british vs american words

British vs American Words

British vs American Words List

ADDucation’s list of British vs American words list focuses on words and phrases which can be misunderstood. Some cause confusion, others embarrassment, and some are just funny. We’ve left out simple spelling differences and words which have obvious alternatives. Cultural exchange is alive and well. British TV shows are popular in the US and American TV series are popular in the UK. Maybe comparing British vs American words will be redundant one day? Until then let’s celebrate the differences between British vs American words.

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US Word/PhraseUK Word/PhraseCategoryTrivia & Usage of British vs American words
AcetaminophenParacetamolHealth.Paracetamol can relieve pain and lower fever and the main active ingredient in many formulations sold worldwide under brand names including Tylenol, Panadol and Calpol. One of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
ArugulaRocket, salad leavesFood.
baby carriagepramBaby.Pram (from perambulator) is often used for any wheeled baby transport in UK.
baking sodabicarbonate of sodaFood.Or just bicarb.
band-aid, bandageplaster, sticky plaster, bandageHealth.Americans widely use the brand name “Band-Aid” to refer to all sticking plasters. Most Brits and Commonwealth citizens use the generic term “plaster” or brand name “Elastoplast” for sticky plasters and bandages to refer to larger wound dressings.
bangsfringe (hair)Hair.
barpubPlaces.Abbreviation for Public House.
barettehair slide, hair clipHair.Clasp to hold hair in place, there’s even auto-clasp barettes.
baseballroundersSport.Both broadly similar games but rounders uses a smaller bat swung with one arm, mostly played in schools.
bathing suitswimming costumeClothing.Swimsuits covers both, in the UK men wear swimming trunks. Fashion tends to use one-piece swimsuits, two-piece bikinis, tankinis, etc.
bathroom, restroomtoiletHome.
  • British (UK/Australia/NZ): In public ask “Where are the toilets?” In informal/domestic situations it’s common to ask “Where’s the loo?” Asking for the bathroom would be understood but implies you want a bath/shower rather than a toilet. In Europe WC (water closet) signs are still common and Lavatory, Gentleman and Ladies signs may still be in use.
  • American (USA): In public ask “Where are the restrooms?” Asking for the toilet may be considered impolite. Most signage points to Restrooms.
  • American (Canada): In public ask “Where are the washrooms?” Most signage points to Restrooms.
  • There are dozens of other variations depending on social setting and situation; washroom, latrines (military), the facilities, the john, the gents, the ladies, the head (nautical), little boys and little girls rooms etc. We’ve left out the vulgar terms which, ironically, are the most accurate!
beaverpubic hair, front bottom areaRude.In the 1988 movie The Naked Gun Frank (Leslie Nielsen) says “nice beaver” to Jane (Priscilla Presley):
beerlagerDrink.UK beer (bitter/IPA style) is typically served at room temperature or cold but not chilled.
beltwayring roadMotoring.Typically around major towns and cities.
boardwalkpromenadePlaces.Typically at a seaside.
boardwalkpromenadePlaces.Typically at a seaside.
bobby pinhair gripHair.
broilgrillKitchen.Cooking method using direct heat from above.
buckquidMoney.A buck is a dollar, a quid is a pound.
bumtrampConfusing.Confusing either way around, perhaps beggar or vagrant is less confusing?
bunsbread rolls, sticky bunsRude.Buns are not butt cheeks in the UK!
buttarseRude.Arse is ass or butt in the US.
C clampG clampHardware.[Brit says] They look more like the letter G though don’t they?
call (telephone)ringTechnology.
cantinFood.Brits use and understand both terms.
checkchequeMoney.Both pronounced the same.
  • British: Chips are chunky fried potatoes typically served as traditional fish and chips. A packet or bag of crisps is a popular snack.
  • American: Chips are potato chips in a bag as a snack.
closetwardrobe, cupboardHome.Depends on context, a wardrobe in the UK is for hanging clothes, closets to store other things would be called cupboards.
college, universityUniEducation.Uni is an abbreviation of university.
cookiesbiscuitsFood.Cookies are also available in UK.
cootieslurgi, germsHealth.
  • USA and Canada: Cooties is an imaginary disease children can catch or infect each other with in games or discriminate against each other.
  • British: The “dreaded lurgi” or generic “germs”. In WWI trenches head-lice were called cooties or “arithmetic bugs” because they “added to our troubles, subtracted from our pleasures, divided our attention and multiplied like hell.”
cootieslurgiPersonal.In the UK “the dreaded lurgy” or “the lurg” is the non specific illness which applies at any age.
cotton candycandy flossFood.Spun sugar treat for children. Usually on a stick, often colored. Popular at fairgrounds or festivals.
  • [Brit says] You don’t have counter-bacteria in the US so why counter-clockwise?
  • [American says] You take countermeasures not anti-measures, right?
cremainsremains, ashesPersonal.
crib, baby bedcotBaby.A cot is more commonly referred to as a camp bed in the US.
crispcrumbleFood.A dessert with a sweet crumb topping, e.g. rhubarb crisp or apple crumble.
crosswalkzebra crossing, pedestrian crossingPlaces.
cuffsturn-ups (trousers)Clothing.Shirts and jackets may have cuffs in the UK, but not pants!
custom-madebespokeClothing.Bespoke normally applies to fashion.
cut or skip classplay truantEducation.
diapernappy, terry nappiesBaby.Cloth diapers are commonly called terry nappies in the UK.
divided highwaydual carriagewayMotoring.A road with a highway meridian [US] or central reservation [UK].
do the disheswash upHome.
downtowncity or town centrePlaces.
EggplantAubergineFood.The Brits use Courgette, from french cuisine, in Canada, Australia, NZ and other Commonwealth countries eggplant is widely used.
Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)Bankers’ Automated Clearing Services (BACS)Business.There’s also CHAPS, EFTPOS, SWIFT, IBAN but they don’t work between the UK and US. Alternative international payment methods like Paypal, TransferWise, Google Pay and Amazon Pay are increasingly popular.
elementary schoolprimary schoolEducation.Or infant school.
English muffinsmuffinsFood.Oddly you can’t buy what Americans call “English muffins” in England. You can buy muffins but they are the more substantial 18th century ancestors from The Muffin Man nursery rhyme era and not the same thing. So think of “English muffins” as exclusively “American muffins”! In the UK try “Crumpets” instead. Toast them and top them (don’t split them) with butter and savory or sweet toppings of your choice. Share your thoughts/toppings in the comments.
expertboffinScience.Alternatively Scientist, nerd, techie, engineer etc.
fagcigaretteConfusing.Offensive term for homosexuals in the US.
FallAutumnSeasons.Fall, because the leaves fall. OK, so why not call Winter Cold because it’s cold?
fannyfront bottom, vulva areaRude.Incorrect usage could cause offense in the UK.
fanny packbum bagConfusing.Embarrassing British vs American words difference.
Fava beansBroad beansFood.
first floorground floorHotels.Very irritating.
flat tirepunctureMotoring.Equally annoying in either language.
footballAmerican footballSport.John Cleese tries to explain:
frieschipsFood.Fries are usually thin, chips are usually chunky.
front deskreceptionHotels.
frostingicingFood.It’s sugar either way. In the UK a bonus can be described as “the icing on the cake.”
garbage can, trashcansdustbin, wheelie binsHome.Waste containers. UK wheelie bins are dustbins with wheels on.
garter beltsuspendersConfusing.Suspenders do not hold up stockings in the US.
gas stationpetrol stationPlaces.
Gasoline, gasPetrolTechnology.In the UK gas powers home heating and cooking but not cars.
government programsgovernment schemesGovernment.Americans would use the British word “schemes” for devious plotting.
green thumbgreenfingersGarden.Skilled (or lucky) gardener.
ground beefminced beefFood.Or just mince.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, GFCIResidual Current Device, RCDElectrical.Circuit breaker.
guitar pickplectrumMusic.
high schoolcomprehensive schoolEducation.Or secondary school, academy schools, grammar schools.
highway, freeway, expresswaymotorwayMotoring.
hootersnosesConfusing.US slang for bosoms is UK slang for noses.
hot flasheshot flushesPersonal.Common menopause symptom.
hush puppyHush PuppyFood.In Southern USA a hush puppy is a bite-sized deep-fried cornmeal batter ball served as a side dish. For the rest of us Hush Puppy is an international shoe brand.
intimate apparellingerieClothing.Lingerie sounds so much more romantic doesn’t it?
jumperpinafore dressClothing.
Kilroy Was HereChad: Wot No…History.Kilroy was here but Chad was there first!
Chad and Kilroy graffiti emerged during World War II from an original British cartoon published in 1938. The British “Wot No” slogan followed by another word is still widely used today. The original “Wot No Sugar” slogan referred to food rationing during WWII. The origin of “Kilroy was here” is disputed but can be seen all over the world. Interestingly “Foo was here” is used in Australia and other names around the world include Smoe, Private Snoops, Clem and Sapo.
laid offredundancy, made redundantJobs.Not good in either language and inevitably leads to waiting in line or queuing.
laundromatlaunderettePlaces.Although the UK has launderettes they are not as common in the US.
legumespulsesFood.In the UK (Canada, Australia & NZ etc.) pulses refer to the dried edible seeds of some plants in the legume family, e.g. lentils, beans chickpeas and split peas. Officially a legume is any plant of the Fabaceae/Leguminosae family and since some leguminous plants are not edible. We think the Brits win this one.
linequeuePlaces.Typical usage includes “wait in line”, “join the queue” etc.
Liquid Paper / Wite-OutTipp-ExOffice.Both brand names for correction fluid with many other variations worldwide.
liquor storeoff licensePlaces.For takeout/takeaway purchases.
lobbyfoyer (of a building)Hotels.
lucky, flukyjammySlang.Probably from early use of having expensive jam considered lucky.
main streethigh streetPlaces.
making outsnoggingPersonal.Sings: “USA and UK sitting in a tree, K-i-s-s-i-n-g!” from the popular US children’s playground kissing song
mallshopping centrePlaces.Mall is also in common usage across the UK.
mass transitpublic transportTransport.
mathmathsEducation.Math in the US/Canada and maths in the UK/Australia/NZ etc.
molassestreacleFood.Sugar syrup.
mononucleosisGlandular feverIllness.
MorticianFuneral directorOccupation.
mouth guardgum shieldPersonal.
oatmeal, gritsporridge or porridge oatsFood.Boiled cereals or grains cooked in milk or water. Grits is a porridge made from corn but isn’t common in the UK.
pacifierdummy, comforterBaby.Also referred to as a binky or soother in some other countries.
packageparcelHome.In UK a package would be bigger than a flat envelope.
padstowelsPersonal.Tampons gets the message across in both countries.
pajamaspyjamasClothing.Sleepwear, both of Persian origin, with lots of abbreviations including PJs, jimjams, jimmyjams, jimmies or jammies.
pantiesknickersClothing.Generally both refer to underwear for women.
pantsunderwearConfusing.Pants can be trousers, jeans or slacks in the US.
pantyhosetightsClothing.Tights are thick pantyhose in the US.
parenthesesbracketsEducation.Brits understand parentheses but commonly refer to () as brackets. Brackets are also used to hold up shelves.
parking garagemulti-storey car parkPlaces, Motoring.
parking lotcar parkPlaces, Motoring.
pasties (nipple coverings)meat piesConfusing.Cornish pasties are famous.
peckercourage, spiritsRude.“Keep your pecker up” means “keep your spirits up” in UK. It’s not slang for penis!
pharmacist, drug store, pharmacyChemistPlaces.One of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
phone, cell phonetelephone, mobile phone, mobileTechnology.As time passes will we eventually just settle on “phones”?
pitcherjugDrink.Some UK pubs do sell beer in pitchers.
planter wartverrucaHealth.On feet.
plastic wrap, Saran wrap, plastic filmcling-film, food wrapFood.Thin plastic food wrap that clings to itself.
popsicleice lollyFood.Typically on a wooden or plastic stick.
principleheadEducation.Head teacher, headmaster, headmistress.
pursehandbagConfusing.Women in the UK use purses to hold money, which they put in their handbag along with many other items.
rain boots, gumboots, rubber bootswellies, Wellington bootsFootwear.Wellington boots were made popular in the UK by Arthur Wellesley the 1st Duke of Wellington.
raincoatmac, macintoshClothing.A Mac is now more likely to refer to an Apple computer than a raincoat.
raise (salary)pay riseMoney.
rappelabseilSport.Descent on a rope down a mountain or building. Both are loanwords; rappel from french, abseil from german.
realtorestate agentOccupation.
recessbreakEducation.Tea break, lunch break etc.
resumeCVEducation.CV short for Curriculum Vitae which is Latin for “the course of life”.
RIF, RIF’d, pink slipP45Jobs.if you get your P45 you’ve been fired!
rubbereraserConfusing.A rubber is a condom in the US, in the right context rubber would be understood in the UK.
Rube Goldberg device, GoldbergianHeath Robinson deviceTechnology.Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) and Heath Robinson (1872-1944) both illustrated whimsically complicated devices to achieve simple tasks. Heath Robinson cartoons became popular during WWI. At around the same time Rube Goldberg cartoons, including animated cartoons for Pathé News were popular. Both historical British vs American words that remain in common use today.
RV parkcaravan site, caravan parkTransport.Typically provide electrical outlets, toilets, and washing facilities.
RV, recreational vehiclecamper van, motor homeTransport.US style truck campers (TC) are called camper vans in the UK. There are many variations of motorhome and trailer combinations used around the world.
ScallionsSpring onionsFood.Food is a rich source of British vs American words.
school quiztestEducation.Quizzes are generally for fun in UK, tests tend to be more serious.
Scotch tapeSellotapeHousehold.Both brand names for pressure sensitive adhesive tape. Sometimes called “sticky tape” in the UK.
second floorfirst floorHotels.Even more irritating.
senior citizenOAPPeople.Old Age Pensioner
shag (rug, dance)sexual intercourseRude.Use carefully!
shedding (hair)moultingHair.
sidewalkpavementPlaces.Path is more commonly used today. A pavement was traditionally formed using “paving slabs”, they’re mostly asphalt these days.
silverware, flatwarecutleryKitchen.Knives, forks and spoons.
sleep, napkipRude.A kip house is a brothel in the US.
sneakerstrainers, plimsollsFootwear.
soccerfootballSport.Soccer was originally a British word which declined in use except in the context of international football including soccer in the USA.
sodafizzy drinkDrink.Americans use “soda” as a generic term for all soft “fizzy drinks” including cola.
soft drink mixessquashDrink.
  • British: Soft drinks which add powder or liquid concentrate to flavor water are called “squash” or “cordial” so look for Squash & Cordial in supermarkets. They do not taste like Butternut squash!
  • American: Soft drink powder “sticks” are popular, concentrates are also available.
sophomore yearsecond yearEducation.Both countries have freshers/freshman first years.
sprinkleshundreds and thousandsFood.On cakes and trifles.
squashmarrowFood.And other gourds including, in the UK, Butternut Squash.
station wagonestate carTransport.
stovecookerKitchen.Or range.
streetcartramTransport.In Europe (Australia etc.) “trams” covers all streetcar systems which share roads with other forms of transport. Streetcar systems which run on dedicated track or have private/exclusive right of way are called “light rail.”
strollerpushchair or buggyBaby.
suckerlollipopFood.Sucker also means a fool in both countries.
suspendersbracesConfusing.Braces are used to hold up trousers in UK.
sweatpantstracksuit bottomsSport, Clothing.Soft casual trousers, originally for athletics, now popular comfort and casual wear.
  • US: Sweatpants.
  • UK: Tracksuit bottoms, joggers, trackie bottoms.
  • Australia: Trackpants, trackies, tracky daks.
SwedeRutabagaFood.British vs American words are often different for vegetable family names.
table a motiontable a motionBusiness.In the US the motion has been postponed. In the UK the motion is ready to discuss now!
takeouttakeawayFood.Food to go or delivered.
thongsflip-flopsConfusing.Thongs are similar to g-strings in the UK.
track and fieldathleticsSports.One of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
traffic circleroundaboutMotoring.
travel trailercaravan, mobile homeTransport.
trunk (of car)bootTransport.
two weeksfortnightTime.
undershirtvestClothing.Also semmit is used in Scotland and Ireland.
vacationholidayTravel.“Staycation” is becoming a popular expression for a “holiday at home” in UK.
vise gripsMole gripsHardware.[American says] There’s no mole though is there?
wash upwash your handsHome.In the UK wash up would be doing the dishes. Many public toilets/washrooms display “Now wash your hands” signs.
windbreakerwindcheaterClothing.Or a cagoule.
windshieldwindscreenMotoring.Motoring is a rich source of British vs American words.
zeronilSport.In football (soccer) zero is never used. If the score is 3-0 you say “three-nil” not “three-zero”.
ZIP codePostcodeHome, Transport, Technology.Postal codes, as zones, were first used in London, England in 1857. The modern ZIP (Zone Improvement Code) was introduced in Soviet Ukraine in 1932.
  • USA: ZIP codes where introduced in 1963.
  • UK: Postcodes introduced from 1959, widespread by 1974.
  • Canada: Postal codes introduced 1971, widespread by 1974.
  • Australia: Postcodes were introduced in 1967.
  • New Zealand: Postcodes were introduced in 1977.
  • India: PIN code (Postal Index System) was introduced in 1972.
ZucchiniCourgetteFood[Brit says] Courgette from french cuisine.

England and America are Two Countries Separated by the Same Language” – George Bernard Shaw

FAQs about British vs American words and language

FAQs About British vs American Words

  • Is American a Language?
    No, “American” is not a language. “American English” is a dialect of English.
  • Why Do Americans and the British Spell Words Differently?
    The main reason is Noah Webster, the man behind the first grammar schoolbooks and the Webster Dictionary. Webster asserted American cultural independence by spelling words like they sound (e.g. “favor” instead of “favour”) etc.
  • Why is British and American English Punctuation Different?
    The key difference is the use of quotation marks which were the same until 1906 when “The King’s English” book on English usage was published in Britain. It advocated moving full stops (periods) and commas outside quotation marks to protect the thin/delicate punctuation metal type. This change was not adopted in north America resulting in the two different styles in use today.

ADDucation Lists Related to Language Differences

2 responses to “British vs American Words”

  1. Avatar Joe says:

    Hi Scott, pebbles are small in England too. They’re generally stones which have been worn smooth by erosion on beaches and can certainly be bigger than marbles. An individual pebble could be big enough to sit on, as the lyric suggests, but we’d probably call anything large enough to sit on a smooth rock. Glad you love the website, thanks for commenting.

  2. Avatar Scott Catulle says:

    I am curious as to an old song by Julian Lennon, in which he says, “Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar”. I am curious as to whether a “Pebble” in England means “Rock”? Forgive me for stating the obvious, but in the U.S., a Pebble would be a very tiny rock…like the size of a marble or smaller. Just curious if it has a different meaning in the U.K.? I love your website, btw!

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