

The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language. — attributed to George Bernard Shaw

English is the main language in many places, an important language in others, and spoken as a second language in most of the rest of the world. However, there are some significant differences in pronunciation, spelling and word usage around the world. This article aims to provide a list of some of these differences that may be useful to travellers.

Countries in the world where English is the majority native language (blue) or an official minority language (turquoise)
English has many variations around the world, and even within the same country. We have tried to cover the main differences that travellers will regularly encounter in making practical arrangements, and terms which are likely to cause confusion in typical conversations. As this is a topic which could easily grow to be hundreds of pages long, contributors are requested to discuss additions on the talk page before making changes.
Statue of English national bard William Shakespeare in New York City's Central Park

The clearest distinction is between what can be loosely called the British (or "Commonwealth", abbreviated "UK" in this guide) and American (abbreviated "U.S." in this guide) varieties of English.

  • Many areas (not all of them Commonwealth members) generally follow British rather than American usage: Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other former British possessions in Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and current and former British possessions in the Caribbean and Oceania.
  • A few areas are heavily influenced by the U.S. and generally follow American usage, including the Philippines, Liberia, Israel, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, parts of Latin America and current and former American possessions in the Caribbean and Oceania.
  • The European Union has mandated British English (not literally "British", but rather the variety of English used in Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, and the UK) as an official language of the EU, and it is generally standard British English that is taught as a foreign language in European schools, though American cultural influence is strong in Europe as well. Some American terms may be better known than their British counterparts (e.g., "truck" vs. "lorry", or "fries" vs. "chips"), and some language schools in Europe recruit American and Canadian English teachers. In general there is a trend to move from British spelling and pronunciation towards American spelling and pronunciation, especially among young people, which is fueled in no small part by the increasing availability of American media in the original version.
  • English speakers without a British background and people in areas without a history of direct colonial or military influence by English-speaking nations are often more familiar with American usage because of the popularity of U.S. films, TV series, music, and spell-checkers. In particular, due to the global economic and military dominance of the U.S., outside the Commonwealth and the European Union, it is usually American English that is taught as a foreign language in schools.
  • Canada mixes British spelling conventions ("labour", not "labor") with American ones ("realize", not "realise"). It tends to follow American vocabulary choices ("elevator", not "lift"). The commonest Canadian accent is very close to a Midwestern U.S. accent, though for the trained ear there are some differences.
  • Due to the worldwide popularity of Hollywood films and American pop culture, speakers of British English are more likely to understand American English terms than vice versa.

Some exceptions to the purely dichotomous treatment of English are noted in comments in the tables below, but this guide is meant to be a practical aid for travellers, not an exhaustive compendium of English usages.

Contents

SpellingEdit

 
Depending on the variety of English used, this is "a gray truck" or "a grey lorry".

Noah Webster, compiler of the first major dictionary of American English in the early 19th century, made a number of simplifications in the spelling. Some of these are now standard in the U.S., but generally not used elsewhere.

See Wikivoyage:Spelling for discussion of which variants to use in articles.

British English doubles the final consonant in some words when adding an ending, for example in "traveller". American English usually spells it "traveler".

British English changes a "C" to an "S" to distinguish a noun from a verb. James Bond has a "licence" to kill, and was "licensed" after qualifying as a spy. The American form always uses the "S" in most such pairs, but always has a "C" in "practice". In a few cases, such as "advice"/"advise", the distinction is retained in all varieties of English.

American English drops the "U" in "-our" endings:

American British
color colour
harbor harbour

However, the world "glamour" is always spelled with the "U".

Words borrowed from French keep the French "-re" ending in British English, but get changed to the more phonetic "-er" in American English:

American British Comment
center centre
liter litre
theater theatre "Theatre" is occasionally used in proper nouns in the U.S.
meter metre As a unit of length
All dialects use "meter" for a measuring instrument.

American English uses an "S" in some words, while British English uses a "C":

American British
defense defence
offense offence

In the above cases, the adjective forms, "defensive" and "offensive" respectively, are always spelled with an "S".

In some terms (mainly medical and scientific), British English retains "ae" and "oe" (these days rarely written as ligatures "æ" and "œ" since those don't appear on English keyboards), while American English usually simplifies both to just an "e".

American British
anesthetic anaesthetic
celiac coeliac
encyclopedia encyclopaedia
diarrhea diarrhoea
pediatric paediatric

American English drops the silent "-ue" letters from some words with a "-gue" ending:

American British
analog analogue
catalog catalogue

When adding a suffix for some words ending with a silent "E", American English sometimes drops the "E" while British English retains the "E":

American British
aging ageing
livable liveable
sizable sizeable

Some words, such as "bathing" and "usable" drop the "E" everywhere, while some others, such as "dyeing" and "changeable" retain the "E" everywhere.

For a number of verbs in the past participle, the older irregular spellings are more common in British English but the regular "-ed" forms predominate in American English. The verb "dive", however, has the opposite pattern.

American British Comment
dreamed dreamt
spelled spelt
learned learnt As a verb
The adjective in "a learned man", pronounced with two syllables, is spelled the same in all dialects.
dove dived

Some verbs retain the older form in all dialects, for example "slept" and "wept".

American English changes the "S" to a more phonetic "Z" in some "-ise" and "-yse" endings:

American British Comment
analyze analyse But the noun form "analysis" is always spelled with an "S"
organize organise
realize realise

Some words have silent letters dropped in American English or are just spelled differently:

American British Comment
bagel beigel
check cheque As a form of payment
The verb "to check" and its related noun are always spelled "check".
curb kerb As the raised edge of a street
The verb "to curb" (as in "to restrain") and its related noun are always spelled "curb".
draft draught / draft UK retains separate words (with multiple meanings for each); U.S. simplifies both to "draft", but may sometimes refer to "draught beer".
jewelry jewellery
program programme UK uses "program" only in the context of a "computer program". Australia and Canada use the word "program" to refer to TV or radio shows.
story storey As a floor or level of a building
"Story" as in "tale" or "sequence of events" always lacks an "E".
tire tyre As a ring of rubber around a wheel
The verb "to tire" is always spelled with an "I".
ton tonne As the metric unit of weight, equivalent to 1,000 kg.
The imperial ton and U.S. ton (see Weights and measures below) are always spelled "ton".
whiskey whisky The U.S. and Ireland usually use the spelling "whiskey", while other countries use "whisky", but this is not universal; at least a few American distilleries call their product "whisky".
For some reason, this spelling difference raises a disproportionate amount of ire among readers.

And a few words are both pronounced and spelled differently:

American British Comment
airplane aeroplane
aluminum aluminium The UK "aluminium" spelling is the international scientific preference, to match other -ium elements.
filet (fih-LEY) fillet (FILL-it) Meat or fish; in engineering it's always "fillet".
inquiry, to inquire enquiry, to enquire To ask for information
An official investigation is always called an "inquiry".
mom mum
specialty speciality

Canadian usage tends to be mixed in the last two categories, with British spelling being followed for words such as "cheque", "storey", "enquiry" and sometimes "programme", but American spelling being followed for words such as "aluminum", "bagel" and "tire".

Incidentally, punctuation usage differs slightly as well, but doesn't follow the same division between British and American English. Quotations are marked by double quotation marks () in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, while single quotation marks () are used in the UK and South Africa.

PronunciationEdit

Educated people from almost anywhere in the English-speaking world can talk to each other without difficulty. Consider an international crew on an oil rig somewhere. The engineers and managers would almost certainly be able to talk to each other without any real problems, whether they studied in Edinburgh or Edmonton. However, two working guys from the same two countries — say working class Glasgow and a Newfoundland fishing village — would be quite likely to find communication a bit difficult due to stronger regional accents and use of dialectical words.

An important difference in English dialects is whether "R" is pronounced after a vowel. Words such as "fork", "word" or "mother" are quite different in the two types, though everyone pronounces the "R" in other contexts, for example in "rabbit" or "area". Linguists call dialects with the "R" rhotic and those without non-rhotic.

  • Dialects with the "R": Some parts of western and northern England, Scots, Irish, Canadian, much of the U.S.
  • Dialects without "R": Most of England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Boston, parts of the Southern U.S., some New York City-area accents, and African American Vernacular English (used by many African Americans interchangeably with the standard dialect of their region).

People not familiar with dialects other than their own sometimes lump all "R"-less dialects together, as when an American takes a New Zealand accent for British, and others make the opposite error, like an Englishwoman taking a Canadian accent for American.

Another noticeable difference is the "A" sound in words such as "bath", "laugh", "grass" and "chance"; many dialects pronounce them with the "short A" as in "trap", but southern England, South Africa, New Zealand and some parts of Australia pronounce them with the "long A" or "broad A" as in "palm".

Certain words are pronounced very differently. In parts of the U.S., "borough" rhymes with "furrow" but elsewhere the final consonant is an "uh" sound. "Advertisement" in the UK is pronounced ad-VERT-iss-muhnt (shortened to "advert" AD-vert), but in the U.S. it's AD-ver-tize-muhnt (shortened to "ad").

 
The historical U.S. Route 66. "Route" usually rhymes with "shoot", but in North America it may alternatively rhyme with "shout".

The words "route" and "router" can be pronounced to rhyme with "shoot" and "shooter" anywhere, but in North America they can also rhyme with "shout" and "shouter". Sometimes it is safer to use the latter pronunciation, whatever your own dialect has, because in Australian and New Zealand English, "root" is slang for sex, much the way "screw" is in North American English. (The pronunciation that rhymes with "shouter" is standard in North America for the networking device known as a "router".)

In some cases, such as in the word "herb", the initial letter "H" is pronounced in British English, but usually silent in American English.

Also worthy of note is that the letter "Z" is called "zee" in the U.S. and its former colonies, but "zed" in all other parts of the English-speaking world. In some parts of Scotland, you'll occasionally hear it called "izzard".

VocabularyEdit

All dialects of English include words borrowed from other languages, and many of those such as "bungalow" (Hindi), "robot" (Czech), "canoe" (Carib) or "typhoon" (Chinese) are now standard in all dialects. However, many dialects also include loanwords that are non-standard. Canadians use more terms of French origin than other dialects and are more likely to pronounce them as French speakers do, New Zealanders occasionally mix Maori terms into their English, Indian English has Hindi or Urdu words, and so on.

Bilinguals may on occasion use English words that make sense in their other language but have a different meaning in English; one example is that French librarie means bookstore, not library. The reverse case of loanwords being used in a meaning closer to the language of origin is also common. In some cases, particularly when pseudo-English words like "Handy" (German for mobile phone) are used, confusion may arise.

Get in/aroundEdit

U.S. UK Notes
bus bus / coach UK distinguishes between local "buses" (such as city buses or school buses) and long-distance "coaches" (such as National Express or Greyhound). In the U.S. "bus" is generally used for all of these.
car (rail travel) carriage / coach
carry-on bag hand luggage
crosswalk pedestrian crossing / zebra crossing UK "zebra crossing" refers exclusively to uncontrolled crossings with striped road markings and Belisha beacons (flashing amber/orange lights atop black and white poles)
elevator lift
first floor ground floor UK "first floor" means "first above the ground floor", which is called the "second floor" in the U.S. Hotels tend to label floors like "lobby", "mezzanine", "pool", etc., which may or may not be counted in place of numbered floors.
flight attendant air host[ess] Singapore/Malaysia: "air steward[ess]"
"Stewardess" was used in the U.S. up to the 1970s, but today is considered sexist and offensive.
overhead compartment / overhead bin overhead locker
[pedestrian] underpass subway As a pedestrian tunnel under a busy road or railroad. Singapore follows U.S. usage.
railroad railway Canada and the Philippines follow British usage.
In the US, a notable exception for the use of the term railway is in New York City's Staten Island Railway.
round-trip (ticket) return U.S. "return" refers to the return leg itself.
sidewalk pavement Australia: "footpath". In North America "pavement" is a mass noun referring to the substance (usually asphalt) used to cover a surface (usually a road, but also parking lots, etc.).
streetcar / trolley tram U.S. "streetcar" is always in mixed traffic (and often a rather short line) whereas many trams have dedicated rights of way and would likely be labeled "light rail" in the U.S.
subway / metro / local acronyms underground / metro The London Underground is colloquially known as "the Tube". "Subway" is used in Glasgow. "Metro" is used in places like Montreal, Washington, D.C. and Newcastle upon Tyne. In many American cities the local public transport authority has a more or less well known acronym often ending in TA (transit authority) or RT (rapid transit), as in BART in the Bay Area.
track platform As the place where you board a train. U.S. "platform" refers to the physical structure passengers stand on to wait for their trains. UK "track" solely refers to the structure a train runs on.

By carEdit

For some reason, cars and roads have developed a lot of differing terminology between American and British English.

For terms related to motor vehicles, Canadian English uses American terminology and spelling exclusively. The Canadian and American auto industries have always had close links.

U.S. UK Notes
blinker / turn signal indicator / signal
coupe (pronounced KOOP) / 2-door coupé (pronounced koo-PAY or KOO-pay) / 2-door
divided highway dual carriageway
drunk driving / DUI / DWI drink-driving U.S. "DUI" and "DWI" are acronyms for "driving under the influence" and "driving while intoxicated", respectively. In colloquial speech all three of the listed terms are synonymous, but in legal uses the specific terminology and definition of "DUI" and/or "DWI" vary from state to state.
gas / gasoline petrol
gas [pedal] accelerator Also known generically as the "throttle pedal"
gas station filling station / petrol station Singapore: "petrol kiosk". UK "[motorway] services" are dedicated exits off the motorway with filling stations, food, shopping, hotel, etc.
UK: the filling station's petrol pumps are in the "forecourt"; U.S.: the gas station's pumps are on concrete pads known as "islands".
highway / freeway / expressway motorway Australia: "freeway"/"expressway"/"motorway". New Zealand: "expressway"/"motorway". Singapore/Hong Kong: "expressway". Malaysia: "highway"/"expressway".
"Interstate" is the name of a specific U.S. highway system, not a general term for any motorway or numbered road.
The unambiguous internationally-recognized term is a "controlled-access highway", though this is rarely used in everyday speech.
hood (of a car) bonnet
median central reservation New Orleans area: "neutral ground".
minivan people carrier Australia and New Zealand follow U.S. usage.
overpass flyover U.S. "flyover" generally refers to not just an overpass but a complex interchange with ramps.
parking brake handbrake
parking lot / parking garage car park UK "parking lot" refers to each individual space for one car. U.S. "parking lot" typically refers to open air spaces while a "parking garage" (also called "parking deck" or "parking ramp"; Canada: "parkade", New Zealand: "parking building") is typically an enclosed, multistory structure.
to pass to overtake New Zealand distinguishes between "passing" in traffic lanes on your side of the road, and "overtaking" by moving into the lane with oncoming traffic.
pavement road surface / tarmac Australia: "bitumen" is sometimes used instead. U.S. "tarmac" commonly refers to airport surfaces where airplanes move.
pickup [truck] no particular usage; see notes South Africa: "bakkie". Australia and New Zealand: "ute" (pronounced yoot) is either a pickup truck, or a coupé pickup (similar to the Chevrolet El Camino). Pickup trucks are extremely uncommon in the UK, so they could be called a "car", a "4x4" / "four-by-four" or just a "[pickup] truck" depending on who's talking.
to rent to hire Also U.S. "rental car" vs UK "hire car".
U.S. "to hire" is used only in the sense of "to employ", such as hiring a driver to drive the car.
sedan / 4-door saloon / 4-door Australia and New Zealand follow U.S. usage.
[service] shop / repair shop / mechanic garage Australia and New Zealand follow U.S. usage.
side view mirror wing mirror
speed bump speed bump / hump / sleeping policeman New Zealand: "speed bump" (long) or "judder bar" (short)
[station] wagon estate car Australia and New Zealand follow U.S. usage.
stick / stick shift / manual (transmission) manual Also sometimes called "standard", even in the U.S. and other countries where the vast majority of cars have automatic transmissions.
truck lorry U.S. term has multiple meanings; see notes below. UK road signs refer to "HGVs" (which stands for "Heavy Goods Vehicles"). Australia and New Zealand follow U.S. usage, though really long trucks in Australia are also known as "road trains".
trunk (of a car) boot
undivided highway single carriageway
windshield windscreen
yield give way
 
This Toyota Hilux pickup / bakkie / ute / truck has a 3.0L turbo-diesel engine under the hood / bonnet.
  • roundabout: The term "roundabout" is standard everywhere, but Massachusetts uses "rotary". New York State distinguishes roundabouts from "traffic circles", which are usually larger in size and where traffic rules regarding right-of-way, etc., are somewhat different.
  • service station:
    • U.S. — a filling station attached to a repair garage
    • UK — motorway service area, a service centre or rest area
    • Australia — a service station or "servo" is any fuel station.
  • truck: U.S. "truck" can refer to several different vehicles:
    • A pickup truck
    • An SUV (sport utility vehicle), known elsewhere as an "off-road vehicle", "4x4" / "four-by-four", or by brand names like "Jeep" or "Land Rover"; sometimes marketed as a "crossover" for light-duty vehicles with no off-road capability
    • A heavy-duty vehicle for moving cargo (includes articulated semi-trailers [UK: "lorry"] and box/straight trucks) or specialized jobs (fire trucks, tow trucks, garbage trucks, etc.)
In casual conversation, "truck" is more likely to refer to a pickup, but could also refer to an SUV.

See and doEdit

For sports, the International Olympic Committee and most international sports federations follow British usage.

U.S. UK Notes
checkers draughts The strategy board game played on a checkered (UK: "chequered") board.
football American football Multiple meanings; see notes below.
soccer football Multiple meanings; see notes below.
hockey ice hockey The game played on ice, the national sport in Canada.
field hockey hockey The game played on grass or artificial turf, popular in India and Pakistan.
tie draw When referring to matches where a winner cannot be determined. Several sports may have their own special words for different game results without a winner. Cricket uses both "tie" and "draw" with mutually exclusive meanings.
track and field athletics U.S. "athletics" more often refers to sports in general.
UK "track and field" refers only to events that take place at the stadium (i.e. excluding road-based and cross-country events)
movie theater / cinema cinema In the UK, "going to the pictures" can also mean a trip to the movies.
 
The most popular sport in the world: "association football", "football", or "soccer".
  • football refers to the most common game in the respective country.
    • In the UK, that would be association football. Although "soccer" was originally an Oxfordian word formed from association football, much like "rugger" was formed from rugby football, most Brits today insist that "football" is the one true name for this sport.
    • In Australia, the usage varies by region; "football" or the slang term "footy" refers to rugby league in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, but refers to Australian rules football everywhere else.
    • In the U.S., American football is meant when referring to "football" unqualified. Other countries may know it better as "gridiron football", of which American football is one variety; in North America, "gridiron" refers to the field itself.
    • In Canada "football" refers to either the Canadian or the American variety of gridiron football (very similar to each other).
    • In Ireland, "football" may refer to association football, Gaelic football, or sometimes rugby union. National media typically avoid confusion by not using "football" by itself to refer to any sport, respectively using "soccer", "Gaelic football", and "rugby" to refer to the three aforementioned sports.
    • In New Zealand, "football" historically referred to rugby union, but since 2005 this has dramatically changed, with "football" now referring almost exclusively to association football.
    • In South Africa, "football" would most often refer to association football. However, the word is rarely used outside of official contexts (such as the name of the national governing body for the sport, the South African Football Association). All cultural groups in the country, when speaking English, refer to the sport as "soccer"; this is reflected in national media usage.
    • In Singapore, "football" refers to soccer, though the term "soccer" is also widely used and understood.
  • The unqualified word rugby usually refers to rugby union, but refers to rugby league in the north of England.
    • Although "football" refers to rugby league in the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales, the word "rugby" always refers to rugby union throughout the whole of Australia.
  • Also of note is that when describing matches between two teams, the home team is typically stated first in the UK (eg. Manchester United vs Liverpool means Manchester United hosting Liverpool), while it is typically stated second in the US (eg. L.A. Lakers vs (or "@") Chicago Bulls means L.A. Lakers visiting the Chicago Bulls).

BuyEdit

U.S. UK Notes
ATM cash point / cash machine / hole-in-the-wall "ATM" stands for "automated teller machine"; this acronym is the standard word in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and is becoming more widely-used in the UK. In the U.S., "hole-in-the-wall" means a place lacking ambience that sells cheap (but not necessarily bad) food.
bill (money) note "Note" is short for "banknote", which is the official term used in all English-speaking countries
cash register till U.S. "till" refers specifically to a money drawer, such as that of a cash register or a bank teller's station.
checking account current account Depending on location, may also be spelled "chequing account" or called a "cheque account". Canadian banks offer "chequing accounts" to individuals but "current accounts" to businesses.
downtown city centre Some cities have their own special terms for "downtown"/"city centre". Philadelphia uses "Center City", Charlotte often uses "Uptown", and New Orleans (where "downtown" traditionally referred to a different area) uses "the CBD" (short for "Central Business District"). Sometimes referred to as just the "city".
fanny pack bum bag UK "fanny" is obscene slang for female genitalia.
Singapore: "waist pouch"
jumper pinafore [dress]
line (of people waiting) queue
mall shopping centre U.S. "shopping center" usually refers to a complex of retail stores without interior corridors, though this can vary regionally and can also be called a "strip mall", "mini-mall", or "plaza".
Main Street High Street
pants trousers UK "pants" refers to underwear. Australia and New Zealand use both terms interchangeably. A pejorative use like "Lloyds is pants, Barclays is better" makes sense in the UK (where pants are undergarments), but that meaning is completely lost anywhere "pants" refer to trousers.
panties knickers
pump (women's shoe) court shoe
shopping cart trolley In New Zealand you'll also hear "trundler". In the U.S. "shopping cart" is widespread, but you may also hear "buggy" in the South and "shopping carriage" in New York City and southern New England. U.S. "trolley" may refer to a streetcar or a bus built to outwardly resemble an old style streetcar.
sneakers / athletic shoes / tennis shoes trainers Singapore: "track shoes"
sweater jumper
vest waistcoat
  • Flip-flops go by various local names: Australia: "thongs"; New Zealand: "jandals" (short for "Japanese sandals"); South Africa: "slops"; Hawaii: "slippa" (the local pronunciation of "slippers"). They're also just called "sandals", but this term can cause confusion since there are various other types of sandals.

EatEdit

U.S. UK Notes
appetizer / starter starter Australia: "entrée"
arugula rocket / roquette
biscuits scones The two are similar, but not identical. Unlike North American biscuits, British and Irish scones are often sweet. The two foods differ slightly in preparation, though their appearance is virtually identical. In Canada, the word "scones" is used, but much of the country still refers to "biscuits" in the U.S. sense. In the UK, there is much debate as whether "scone" should rhyme with "cone" or "gone", with the disagreement itself being one of the most well-known features of accent and dialect differences around the country.
candy sweets Australia/New Zealand: "lollies"
check (restaurant) bill Canada follows British usage.
chips crisps See notes below.
cookies biscuits Britain distinguishes hard "biscuits" from soft "cookies".
corn maize See notes below. Southern Africa: "mealie"
corned beef salt beef
cotton candy candy floss Australia: "fairy floss"
dessert dessert / pudding / sweet U.S. "pudding" without qualification usually means the same as UK "custard" or "blancmange".
eggplant aubergine India/Singapore/Malaysia: "brinjal". Australia follows U.S. usage.
entrée / main course main course In English-speaking areas outside the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Francophone Canada, "entrée" would generally be understood to mean "appetiser" or "starter".
[French] fries chips See notes below.
ground beef minced beef / beef mince
Jell-O jelly "Jell-O" is a trademark for a specific brand of gelatin desserts, although the term is widely used generically in the U.S. and Canada.
jelly jam U.S. "jam" contains fruit flesh and "jelly" is filtered to just the thickened juice, with pectin (and often sugar, etc.) added.
ketchup / catsup tomato sauce / ketchup Usage may vary. "Tomato sauce" is more common in Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa. Wales, Scotland, and parts of England may use "red sauce". Depending on context, "tomato sauce" can also mean Italian sauces (e.g. Neapolitan, marinara). The spelling "catsup", while still occasionally seen in the U.S., is becoming increasingly uncommon.
napkin serviette Australia, New Zealand and Britain distinguish paper "serviettes" from cloth "napkins". Canada uses both terms interchangeably.
scallion spring onion Both terms are used interchangeably in some parts of the U.S.
shrimp prawn In British and Canadian usage, a "shrimp" is typically much smaller than a "prawn", while American English does not distinguish between the two
takeout / carryout / to go takeaway
zucchini courgette Australia follows U.S. usage.
  • chips / crisps / fries:
    • UK — "chips" refers almost exclusively to deep fried, elongated strips of potatoes; crispy, thin slices of potatoes are referred to as "crisps".
    • U.S., Canada — "chips" refers almost exclusively to crispy, thin slices of potatoes, while deep fried elongated strips of potatoes are referred to as "fries" or "French fries". However, the British dish "fish and chips" is still referred to as such, and in Canada, "chip trucks" sell French fries.
    • Australia, New Zealand — Both the aforementioned fried-potato dishes are referred to as "chips"; the meaning is generally inferred from context.
    • Some Commonwealth nations use "fries" for the thinner style as typically found at McDonald's and "chips" for the thicker style as typically found in fish and chips.
  • coriander: In the UK, refers to both the seeds and leaves of Coriandrum sativum. In North America, "coriander" refers only to the seeds; the leaves are called "cilantro".
  • corn:
    • North America, Australia, New Zealand — A cereal that grows on tall stalks, with the edible grains (most often yellow or white, though other colors exist) forming "ears" growing from the stalk. This plant and its grain are called "maize" in the UK and Ireland, and by botanists worldwide (at least within a scientific context).
    • England and Wales — "Corn" can refer to any cereal, but most often to wheat.
    • Scotland and Ireland — Similar to England and Wales, except that the most common reference is to oats.
    • However, in culinary contexts, "corn" with an additional word (e.g. "popcorn", "sweet corn", or "corn flakes") always refers to maize, even in the UK and Ireland.

DrinkEdit

U.S. UK Notes
apple juice / [apple] cider apple juice U.S. "apple juice" is filtered and "cider" is unfiltered (and both are non-alcoholic).
hard cider cider In a U.S. bar, "cider" by itself would be assumed to mean hard cider, but elsewhere would usually be taken to mean unfiltered apple juice
liquor store / package store off licence Sometimes called "ABC store" or "state store" in U.S. states in which some or all alcohol can only be sold in state-run stores. Australia/New Zealand: "bottle shop"
lemon-lime soda (e.g. Sprite, 7-UP) lemonade
lemonade (squeezed lemons and sugar) traditional lemonade / still lemonade
pop / soda / coke fizzy drink / soft drink See notes below.
  • pop, etc.
    • U.S., Canada:
      • In the U.S., "pop" is used in Western New York, western Pennsylvania, most of the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest. It is also the preferred term throughout English-speaking Canada.
      • "Soda" is used in New England, the coastal Mid-Atlantic, California, most of the Southwest, eastern Wisconsin, South Florida, and anywhere within a roughly 150-mile (240 km) radius of St. Louis.
      • "Coke" predominates in the southern tier of the U.S. between New Mexico and Florida. The word is used generically, not just in reference to Coca-Cola: the answer to the question "what kind of coke would you like?" could very well be Pepsi.
    • UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland — "Fizzy drink" is the most common term throughout all of these countries, though you might also hear "soft drink" in Australia and New Zealand, and "mineral" in Ireland. In the UK, "soft drink" more commonly refers to any non-alcoholic beverage.
    • South Africa — "Cooldrink" is the term of choice.
    • Singapore, Malaysia — "Soft drink" is the most commonly used term.

SleepEdit

U.S. UK Notes
apartment flat In the UK, "flat" is the generic term; "apartment" is used for similar dwellings in expensive residential areas. Australia uses both terms interchangeably, plus "unit".
to rent to let In any dialect, "to lease" can be use for longer rentals that involve a lease.

LearnEdit

U.S. UK Notes
class / course module / unit
college university / uni Usage varies by country; see notes below. As a generic term for post-secondary education. "University" is also used and understood in the U.S., though the contracted form "uni" generally is not.
degree program course [of study] / degree programme
faculty academics As in educators (professors, teachers, lecturers/lectors, etc.) and researchers. In education contexts, U.S. usually distinguishes "faculty" from "staff": employees who neither have teaching, research, nor managerial responsibilities. UK "faculty" refers to a collection of related academic departments (sometimes referred to as a "school" in the context of UK higher education).
grades / points marks / grades Also U.S. "to grade" or "to check" versus UK "to mark".
graduate / grad (stage of education) postgraduate / postgrad As in education above the level of a bachelor's degree.
to major in (a subject) to read / to study (a subject) U.S. "to study (a subject)" can mean majoring, or simply to take any class, or reviewing before an exam
private school public school / independent school / private school See notes below.
proctor / [exam] supervisor invigilator
professor lecturer In the UK, "professor" is a highly prestigious title and a department rarely has more than one, and the US titles "assistant professor" or "associate professor" are unknown. In the U.S. and Canada, "lecturer" is sometimes the formal title for a junior or part-time faculty member, whereas the word "professor" can be used loosely for any professional college instructor or reserved for full-time faculty members. Other Commonwealth countries mainly follow British system, but may use "associate professor" instead of the British "reader".
public school state school See notes below. As in a government-owned, publicly-funded school open to all students. May be known as a "government school" in some places.
tuition tuition fees UK "tuition" refers to the educational content transferred to students
 
Balliol College, part of Oxford University
  • college:
    • U.S. — Generic term for post-secondary undergraduate education. An American student will "go to college" regardless of whether his or her particular institution is formally called a "college", "university", or some other term, and whether or not the school awards bachelor's degrees. This usage of "college" does not extend to graduate education, which is usually called "grad school" (or for professional degrees, "law school", "med school", etc.).
    • Canada — Mainly refers to a technical, career, or community college (U.S.: "community college" or "junior college"). Canadians draw a sharp distinction between "going to college" (implying a community, technical or career college diploma) and "going to university" (studying for a bachelor's or postgrad degree). College mostly offers two or three-year programmes which prepare students for practical employment. A few exceptions:
      • Quebec inserts two years of community college, locally known as CÉGEP, between its secondary education and university. Quebec students graduate from high school after grade 11, as opposed to grade 12 in Anglophone North America. Undergraduate degrees from Quebec universities are completed in one less year than in Anglophone North America, as the first year will have been completed at a CÉGEP.
      • In Ontario, a "CVI" (Collegiate and Vocational Institute) is a secondary/high school facility (not a college) which offers technical or machine shops
    • UK — Can refer to any post-secondary institution that is not a university, or sometimes to a secondary school. Students studying for their bachelor's or postgraduate degree will say that they are "going to university" (or "uni") instead of U.S. "college", regardless of the formal title of their school.
    • Ireland — Similar to U.S. usage but slightly broader (i.e. includes postgraduate education) for historical reasons unique to that country. Before 1989, no Irish university provided teaching or research directly; they were instead offered by a constituent college of a university.
    • Australia — Usually refers to a private (i.e., non-government) primary, or especially secondary, school.
    • New Zealand — Normally refers to secondary schools; used interchangeably with "high school".
    • Singapore — Generally refers to high school. Short for "junior college".
    • In all countries, can also refer to a constituent college of a university.
  • graduation / to graduate:
    • U.S. — Most commonly refers to having earned a high school diploma or an undergraduate (bachelor's or associate) degree.
    • UK — Only refers to the completion of a university degree programme (i.e. bachelor's, master's or doctorate).
  • prep school:
    • U.S. — a secondary/high school that prepares students for college.
    • UK — a primary school that prepares pupils for fee-paying public (private) secondary schools
  • public school:
    • U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand — A government-owned, publicly-funded school; most often used to refer to an elementary or secondary school open to all students within the geographic boundaries designated for that school.
    • UK — Can have several meanings:
      • "Public" education as opposed to "private" education by a tutor
      • Exclusive fee-paying secondary schools, typically boarding schools (which are "public" because they aren't restricted based on home location, religion, etc.)
      • Any independent school (also called "private schools" following U.S. usage); this usage of "public school" is rare in Scotland and Northern Ireland
 
The University of California in Berkeley, regarded as one of the top public universities in the world
  • state school:
    • U.S. — Used exclusively to refer to publicly-funded universities operated by state governments.
    • UK — A publicly-funded school for students aged between 5 and 18. Universities are not called schools in the UK, although the term may be used for departments within a university ("School of Chemistry").
  • student:
    • UK, Ireland — Traditionally refers exclusively to those attending university-level institutions. Attendees of primary and secondary institutions are generally called "pupils". However, the North American sense of the term (see below) is beginning to see some use.
    • New Zealand — Broader than in the UK and Ireland; "pupils" refers only to children in primary school (years 1–6). "Student" is used for all higher levels, from intermediate to postgraduate.
    • U.S., Canada, Australia — Refers to all people attending educational institutions at any level, from primary to postgraduate. "Pupils" is understood but not generally used in North America.
    • Singapore — Follows U.S. usage, but also used interchangeably with "pupils" up to the secondary school level.
  • student union or students' union:
    • U.S. ("student union" only) — One of several terms used to describe a college/university building intended for student recreation and socialising. Synonyms include "student center" and "student activity center".
    • Other English-speaking countries — A college/university student organisation devoted to representing the interests of the students before the administration. The recreational aspect is also looked after by the unions as in the U.S., but their political role is often emphasised. The most common U.S. equivalent is "student government", with "student senate" also seeing some use.

CopeEdit

U.S. UK Notes
acetaminophen paracetamol A common over-the-counter pain remedy. Brand names include "Tylenol" and "Panadol".
attorney / lawyer solicitor / barrister / advocate / lawyer UK terms are not interchangeable. "Advocate" is the proper Scottish term for the individual called a "barrister" in the rest of the UK. "Lawyer" is the generic term covering all these sub-professions in the UK.
crib (infant bed) cot U.S. "cot" refers to a small, portable, usually foldable bed used at campsites, military barracks, etc.
day care nursery / playgroup / child care Ireland and New Zealand: "crèche"
diaper nappy Singapore distinguishes a disposable "diaper" from a cloth "nappy".
drug store / pharmacy chemist / pharmacy The "Green Cross" symbol in the UK and Europe indicates that store is a chemist or pharmacy. In the U.S. the same "Green Cross" symbol has been used by marijuana dispensaries, gardening suppliers and environmentalists.
emergency room (ER) accident & emergency (A&E) Australia/New Zealand: "emergency department (ED)"
family doctor / primary care physician GP (General Practitioner) "GP" is also used in the U.S., but it's possible not everyone will understand the term.
fire department fire brigade New Zealand: "fire service". Australia uses "fire brigade" in the state of Victoria, but uses "fire service" everywhere else.
laundromat laundrette
[laundry] detergent washing powder
pacifier dummy
physician (generic) / [medical] doctor medical doctor
stroller / baby carriage pushchair / pram "[Baby] buggy" is common in both U.S. and UK
restroom / bathroom / lavatory toilet(s) / lavatory / loo / bog / water closet / WC See Toilets § Talk, as this is a very nuanced topic. "Loo" and "bog" are both slang usages. Canada: "washroom" is the preferred (though not universal) term for public toilets. Philippines: "comfort room" or "CR" are used colloquially.
"Toilet paper" is universally understood, but Brits may refer to "loo roll" or "bog roll".

ConnectEdit

U.S. UK Notes
to call (to use a telephone) to ring / to call
cell [phone] mobile [phone] Britons understand "cell phone", and Americans understand "mobile phone" (but less so "mobile", especially when pronounced to rhyme with "smile"). Singapore/Malaysia: "handphone". Some European second-language English speakers use "handy", from a German misconception of English slang.
collect call reverse charge call
long-distance call / toll call trunk call
mail post As the saying goes: "In the UK, the Royal Mail delivers the post; in the U.S., the Postal Service delivers the mail."
pound [sign/key] (the "#" key on a telephone) hash [sign/symbol] British usage avoids confusion with "£" as the "pound sign" as in the unit of currency. In North America, "#" is sometimes used after a number for pounds of weight.
Depending on context, "#" is also read as "number", "hash", or "hashtag", and telephone technologists call it an "octothorpe".
prepaid pay as you go (PAYG) In Canada, these terms are used interchangeably.
refill top-up Australia/Hong Kong: "recharge". Philippines: "reload".
toll-free [call] freephone
ZIP code postcode "Postcode" is the most widely-used term for address sorting codes worldwide. "ZIP code" is only used in the U.S. and its former colonies. Canada/Singapore: "postal code". Ireland: "Eircode".

NumbersEdit

You might expect that numbers would be simple, since they always mean the same thing. Alas, differences in how they're spoken (or even written) can sometimes lead to confusion when you're not expecting it.

  • The number 0 is spoken as "zero" or "oh" in all varieties of English, but Britons are also likely to use "nought" or "nil".
    • When used in the score of a sporting event, British uses "nil" and American may use "nothing" or informally "zip". Hardcore soccer fans and journalists often use "nil" following British usage when discussing soccer (or rather, "football"). Tennis and cricket have unique readings ("love" and "duck", respectively).
    • For decimal numbers like 0.8 and 0.05, Britons would usually say "nought" as in "nought point eight" and "nought point nought five". Americans often omit the leading 0, saying "point eight" and "point oh five".
  • Most varieties of English informally count in hundreds up to 1,900, which is "nineteen hundred" rather than "one thousand nine hundred"; this is common for money or counting things, or when the number is understood to be rounded to the next hundred. (Philippine English is an exception; they prefer the more formal "one thousand nine hundred".) But Americans often continue this trend for even large four-digit numbers above 2,000, so they're likely to read 9,500 as "ninety-five hundred" rather than "nine thousand five hundred".
  • Similarly, all varieties of English invariably group years, except for 2000–2009, into two-digit groups. (Prince's song "1999" would be a lot harder to sing if it were "one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine"!). But Americans also apply this to street addresses and sometimes phone numbers or other sequences of digits, as well as some three-digit sequences like road numbers (e.g. I-285 is "eye two eighty-five") and bus routes.
  • Meanwhile, Britons tend to use "double" when reading sequences of digits such as phone numbers (which is why James Bond's 007 moniker is "double-oh seven" rather than "zero zero seven").
  • Monetary amounts in the range of one or two major currency units may be spoken differently in the two main forms of English. An American would say that an item costing $1.50 costs "one-fifty", "a dollar fifty", or (slangily) "a buck fifty". In British English, £1.50 would most often be said "one pound fifty". For amounts over one major unit, Americans typically drop the currency unit; $2.40 would most often be said "two-forty". In British, "two-forty" and "two pounds forty" are both commonly used.
 
Price tag for an item costing $399.99 (not including sales tax, as the photo was taken in the U.S.). In smaller print, the sale dates are given as "3/9 – 3/13", which uses the U.S. month-first order, implying March 9–13.
  • In British English, whole numbers of pounds (or other currency units) are spoken by their individual digits, especially in radio and TV advertising. "Three nine nine" implies a price of £399; "three ninety-nine" implies £3.99. American English never does this—"three ninety-nine" can mean either $399 or $3.99, with the context determining the meaning.
  • The U.S. has always used the short scale, where a "billion" is 1,000,000,000 (a thousand million). But most other English-speaking countries formerly used the long scale, where a "billion" is 1,000,000,000,000 (a million million). (In that scale, 1,000,000,000 is either "a thousand million" or sometimes a "milliard".) In 1974 the UK formally adopted the short scale, and most other countries followed suit, although some use of the long scale persists. (See also Wikipedia's articles on English number usage and long and short scales.) Most other European languages continue to use the long scale, so you may want to clarify the exact quantity when talking to a non-native English speaker.
    • Be careful in mixed-language countries: Canada uses the short scale in English-speaking regions, and the long scale in French-speaking regions. South African English usually uses the short scale (but sometimes the long scale), and Afrikaans always uses long scale. In the U.S., the short scale is used by English speakers, but the long scale is used by Spanish speakers.
    • Indian English follows the Indian numbering system; numbers are grouped completely differently, and spoken using words derived from Indian languages:
      • 100,000 is written "1,00,000" and read "one lakh"; it's sometimes abbreviated "L", as in "₹‍5L" for "rupees five lakh"
      • 1,000,000 is written "10,00,000" and read "ten lakh"
      • 10,000,000 is written "1,00,00,000" and read "one crore"; it may be written out, as in "₹6 crore" for "rupees six crore"
    (See also Wikipedia's article on the Indian numbering system.)
  • In handwriting, numerals are written the plain way in North America: "1" is a vertical line, and "7" is two lines. European handwriting puts the introductory swash on the top of the "1", making it look more like a typeset "1" and avoiding confusion with the capital letter I and with the lower-case letter L. (In continental Europe the swash can be almost as tall as the body of the "1", which few North Americans would recognize.) Since the "1" with a swash could be confused with a "7", the "7" often gets a horizontal slash through it, a form that's also common in Australia. (See also Wikipedia's article on regional handwriting variation.)

Date formatsEdit

Most countries use DD/MM/YYYY or something similar as their short date format. The biggest exception is the United States, which almost exclusively uses the MM/DD/YYYY format. The Philippines, which was an American possession during the first four decades of the 20th century and is still heavily influenced by American norms, uses MM/DD/YYYY in English-language publications, but DD/MM/YYYY in Filipino-language contexts. In Canada, usage is mixed: English speakers use both formats interchangeably, with newspapers invariably expressing dates month-first, but French speakers exclusively use the day-first format. Therefore, a date written as "01/02/2000" stands for "January 2, 2000" in the United States, but would stand for "1 February 2000" in almost any other country, and could conceivably mean either in Canada and the Philippines. (Note that the long dates are also formatted differently, although with hardly any potential for confusion.) Due to their significance and American media influence, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are known internationally as "September 11" and "9/11" regardless of the actual date format in use.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recommends YYYY/MM/DD, primarily because that is the only format that a computer can sort with a straight text-based sort (not a special date-sorting routine) and get the right result. That format is widely used in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, but not in English-speaking countries.

Weights and measuresEdit

See also: Metric and Imperial equivalents
 
Gas station in Florida, with prices given per US gallon of fuel. (1 US gal = 0.84 imperial gallons.) In the UK, this would be a filling station and the price would be given in pence per litre

Along with Liberia, the U.S. is one of the few countries that still use non-metric weights and measures (with a few exceptions including medicines, scientific work, and bottled wine, spirits, and soft drinks). The UK is partially metricated, using the metric system for some measures such as temperature and fuel volume, but uses imperial units (which have the same names and ultimately derive from the same old English measurements as U.S. units, but which often do not represent the same measurement) for other measures such as road distances and beer volume. Most other English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand officially use the metric system, though the imperial system survives to varying extents in colloquial usage.

A "pint" of beer in many places is now 500 mL. The traditional British pint, which is still legally mandated in the UK, Ireland and Canada, is 568 mL (20 imperial fluid ounces). A U.S. pint is just shy at 473 mL (16 U.S. fluid ounces), although it's almost always sold in a conical glass that must be filled to the brim to contain 16 ounces. Beer in Australia comes in varying sizes with unique names. A "pint" of beer in Australia is 570 mL except in South Australia, where it is 425 mL, and 570 mL is somewhat erroneously called an "imperial pint". A "pint" of beer is not standardised in New Zealand, but most commonly follows the South Australian pint at 425 mL.

UK measures body weight in "stone" (always singular) and pounds; 1 stone is 14 pounds (6.35 kg). Someone who weighs "11 stone 6 pounds" weighs 160 pounds (72.6 kg), and rough body weight is often given in stone only. The imperial ton, or "long ton", is defined to be 160 stone (2,240 pounds; 1016 kg), which is somewhat larger than the U.S. ton, or "short ton", at 2,000 pounds (907.2 kg). Both tons are distinct from the tonne, or "metric ton", which is defined as 1,000 kg (approximately 2,200 pounds).

OtherEdit

U.S. UK Notes
butt / ass / buttocks / fanny bum / bottom / arse UK "fanny" is obscene slang for female genitalia. The word "ass" in this sense is also a profanity, albeit a milder one. Though Canada generally follows U.S. convention, "bum" is also widely used there.
closet cupboard / small room / wardrobe U.S. "cupboard" specifically refers to kitchen cabinets; "wardrobe" is a collection of clothing.
fall (season) / autumn autumn
first name first name / given name
flashlight torch As a portable hand-held battery-operated light.
All dialects use "torch" to refer to a stick with an open flame at one end.
garbage truck dustcart / bin lorry Australia/New Zealand: "rubbish truck"
last name / family name surname "Surname" is understood and used to a certain extent in the U.S., though less commonly than the alternatives given here. All versions are common in Australia.
trash / garbage rubbish / litter U.S. "litter" specifically refers to small pieces of garbage discarded in plain view — i.e., not in a trash can. The verb "to litter" or "littering" is even more common.
trash can / garbage can rubbish bin / dustbin
vacation holiday U.S. "holiday" is roughly equivalent to UK "bank holiday". UK "vacations" are long periods off from work/school (at least a week)

Same words, different meaningEdit

  • Asian, when used by itself to describe people, has different meanings across the English-speaking world.
    • UK — Refers typically to people from the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. People from the far east, including East Asia and Southeast Asia are often referred to as "East Asians".
    • U.S., Canada — In U.S. and Canadian government usage, refers to a person having origins in East Asia, Southeast Asia, or South Asia, including the Indian subcontinent. Popular Canadian usage generally mirrors government usage. However, popular U.S. usage often excludes South Asians, especially in areas where South Asian communities are less visible than those of East or Southeast Asian ethnicities. See notes on "Indian" below.
    • Australia, New Zealand — Refers typically to people from East Asia or Southeast Asia, but can include the Indian subcontinent as well.
 
North American moose
  • elk: In the U.S. and Canada, refers to a very large deer similar to the red deer of Eurasia; this animal is also known by the Native American name "wapiti". In the UK and Ireland (and also second-language speakers in Europe), refers to an even larger deer whose males have flattened antlers; this animal is known as the "moose" in North America. There is also a smaller species found in India and known as either "Indian elk" or "Sambar deer".
  • fag: A slang term for a cigarette in the UK; a derogatory term for a homosexual man in the U.S.
  • faggots: A traditional dish of pork offal/bacon, herb and gravy meatballs in the UK; same offensive connotation as "fag" in the U.S.
  • Indian:
    • South Asia — Refers only to people from the country of India. (The common North American usage of the word to refer to all South Asians, irrespective of nationality, is often considered offensive here.)
    • U.S., Canada — Can have several meanings:
      • Traditionally referred to indigenous people of the American continent, though this usage is rapidly disappearing in favor of "Native Americans" in the U.S. and "First Nations" in Canada. (The more widely used and somewhat more politically correct term "American Indian" always refers to indigenous Americans, never to Americans of Indian origin or descent, who are instead called "Indian-Americans".)
      • People from South Asia, not always from the nation of India in particular (though the distinction is beginning to slowly filter its way into everyday North American English speech). The terms "East Indian" or "Asian Indian" still see some use as disambiguators vis-à-vis indigenous peoples of the Americas, though nowadays the unqualified term "Indian" is becoming more and more often understood in the context of Asians as it becomes less and less used for indigenous Americans.
  • gentlemen's club: Refers to a posh, exclusive private club in the UK; a euphemism for a strip club in the U.S.
  • mad: UK "mad" usually means insane or crazy (as in "barking mad"), while in the U.S. "mad" (at someone) is often used to mean angry (with someone).
  • pissed: UK "pissed" means drunk. U.S. "pissed" is short for "pissed off", which means annoyed or angry in all varieties of English.
  • rubber: Refers to an eraser in the UK; a slang word for condom in the U.S.
  • to table: Has the opposite meaning in the US and the UK
    • U.S. — To postpone or remove something from consideration
    • UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand — To put something up for consideration.

See alsoEdit

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