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 could be misunderstood, cause confusion, embarrassment or are just plain funny. We’ve left out simple spelling differences and words which have obvious alternatives. The English language evolves every day and cultural exchange is alive and well comparing British vs American words. British TV shows are popular in the US and American TV series are popular in the UK so maybe this list will be redundant one day? In the meantime it’s fun to explore and celebrate the differences between British vs American words.

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US Word/PhraseUK Word/PhraseCategoryNotes on British vs American words
government programsgovernment schemesGovernmentAmericans would use the British work “schemes” for devious plotting
diapernappyBabyCloth diapers are commonly called terry nappies in the UK
baby carriagepramBabyPram (from perambulator) is often used for any wheeled baby transport in UK
strollerpushchair or buggyBaby
pacifierdummy, comforterBabyAlso referred to as a binky or soother in some countries
crib, baby bedcotBabyCot is more commonly a camp bed in the US.
table a motiontable a motionBusinessIn the US the motion has been postponed. In the UK the motion is ready to discuss now!
Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)Bankers’ Automated Clearing Services (BACS)BusinessThere’s also CHAPS, EFTPOS, SWIFT, IBAN but they don’t work between the UK and US, Paypal does work.
pantyhosetightsClothingTights are thick pantyhose in the US.
pantiesknickersClothingGenerally both refer to underwear for women.
pajamas pyjamasClothingSleepwear, both of Persian origin, with lots of abbreviations including PJs, jimjams, jimmyjams, jimmies or jammies.
undershirtvestClothingAlso semmit in Scotland and Ireland.
jumperpinafore dressClothing
cuffsturn-ups (trousers)ClothingShirts and jackets may have cuffs in the UK, but not pants!
intimate apparellingerieClothingLingerie sounds so much more romantic doesn’t it?
custom-madebespokeClothingBespoke normally applies to fashion.
raincoatmac, macintoshClothingA Mac in the US in an Apple computer.
windbreakerwindcheaterClothingOr a cagoule.
bathing suitswimming costumeClothingMen wear swimming trunks in UK.
fanny packbum bagConfusingEmbarrassing British vs American words difference.
pantsunderwearConfusingPants can be trousers, jeans or slacks in the US.
rubbereraserConfusingA rubber is a condom in the US, in the right context rubber would be understood in the UK.
thongsflip-flopsConfusingThongs are similar to g-strings in the UK.
suspendersbracesConfusingBraces are used to hold up trousers in UK.
garter beltsuspendersConfusingSuspenders do not hold up stockings in the US.
fagcigaretteConfusingOffensive term for homosexuals in the US.
hootersnosesConfusingUS slang for bosoms is UK slang for noses.
pasties (nipple coverings)meat piesConfusingCornish pasties are famous.
pursehandbagConfusingWomen in the UK use purses to hold money, which they put in their handbag along with many other items.
pitcherjugDrinkSome UK pubs do sell beer in pitchers.
beerlagerDrinkUK beer (IPA style) is typically flat and not chilled.
sodafizzy drinkDrink
college, universityUniEducationUni, short for university.
high schoolcomprehensive schoolEducationOr secondary school, academy schools, grammar schools.
elementary schoolprimary schoolEducationOr infant school.
principleheadEducationHead teacher, headmaster, headmistress.
resumeCVEducationCV short for Curriculum Vitae which is Latin for “the course of life”.
school quiztestEducationQuizzes are generally for fun in UK, tests tend to be more serious.
recessbreakEducationTea break, lunch break etc.
sophomore yearsecond yearEducationBoth countries have freshers/freshman first years.
parenthesesbracketsEducationBrits understand parentheses but commonly refer to () as brackets. Brackets are also used to hold up shelves.
cut or skip classplay truantEducation
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, GFCIResidual Current Device, RCDElectricalCircuit breaker.
popsicleice lollyFoodTypically on a wooden or plastic stick.
suckerlollipopFoodSucker also means a fool in both countries.
frieschipsFoodFries are usually thin, chips are usually chunky.
cotton candycandyflossFood
plastic wrap, Saran wrap, plastic filmcling-film, food wrapFood
oatmealporridge or porridge oatsFood
cookiesbiscuitsFoodCookies are also available in UK.
legumespulsesFoodIn 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.
ZucchiniCourgetteFood[Brit says] Courgette from french cuisine.
EggplantAubergineFood[Brit says] Courgette from french cuisine.
Fava beansBroad beansFood
ArugulaRocket, salad leavesFood
ScallionsSpring onionsFood
SwedeRutabagaFoodBritish vs American words are often different for vegetable family names.
baking sodabicarbonate of sodaFoodOr just bicarb.
ground beefminced beefFoodOr just mince.
sprinkleshundreds and thousandsFoodOn cakes and trifles.
frostingicingFoodIt’s sugar either way.
takeouttakeawayFoodFood to go or delivered.
molassestreacleFoodSugar syrup.
English muffinsmuffinsFoodOddly 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 at all. So think of “English muffins” as exclusively “American muffins”! In the UK try “Crumpets” instead. Toast them and top (don’t split them) them with butter and savory or sweet toppings of your choice – and share your thoughts/toppings in the comments.
squashmarrowFoodAnd other gourds, but in UK we do have Butternut Squash.
rain boots, gumboots, rubber bootswellies, Wellington bootsFootwearWellington boots were made popular in the UK by Arthur Wellesley the 1st Duke of Wellington.
sneakerstrainers, plimsollsFootwear
green thumbgreenfingersGardenSkilled (or lucky) gardener.
shedding (hair)moultingHair
bangsfringe (hair)Hair
bobby pinhair gripHair
C clampG clampHardware[Brit says] They look more like the letter G though don’t they?
vise gripsMole gripsHardware
Scotch tapeSellotapeHouseholdBoth brand names for pressure sensitive adhesive tape. Sometimes called “sticky tape” in the UK.
Kilroy Was HereChad: Wot No…HistoryKilroy 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.

closetwardrobeHomeDepends on context, a wardrobe in the UK is for hanging clothes but a “water closet” is sometimes signed a WC but more commonly “Toilets”.
garbage candustbinHome
do the disheswash upHome
wash upwash your handsHomeIn the UK wash up would be doing the dishes.
zip codepostcodeHome
packageparcelHomeIn UK a package would be bigger than a flat envelope.
first floorground floorHotelsVery irritating.
second floorfirst floorHotelsEven more irritating.
lobbyfoyer (of a building)Hotels
front deskreceptionHotels
mononucleosisGlandular feverIllness
laid offredundancy, made redundantJobsNot good in either language.
RIF, RIF’d, pink slipP45Jobsif you get your P45 you’ve been fired!
silverware, flatwarecutleryKitchenKnives, forks and spoons.
stovecookerKitchenOr range.
broilgrillKitchenCooking method using direct heat from above.
planter wartverrucaMedicalOn feet.
AcetaminophenParacetamolMedicineOne of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
checkchequeMoneyBoth pronounced the same.
raise (salary)pay riseMoney
buckquidMoneyA buck is a dollar, a quid is a pound.
traffic circleroundaboutMotoring
flat tirepunctureMotoringEqually annoying in either language.
highway, freeway, expresswaymotorwayMotoring
divided highwaydual carriagewayMotoring
beltwayring roadMotoringTypically around major towns and cities.
guitar pickplectrumMusic
realtorestate agentOccupation
MorticianFuneral directorOccupation
Liquid Paper / Wite-OutTipp-ExOfficeBoth brand names for correction fluid with many other variations worldwide.
senior citizenOAPPeopleOld Age Pensioner
making outsnoggingPersonalSings: “USA and UK sitting in a tree, K-i-s-s-i-n-g!” from the popular US children’s playground kissing song
mouth guardgum shieldPersonal
cootieslurgiPersonal“the dreaded lurgy”, the lurg etc, non specific illness.
hot flasheshot flushesPersonalCommon menopause symptom.
padstowelsPersonalTampons gets the message across in both countries.
downtowncity or town centrePlaces
sidewalkpavementPlacesPath is more commonly used today. A pavement was traditionally formed using “paving slabs”, they’re mostly asphalt these days
mallshopping centrePlacesMall is also in common usage across the UK.
main streethigh streetPlaces
gas stationpetrol stationPlaces
laundromatlaunderettePlacesAlthough the UK has launderettes they are not as common in the US.
barpubPlacesAbbreviation for Public House.
boardwalkpromenadePlacesTypically at a seaside.
pharmacist, drug store, pharmacyChemistPlacesOne of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
liquor storeoff licensePlacesFor takeout/takeaway purchases.
boardwalkpromenadePlacesTypically at a seaside.
c.rosswalkzebra crossing, pedestrian crossingPlaces
linequeuePlacesTypical usage includes “wait in line”, “join the queue” etc.
parking lotcar parkPlaces, Motoring
parking garagemulti-storey car parkPlaces, Motoring
fannyfront bottom, vulva areaRudeIncorrect usage could cause offense in the UK.
beaverpubic hair, front bottom areaRudeIn the 1988 movie The Naked Gun Frank (Leslie Nielsen) says “nice beaver” to Jane (Priscilla Presley):
buttarseRudeArse is ass or butt in the US.
bunsbread rolls, sticky bunsRudeBuns are not butt cheeks in the UK!
peckercourage, spiritsRude“Keep your pecker up” means “keep your spirits up” in UK. It’s not slang for penis!
shag (rug, dance)sexual intercourseRudeUse carefully!
sleep, napkipRudeA kip house is a brothel in the US.
expertboffinScienceAlternatively Scientist, nerd, techy, engineer etc.
FallAutumnSeasonsFall, because the leaves fall. OK, so why not call Winter Cold because it’s cold?
lucky, flukyjammySlangProbably from early use of having expensive jam considered lucky.
soccerfootballSportSoccer was originally a British word which declined in use except in the context of international football including soccer in the USA.
footballAmerican footballSportJohn Cleese tries to explain:
sweatpantstracksuit bottomsSportOr trackie bottoms.
baseballroundersSportBoth broadly similar games but rounders uses a smaller bat swung with one arm, mostly played in schools.
track and fieldathleticsSportsOne of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
counter-clockwiseanti-clockwiseTechnology[Brit says] You don’t have counter-bacteria in the US so why counter-clockwise?. [American says] You take countermeasures not anti-measures, right?
phone, cell phonetelephone, mobile phone, mobileTechnologyAs time passes will we eventually just settle on “phones”?
call (telephone)ringTechnology
Gasoline, gasPetrolTechnologyIn the UK gas powers home heating and cooking but not cars.
two weeksfortnightTime
trunk (of car)bootTransport
station wagonestate carTransport
travel trailercaravan, mobile homeTransport
RV, recreational vehiclecamper van, motor homeTransport
RV parkcaravan site, caravan parkTransport
mass transitpublic transportTransport
vacationholidayTravel“Staycation” is becoming a popular expression for a “holiday at home” in UK.
zeronilSportIn football (soccer) zero is never used. If the score is 2-0 you say “two-nil” not “two-zero”.

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 versus American Words

  • Is American a language?
    “American” is not a language but “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. “favour” instead of “favour”) etc.

ADDucation Lists Related to Language Differences

2 responses to “British vs American Words”

  1. 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. 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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