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/Phrase UK Word/Phrase Category Trivia & Usage of British vs American words
Acetaminophen Paracetamol Health. 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.
airplane aeroplane Transport.
apartment flat Home.
Arugula Rocket, salad leaves Food.
ass donkey Confusing.
baby carriage pram Baby. Pram (from perambulator) is often used for any wheeled baby transport in UK.
baking soda bicarbonate of soda Food. Or just bicarb.
band-aid, bandage plaster, sticky plaster, bandage Health. 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.
bangs fringe (hair) Hair.
bar pub Places. Abbreviation for Public House.
barette hair slide, hair clip Hair. Clasp to hold hair in place, there’s even auto-clasp barettes.
baseball rounders Sport. Both broadly similar games but rounders uses a smaller bat swung with one arm, mostly played in schools.
bathing suit swimming costume Clothing. Swimsuits covers both, in the UK men wear swimming trunks. Fashion tends to use one-piece swimsuits, two-piece bikinis, tankinis, etc.
bathroom, restroom toilet Home.
  • 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!
beaver pubic hair, front bottom area Rude. In the 1988 movie The Naked Gun Frank (Leslie Nielsen) says “nice beaver” to Jane (Priscilla Presley):
beer lager Drink. UK beer (bitter/IPA style) is typically served at room temperature or cold but not chilled.
beltway ring road Motoring. Typically around major towns and cities.
biscuits crackers Food.
boardwalk promenade Places. Typically at a seaside.
boardwalk promenade Places. Typically at a seaside.
bobby pin hair grip Hair.
booger bogey Personal.
braid plait Hair.
broil grill Kitchen. Cooking method using direct heat from above.
buck quid Money. A buck is a dollar, a quid is a pound.
bum tramp Confusing. Confusing either way around, perhaps beggar or vagrant is less confusing?
buns bread rolls, sticky buns Rude. Buns are not butt cheeks in the UK!
burner hob Kitchen.
butt arse Rude. Arse is ass or butt in the US.
C clamp G clamp Hardware. [Brit says] They look more like the letter G though don’t they?
cab taxi Transport.
call (telephone) ring Technology.
can tin Food. Brits use and understand both terms.
check cheque Money. Both pronounced the same.
chips crisps Food.
  • 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.
Cilantro Coriander Food.
closet wardrobe, cupboard Home. Depends on context, a wardrobe in the UK is for hanging clothes, closets to store other things would be called cupboards.
college, university Uni Education. Uni is an abbreviation of university.
cookies biscuits Food. Cookies are also available in UK.
cooties lurgi, germs Health.
  • 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.”
cooties lurgi Personal. In the UK “the dreaded lurgy” or “the lurg” is the non specific illness which applies at any age.
cotton candy candy floss Food. Spun sugar treat for children. Usually on a stick, often colored. Popular at fairgrounds or festivals.
counter-clockwise anti-clockwise Technology.
  • [Brit says] You don’t have counter-bacteria in the US so why counter-clockwise?
  • [American says] You take countermeasures not anti-measures, right?
cremains remains, ashes Personal.
crib, baby bed cot Baby. A cot is more commonly referred to as a camp bed in the US.
crisp crumble Food. A dessert with a sweet crumb topping, e.g. rhubarb crisp or apple crumble.
crosswalk zebra crossing, pedestrian crossing Places.
cuffs turn-ups (trousers) Clothing. Shirts and jackets may have cuffs in the UK, but not pants!
custom-made bespoke Clothing. Bespoke normally applies to fashion.
cut or skip class play truant Education.
diaper nappy, terry nappies Baby. Cloth diapers are commonly called terry nappies in the UK.
divided highway dual carriageway Motoring. A road with a highway meridian [US] or central reservation [UK].
do the dishes wash up Home.
downtown city or town centre Places.
drapes curtains Home.
dumpster skip Hardware.
Eggplant Aubergine Food. 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 school primary school Education. Or infant school.
Endive Chicory Food.
English muffins muffins Food. 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.
expert boffin Science. Alternatively Scientist, nerd, techie, engineer etc.
fag cigarette Confusing. Offensive term for homosexuals in the US.
Fall Autumn Seasons. Fall, because the leaves fall. OK, so why not call Winter Cold because it’s cold?
fanny front bottom, vulva area Rude. Incorrect usage could cause offense in the UK.
fanny pack bum bag Confusing. Embarrassing British vs American words difference.
faucet tap Hardware.
Fava beans Broad beans Food.
first floor ground floor Hotels. Very irritating.
flashlight torch Hardware.
flat tire puncture Motoring. Equally annoying in either language.
football American football Sport. John Cleese tries to explain:
fries chips Food. Fries are usually thin, chips are usually chunky.
front desk reception Hotels.
frosting icing Food. It’s sugar either way. In the UK a bonus can be described as “the icing on the cake.”
garbage can, trashcans dustbin, wheelie bins Home. Waste containers. UK wheelie bins are dustbins with wheels on.
garter belt suspenders Confusing. Suspenders do not hold up stockings in the US.
gas station petrol station Places.
Gasoline, gas Petrol Technology. In the UK gas powers home heating and cooking but not cars.
government programs government schemes Government. Americans would use the British word “schemes” for devious plotting.
green thumb greenfingers Garden. Skilled (or lucky) gardener.
ground beef minced beef Food. Or just mince.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, GFCI Residual Current Device, RCD Electrical. Circuit breaker.
guitar pick plectrum Music.
high school comprehensive school Education. Or secondary school, academy schools, grammar schools.
highway, freeway, expressway motorway Motoring.
hood bonnet Transport.
hooters noses Confusing. US slang for bosoms is UK slang for noses.
hot flashes hot flushes Personal. Common menopause symptom.
hush puppy Hush Puppy Food. 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.
intersection crossroads Motoring.
intimate apparel lingerie Clothing. Lingerie sounds so much more romantic doesn’t it?
jello jelly Food.
jelly jam Food.
jumper pinafore dress Clothing.
Kerosene Paraffin Technology.
Kilroy Was Here Chad: 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 off redundancy, made redundant Jobs. Not good in either language and inevitably leads to waiting in line or queuing.
laundromat launderette Places. Although the UK has launderettes they are not as common in the US.
legumes pulses Food. 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.
line queue Places. Typical usage includes “wait in line”, “join the queue” etc.
Liquid Paper / Wite-Out Tipp-Ex Office. Both brand names for correction fluid with many other variations worldwide.
liquor store off license Places. For takeout/takeaway purchases.
lobby foyer (of a building) Hotels.
lucky, fluky jammy Slang. Probably from early use of having expensive jam considered lucky.
main street high street Places.
making out snogging Personal. Sings: “USA and UK sitting in a tree, K-i-s-s-i-n-g!” from the popular US children’s playground kissing song
mall shopping centre Places. Mall is also in common usage across the UK.
mass transit public transport Transport.
math maths Education. Math in the US/Canada and maths in the UK/Australia/NZ etc.
molasses treacle Food. Sugar syrup.
mononucleosis Glandular fever Illness.
Mortician Funeral director Occupation.
mouth guard gum shield Personal.
oatmeal, grits porridge or porridge oats Food. Boiled cereals or grains cooked in milk or water. Grits is a porridge made from corn but isn’t common in the UK.
overpass flyover Motoring.
pacifier dummy, comforter Baby. Also referred to as a binky or soother in some other countries.
package parcel Home. In UK a package would be bigger than a flat envelope.
pads towels Personal. Tampons gets the message across in both countries.
pajamas pyjamas Clothing. Sleepwear, both of Persian origin, with lots of abbreviations including PJs, jimjams, jimmyjams, jimmies or jammies.
panties knickers Clothing. Generally both refer to underwear for women.
pants underwear Confusing. Pants can be trousers, jeans or slacks in the US.
pantyhose tights Clothing. Tights are thick pantyhose in the US.
parentheses brackets Education. Brits understand parentheses but commonly refer to () as brackets. Brackets are also used to hold up shelves.
parking garage multi-storey car park Places, Motoring.
parking lot car park Places, Motoring.
pasties (nipple coverings) meat pies Confusing. Cornish pasties are famous.
pecker courage, spirits Rude. “Keep your pecker up” means “keep your spirits up” in UK. It’s not slang for penis!
pharmacist, drug store, pharmacy Chemist Places. One of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
phone, cell phone telephone, mobile phone, mobile Technology. As time passes will we eventually just settle on “phones”?
pitcher jug Drink. Some UK pubs do sell beer in pitchers.
planter wart verruca Health. On feet.
plastic wrap, Saran wrap, plastic film cling-film, food wrap Food. Thin plastic food wrap that clings to itself.
popsicle ice lolly Food. Typically on a wooden or plastic stick.
principle head Education. Head teacher, headmaster, headmistress.
purse handbag Confusing. Women in the UK use purses to hold money, which they put in their handbag along with many other items.
railroad railway Transport.
rain boots, gumboots, rubber boots wellies, Wellington boots Footwear. Wellington boots were made popular in the UK by Arthur Wellesley the 1st Duke of Wellington.
raincoat mac, macintosh Clothing. A Mac is now more likely to refer to an Apple computer than a raincoat.
raise (salary) pay rise Money.
rappel abseil Sport. Descent on a rope down a mountain or building. Both are loanwords; rappel from french, abseil from german.
realtor estate agent Occupation.
recess break Education. Tea break, lunch break etc.
resume CV Education. CV short for Curriculum Vitae which is Latin for “the course of life”.
RIF, RIF’d, pink slip P45 Jobs. if you get your P45 you’ve been fired!
rubber eraser Confusing. A rubber is a condom in the US, in the right context rubber would be understood in the UK.
Rube Goldberg device, Goldbergian Heath Robinson device Technology. 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 park caravan site, caravan park Transport. Typically provide electrical outlets, toilets, and washing facilities.
RV, recreational vehicle camper van, motor home Transport. 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.
Scallions Spring onions Food. Food is a rich source of British vs American words.
school quiz test Education. Quizzes are generally for fun in UK, tests tend to be more serious.
Scotch tape Sellotape Household. Both brand names for pressure sensitive adhesive tape. Sometimes called “sticky tape” in the UK.
second floor first floor Hotels. Even more irritating.
semen spunk Rude.
senior citizen OAP People. Old Age Pensioner
shag (rug, dance) sexual intercourse Rude. Use carefully!
shedding (hair) moulting Hair.
sidewalk pavement Places. Path is more commonly used today. A pavement was traditionally formed using “paving slabs”, they’re mostly asphalt these days.
silverware, flatware cutlery Kitchen. Knives, forks and spoons.
sleep, nap kip Rude. A kip house is a brothel in the US.
sneakers trainers, plimsolls Footwear.
soccer football Sport. Soccer was originally a British word which declined in use except in the context of international football including soccer in the USA.
soda fizzy drink Drink. Americans use “soda” as a generic term for all soft “fizzy drinks” including cola.
soft drink mixes squash Drink.
  • 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 year second year Education. Both countries have freshers/freshman first years.
sprinkles hundreds and thousands Food. On cakes and trifles.
spunk courage Rude.
squash marrow Food. And other gourds including, in the UK, Butternut Squash.
station wagon estate car Transport.
stove cooker Kitchen. Or range.
streetcar tram Transport. 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.”
stroller pushchair or buggy Baby.
subway underground Places.
sucker lollipop Food. Sucker also means a fool in both countries.
suspenders braces Confusing. Braces are used to hold up trousers in UK.
sweater jumper Clothing.
sweatpants tracksuit bottoms Sport, 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.
Swede Rutabaga Food. British vs American words are often different for vegetable family names.
table a motion table a motion Business. In the US the motion has been postponed. In the UK the motion is ready to discuss now!
takeout takeaway Food. Food to go or delivered.
thongs flip-flops Confusing. Thongs are similar to g-strings in the UK.
tire tyre Transport.
track and field athletics Sports. One of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
traffic circle roundabout Motoring.
travel trailer caravan, mobile home Transport.
truck lorry Transport.
trunk (of car) boot Transport.
two weeks fortnight Time.
undershirt vest Clothing. Also semmit is used in Scotland and Ireland.
vacation holiday Travel. “Staycation” is becoming a popular expression for a “holiday at home” in UK.
vacationer holidaymaker Travel.
vajayjay vagina Rude.
vest waistcoat Clothing.
vise grips Mole grips Hardware. [American says] There’s no mole though is there?
wash up wash your hands Home. In the UK wash up would be doing the dishes. Many public toilets/washrooms display “Now wash your hands” signs.
windbreaker windcheater Clothing. Or a cagoule.
windshield windscreen Motoring. Motoring is a rich source of British vs American words.
wrench spanner Hardware.
yard garden Places.
zero nil Sport. In football (soccer) zero is never used. If the score is 3-0 you say “three-nil” not “three-zero”.
ZIP code Postcode Home, 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.
Zucchini Courgette Food [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. 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!

    • 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.

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