british vs american words

British vs American Words

British versus American Words List

ADDucation’s list of British vs American words list focuses on over 200 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/PhraseCategoryTrivia & Usage of British vs American words
AcetaminophenParacetamolHealthParacetamol 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.
airplaneaeroplaneTransport
apartmentflatHome
ArugulaRocket, salad leavesFood
assdonkeyConfusing
baby carriagepramBabyPram (from perambulator) is often used for any wheeled baby transport in UK.
baking sodabicarbonate of sodaFoodOr just bicarb.
band-aid, bandageplaster, sticky plaster, bandageHealthAmericans 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
barpubPlacesAbbreviation for Public House.
barettehair slide, hair clipHairClasp to hold hair in place, there’s even auto-clasp barettes.
baseballroundersSportBoth broadly similar games but rounders uses a smaller bat swung with one arm, mostly played in schools.
bathing suitswimming costumeClothingSwimsuits 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 areaRudeIn the 1988 movie The Naked Gun Frank (Leslie Nielsen) says “nice beaver” to Jane (Priscilla Presley):
beerlagerDrinkUK beer (bitter/IPA style) is typically served at room temperature or cold but not chilled.
beltwayring roadMotoringTypically around major towns and cities.
biscuitscrackersFood
boardwalkpromenadePlacesTypically at a seaside.
boardwalkpromenadePlacesTypically at a seaside.
bobby pinhair gripHair
boogerbogeyPersonal
braidplaitHair
broilgrillKitchenCooking method using direct heat from above.
buckquidMoneyA buck is a dollar, a quid is a pound.
bumtrampConfusingConfusing either way around, perhaps beggar or vagrant is less confusing?
bunsbread rolls, sticky bunsRudeBuns are not butt cheeks in the UK!
burnerhobKitchen
buttarseRudeArse is ass or butt in the US.
C clampG clampHardware[Brit says] They look more like the letter G though don’t they?
cabtaxiTransport
call (telephone)ringTechnology
cantinFoodBrits use and understand both terms.
checkchequeMoneyBoth pronounced the same.
chipscrispsFood
  • 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.
CilantroCorianderFood
closetwardrobe, cupboardHomeDepends on context, a wardrobe in the UK is for hanging clothes, closets to store other things would be called cupboards.
college, universityUniEducationUni is an abbreviation of university.
cookiesbiscuitsFoodCookies 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.”
cootieslurgiPersonalIn the UK “the dreaded lurgy” or “the lurg” is the non specific illness which applies at any age.
cotton candycandy flossFoodSpun sugar treat for children. Usually on a stick, often colored. Popular at fairgrounds or festivals.
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?
cremainsremains, ashesPersonal
crib, baby bedcotBabyA cot is more commonly referred to as a camp bed in the US.
crispcrumbleFoodA dessert with a sweet crumb topping, e.g. rhubarb crisp or apple crumble.
crosswalkzebra crossing, pedestrian crossingPlaces
cuffsturn-ups (trousers)ClothingShirts and jackets may have cuffs in the UK, but not pants!
custom-madebespokeClothingBespoke normally applies to fashion.
cut or skip classplay truantEducation
diapernappy, terry nappiesBabyCloth diapers are commonly called terry nappies in the UK.
divided highwaydual carriagewayMotoringA road with a highway meridian [US] or central reservation [UK].
do the disheswash upHome
downtowncity or town centrePlaces
drapescurtainsHome
dumpsterskipHardware
EggplantAubergineFoodThe 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)BusinessThere’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 schoolEducationOr infant school.
EndiveChicoryFood
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 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.
expertboffinScienceAlternatively Scientist, nerd, techie, engineer etc.
fagcigaretteConfusingOffensive term for homosexuals in the US.
FallAutumnSeasonsFall, because the leaves fall. OK, so why not call Winter Cold because it’s cold?
fannyfront bottom, vulva areaRudeIncorrect usage could cause offense in the UK.
fanny packbum bagConfusingEmbarrassing British vs American words difference.
faucettapHardware
Fava beansBroad beansFood
first floorground floorHotelsVery irritating.
flashlighttorchHardware
flat tirepunctureMotoringEqually annoying in either language.
footballAmerican footballSportJohn Cleese tries to explain:
frieschipsFoodFries are usually thin, chips are usually chunky.
front deskreceptionHotels
frostingicingFoodIt’s sugar either way. In the UK a bonus can be described as “the icing on the cake.”
garbage can, trashcansdustbin, wheelie binsHomeWaste containers. UK wheelie bins are dustbins with wheels on.
garter beltsuspendersConfusingSuspenders do not hold up stockings in the US.
gas stationpetrol stationPlaces
Gasoline, gasPetrolTechnologyIn the UK gas powers home heating and cooking but not cars.
government programsgovernment schemesGovernmentAmericans would use the British word “schemes” for devious plotting.
green thumbgreenfingersGardenSkilled (or lucky) gardener.
ground beefminced beefFoodOr just mince.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, GFCIResidual Current Device, RCDElectricalCircuit breaker.
guitar pickplectrumMusic
high schoolcomprehensive schoolEducationOr secondary school, academy schools, grammar schools.
highway, freeway, expresswaymotorwayMotoring
hoodbonnetTransport
hootersnosesConfusingUS slang for bosoms is UK slang for noses.
hot flasheshot flushesPersonalCommon menopause symptom.
hush puppyHush PuppyFoodIn 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.
intersectioncrossroadsMotoring
intimate apparellingerieClothingLingerie sounds so much more romantic doesn’t it?
jellojellyFood
jellyjamFood
jumperpinafore dressClothing
KeroseneParaffinTechnology
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.
laid offredundancy, made redundantJobsNot good in either language and inevitably leads to waiting in line or queuing.
laundromatlaunderettePlacesAlthough the UK has launderettes they are not as common in the US.
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.
linequeuePlacesTypical usage includes “wait in line”, “join the queue” etc.
Liquid Paper / Wite-OutTipp-ExOfficeBoth brand names for correction fluid with many other variations worldwide.
liquor storeoff licensePlacesFor takeout/takeaway purchases.
lobbyfoyer (of a building)Hotels
lucky, flukyjammySlangProbably from early use of having expensive jam considered lucky.
main streethigh streetPlaces
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
mallshopping centrePlacesMall is also in common usage across the UK.
mass transitpublic transportTransport
mathmathsEducationMath in the US/Canada and maths in the UK/Australia/NZ etc.
molassestreacleFoodSugar syrup.
mononucleosisGlandular feverIllness
MorticianFuneral directorOccupation
mouth guardgum shieldPersonal
oatmeal, gritsporridge or porridge oatsFoodBoiled cereals or grains cooked in milk or water. Grits is a porridge made from corn but isn’t common in the UK.
overpassflyoverMotoring
pacifierdummy, comforterBabyAlso referred to as a binky or soother in some other countries.
packageparcelHomeIn UK a package would be bigger than a flat envelope.
padstowelsPersonalTampons gets the message across in both countries.
pajamaspyjamasClothingSleepwear, both of Persian origin, with lots of abbreviations including PJs, jimjams, jimmyjams, jimmies or jammies.
pantiesknickersClothingGenerally both refer to underwear for women.
pantsunderwearConfusingPants can be trousers, jeans or slacks in the US.
pantyhosetightsClothingTights are thick pantyhose in the US.
parenthesesbracketsEducationBrits 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 piesConfusingCornish 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, pharmacyChemistPlacesOne of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
phone, cell phonetelephone, mobile phone, mobileTechnologyAs time passes will we eventually just settle on “phones”?
pitcherjugDrinkSome UK pubs do sell beer in pitchers.
planter wartverrucaHealthOn feet.
plastic wrap, Saran wrap, plastic filmcling-film, food wrapFoodThin plastic food wrap that clings to itself.
popsicleice lollyFoodTypically on a wooden or plastic stick.
principleheadEducationHead teacher, headmaster, headmistress.
pursehandbagConfusingWomen in the UK use purses to hold money, which they put in their handbag along with many other items.
railroadrailwayTransport
rain boots, gumboots, rubber bootswellies, Wellington bootsFootwearWellington boots were made popular in the UK by Arthur Wellesley the 1st Duke of Wellington.
raincoatmac, macintoshClothingA Mac is now more likely to refer to an Apple computer than a raincoat.
raise (salary)pay riseMoney
rappelabseilSportDescent on a rope down a mountain or building. Both are loanwords; rappel from french, abseil from german.
realtorestate agentOccupation
recessbreakEducationTea break, lunch break etc.
resumeCVEducationCV short for Curriculum Vitae which is Latin for “the course of life”.
RIF, RIF’d, pink slipP45Jobsif you get your P45 you’ve been fired!
rubbereraserConfusingA rubber is a condom in the US, in the right context rubber would be understood in the UK.
Rube Goldberg device, GoldbergianHeath Robinson deviceTechnologyRube 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 parkTransportTypically provide electrical outlets, toilets, and washing facilities.
RV, recreational vehiclecamper van, motor homeTransportUS 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
school quiztestEducationQuizzes are generally for fun in UK, tests tend to be more serious.
Scotch tapeSellotapeHouseholdBoth brand names for pressure sensitive adhesive tape. Sometimes called “sticky tape” in the UK.
second floorfirst floorHotelsEven more irritating.
semenspunkRude
senior citizenOAPPeopleOld Age Pensioner
shag (rug, dance)sexual intercourseRudeUse carefully!
shedding (hair)moultingHair
sidewalkpavementPlacesPath is more commonly used today. A pavement was traditionally formed using “paving slabs”, they’re mostly asphalt these days.
silverware, flatwarecutleryKitchenKnives, forks and spoons.
sleep, napkipRudeA kip house is a brothel in the US.
sneakerstrainers, plimsollsFootwear
soccerfootballSportSoccer was originally a British word which declined in use except in the context of international football including soccer in the USA.
sodafizzy drinkDrinkAmericans use “soda” as a generic term for all soft “fizzy drinks” including cola.
sophomore yearsecond yearEducationBoth countries have freshers/freshman first years.
sprinkleshundreds and thousandsFoodOn cakes and trifles.
spunkcourageRude
squashmarrowFoodAnd other gourds including, in the UK, Butternut Squash.
station wagonestate carTransport
stovecookerKitchenOr range.
streetcartramTransportIn 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
subwayundergroundPlaces
suckerlollipopFoodSucker also means a fool in both countries.
suspendersbracesConfusingBraces are used to hold up trousers in UK.
sweaterjumperClothing
sweatpantstracksuit bottomsSport, ClothingSoft casual trousers, originally for athletics, now popular comfort and casual wear.
  • US: Sweatpants.
  • UK: Tracksuit bottoms, joggers, trackie bottoms.
  • Australia: Trackpants, trackies, tracky daks.
SwedeRutabagaFoodBritish vs American words are often different for vegetable family names.
table a motiontable a motionBusinessIn the US the motion has been postponed. In the UK the motion is ready to discuss now!
takeouttakeawayFoodFood to go or delivered.
thongsflip-flopsConfusingThongs are similar to g-strings in the UK.
tiretyreTransport
track and fieldathleticsSportsOne of those British vs American words that really should be standardized worldwide.
traffic circleroundaboutMotoring
travel trailercaravan, mobile homeTransport
trucklorryTransport
trunk (of car)bootTransport
two weeksfortnightTime
undershirtvestClothingAlso semmit is used in Scotland and Ireland.
vacationholidayTravel“Staycation” is becoming a popular expression for a “holiday at home” in UK.
vacationerholidaymakerTravel
vajayjayvaginaRude
vestwaistcoatClothing
vise gripsMole gripsHardware[American says] There’s no mole though is there?
wash upwash your handsHomeIn the UK wash up would be doing the dishes. Many public toilets/washrooms display “Now wash your hands” signs.
windbreakerwindcheaterClothingOr a cagoule.
windshieldwindscreenMotoring
wrenchspannerHardware
yardgardenPlaces
zeronilSportIn football (soccer) zero is never used. If the score is 3-0 you say “three-nil” not “three-zero”.
ZIP codePostcodeHome, Transport, TechnologyPostal 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. “favour” 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.

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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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