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British and American English

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Some parts of this article use accent marks to indicate stress and pronunciation: for an explanation and table, see English spellings; there is also a key at the foot of this page

Between British English and American English there are numerous differences in the areas of vocabulary, spelling, and phonology. This article compares the forms of British and American speech normally studied by foreigners: the former includes the accent known as Received Pronunciation, or RP; the latter uses Midland American English, which is normally perceived to be the least marked American dialect. Actual speech by educated British and American speakers is more varied, and that of uneducated speakers still more. Grammatical and lexical differences between British and American English are, for the most part, common to all dialects, but there are many regional differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, usage and slang, some subtle, some glaring, some rendering a sentence incomprehensible to a speaker of another variant.

American and British English both diverged from a common ancestor, and the evolution of each language is tied to social and cultural factors in each land. Cultural factors can affect one's understanding and enjoyment of language; consider the effect that slang and double entendre have on humour. A joke is simply not funny if the pun upon which it is based can't be understood because the word, expression or cultural icon upon which it is based does not exist in one's variant of English. Or, a joke may be only partially understood, that is, understood on one level but not on another, as in this exchange from the Britcom Dad's Army:

Fraser: Did ya hear the story of the old empty barn? Mainwaring: Listen, everyone, Fraser's going to tell a story. Fraser: The story of the old empty barn: well, there was nothing in it!

Americans would understand part of the joke, which is that a barn that is empty literally has nothing in it. However, in Commonwealth English, 'there's nothing in it' also means something that is trivial, useless or of no significance.

But it is not only humour that is affected. Items of cultural relevance change the way English is expressed locally. A person can say "I was late, so I Akii-Bua'd (from John Akii-Bua, Ugandan hurdler) and be understood all over East Africa, but receive blank stares in Australia. Even if the meaning is guessed from context, the nuance is not grasped; there is no resonance of understanding. Then again, because of evolutionary divergence; people can believe that they are speaking of the same thing, or that they understand what has been said, and yet be mistaken. Take adjectives such as 'mean' and 'cheap'. Commonwealth speakers still use 'mean' to mean 'parsimonious', Americans understand this usage, but their first use of the word 'mean' is 'unkind'. Americans use 'cheap' to mean 'stingy', but while Commonwealth speakers understand this, there is a danger that when used of a person, it can be interpreted as 'disreputable' 'immoral' (my grandmother was so cheap). The verb 'to table' a matter, as in a conference, is generally taken to mean 'to defer', in American English, but as 'to place on the table', i.e. to bring up for discussion, in Commonwealth English.

English is a flexible and quickly-evolving language; it simply absorbs and includes words and expressions for which there is no current English equivalent; these become part of the regional English. American English has hundreds of loan words acquired from its immigrants: these can eventually find their way into widespread use (spaghetti, mañana), or they can be restricted to the areas in which immigrant populations live. So there can be variances between the English spoken in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Thanks to Asian immigration, a working-class Londoner asks for a cuppa cha and receives the tea he requested. This would probably be understood in Kampala and New Delhi as well, but not necessarily in Boise, Idaho.

Cultural exchange also has an impact on language. For example, it is possible to see a certain amount of Americanization in the British English of the last 50 years. This influence is not entirely one-directional, though, as, for instance, the previously British English 'flat' for 'apartment' has gained in usage among American twenty-somethings. Similarly the American pronunciation of 'aunt' has changed during the last two decades, and it is considered classier to pronounce 'aunt' in the Commonwealth manner, even for speakers who continue to rhyme 'can't' and 'shan't' with 'ant'. Australian English is based on the language of the Commonwealth, but has also blended indigenous, immigrant and American imports.

Applying these same phenomena to the rest of the English-speaking world, it becomes clear that though the "official" differences between Commonwealth and American English can be more or less delineated, the English language can still vary greatly from place to place.

Some of the differences listed here are not absolute. Rather, one usage is just substantially commoner than the other.

Vocabulary

British American
abseil rappel
advert(isement) commercial
aeroplane (ãirəp-) airplane (ãirp-)
afterwards afterwards, afterward
among, amongst among
answer-phone (doorbell) intercom
answer-phone (telephone) answering machine
anticlockwise counterclockwise
arse ass
Asian[1] (race) East Indian
aubergine eggplant
autumn fall, autumn
balaclava, balaclava helmet knit cap, watch cap
balls-up foul-up
barman, barmaid bartender
barrister[2] (courtroom representation) attorney
batman (military) orderly
beauty contest (beauty) pageant
bedside table nightstand
beetroot beet
behove behoove
bill (invoice) bill, check
biscuit cookie
blot one's copybook foul up; mess up; screw up
bonnet (of a car) hood
bollocking severe reprimand
boot (of a car) trunk
bowl away speed away
bowler hat derby
braces (attached to trousers) suspenders
brackets (or round brackets)[3] parentheses[4]
break (school) recess
bring up (child) raise, bring up
bumf, bumph paperwork
burgle burglarize
busker street artist, street performer
cabin (on a boat) stateroom
cannon (in billiards) carom
car-park, car park parking lot
car-sticker decal
caravan trailer[5]
carer caregiver, caretaker
caretaker janitor
carriage, coach (railway) car
cat flap cat door
[to] chaff [to] joke, [to] tease
charge (noun, law) count
chemist drugstore[6]
chips (chipped potatoes) fries, French fries[7]
cinema movie theater
claret Bordeaux (wine)
cockerel, cock rooster
cock-up disaster, blunder, confused situation
coffin coffin, casket (death)
cool-box cooler
cornflour cornstarch
corpse cadaver
cotton (sewing), thread thread
courgette zucchini
crisps (potato crisps) chips (potato chips)
crocodile (of children) line of schoolchildren walking in pairs
crossroads, junction intersection
curriculum vitae (CV)[8] résumé
curtains drapes, draperies, curtains
dab (noun), dab hand skillful person
dishcloth, tea towel dishcloth, dishrag
dodgem bumper car
dogsbody drudge, junior officer
draughts (board game)[9] checkers
drawing room (mostly obsolete: class connotations), sitting room, living room living room
drink-driving drunk driving
driving licence driver's license
dual carriageway divided highway, freeway, Interstate
dumb[10] mute
dummy (baby) pacifier
dustbin trash can, garbage can
dustman garbage collector, garbageman
eiderdown[11] comforter
entitled (introducing title) titled
estate agent real estate agent, realtor
estate car, estate wagon station wagon
excess (charge) deductible
exclamation mark exclamation point
fairy (story/tale) Mother Goose
fancy dress party costume party
Father Christmas or Santa (Claus) Santa Claus
film movie[12]
fire brigade[13] fire department
fire engine fire truck
flannel flattering, deceptive talk
flat flat, apartment[14]
floating voter independent
fly keen, artful, clever, sharp
form (to have) criminal record (to have)
fortnight, two weeks two weeks
fortnightly bi-weekly
football (Association football), soccer soccer
foyer lobby
full stop period
gammon[15] ham, smoked ham, bacon
ganger foreman of a gang of workers, particularly on railways
gangway (in a railway carriage or car) aisle
garden yard
get a rocket be bawled out
give way (road sign) yield
grill broil
go for a bathe go for a swim
guard’s van caboose
hard graft, hard grafting hard work
headed notepaper—either personal, or for business letterhead
High Street[16] Main Street
hire rent
hire car rent car, rental car
hoarding billboard
hock Rhine wine (white)
holiday vacation
hotchpotch hodge-podge
hoover, vacuum, vacuum cleaner vacuum cleaner
[garden] hose,

hosepipe[17]

[garden] hose
ice lolly popsicle
icebox, freezer freezer
icing frosting, icing
Imperial units English, U.S. customary units
ironmonger, ironmongery hardware dealer, hardware store, hardware
jobbing working occasionally at separate short jobs
jobsworth[18] inflexible employee
knickers panties
launderette laundromat
lay-by turnout, pullout
lift elevator
lend loan (as a verb)
local (as a noun) neighborhood bar
lorry[19] truck
main subject [in education] major
maize corn [one type]
make redundant lay off
marrow squash
maths math
metalled [road] paved
motor park parking area
motorway Interstate, divided highway, freeway
mud guard fender [of a bike]
mug (noun) fool, blockhead
musketry the practice of small arms (military)
named after named for
nappy diaper
newsagent newsdealer, newsstand
normality normality, normalcy
note [cash] bill
nought,[20] zero cipher, zero
noughts and crosses tic-tac-toe
off-licence liquor store
often often, oftentimes
Oriental (race) Asian
pack [cards] deck
pantechnicon very large truck
pants, underpants underwear, underpants
paraffin kerosene
patience [game] solitaire
pavement sidewalk
pedestrian crossing crosswalk, pedestrian crossing
petrol(eum) gasoline, gas
plaster, sticking plaster Band-Aid™, adhesive bandage
playground schoolyard
Plough Big Dipper
potty slightly crazy
primary school elementary school
propelling pencil mechanical pencil
public transport mass transit
queue (noun) line, waiting line
queue, queue up (verb) stand in line, wait in line, line up
railway railroad, railway
rent boy male prostitute
ring road beltway
rise [pay] raise
road road, pavement
roundabout rotary, traffic circle, roundabout
roundabout merry-go-round, carousel
rowing boat rowboat
rubber[21] eraser
rubbish trash, garbage
rug blanket
rum (adjective) queer, odd; dangerous, difficult
sacked fired
saloon [car] sedan
sapper engineer [military]
scarper flee, run away; broadly: leave, depart
second-hand used
send in one's papers resign (in the military)
shoot (noun) hunting rights, blind
shop; be shopped (verb) betray, inform on; be betrayed, be informed on
shunt (parts of trains) switch, shunt
silencer [car] muffler
skip dumpster
skive slack off
sleeper (railway) railroad tie, tie
snog to kiss and caress amorously
snug small private room in a bar or pub
snuggery a small cosy place, a small room
soldier-servant orderly
solicitor [mainly deskwork; cf barrister] lawyer
solitaire peg solitaire
sparking plug spark plug
speciality (*speshiálity) specialty (*spéshəlty)
stand (for election) run (for election, for office)
stroller
spanner wrench
St. Martin's summer Indian summer
stopping train local (train); commuter train
subsidiary subject, secondary subject [in education] minor
subaltern junior officer
subfusc drab, dusky
subway pedestrian tunnel
summariser, analyst sport color commentator, color presenter sports
sums [after "do"] arithmetic, math
surgery office hours [doctor's], examination room
swede, turnip [vegetable] turnip, rutabaga [depending on region]
sweets candy
sweetshop candy store
swimming bath swimming pool
tap [water] tap, faucet
tarmac(adam) tar
tea [sometimes] supper, dinner
tearaway unruly or reckless young person
(the) telly TV
tick check [verb], checkmark [noun]
titbits tidbits
tiffin[22] lunch, luncheon
timber lumber
tin can
tomato sauce, ketchup ketchup[23]
torch [with a battery] flashlight
towards towards, toward
tower block high-rise apartment building
traffic jam gridlock
trainers sneakers
traveller salesman, traveling salesman
treacle molasses
trousers trousers, pants
tuckshop confectionery shop or store
twee quaint
underground (railway) subway
underline underscore
undertaker (or funeral director) mortician
vegetable marrow squash (various summer varieties)
vest undershirt
waistcoat (also weskit) vest
wallet wallet; billfold
wet weak, spineless
while, whilst while
windcheater windbreaker
windscreen windshield
wing fender [of a car]
wood louse pill bug
year, form[24] [school] grade[25]
zed zee[26]

Musical terms

  • Most of the English-speaking world has quavers, crotchets, minims, semibreves and breves; American English calls these eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes and double whole notes respectively.
  • What the British call bars Americans call measures.
  • The principal violinist in an orchestra is called the leader in Britain, the concert master in America.

Religion

  • British Anglican = American Episcopalian
  • more roughly,
    • British Liberal Judaism = American Reform Judaism
    • British Reform Judaism = American Conservative Judaism
    • Orthodox Judaism, however, is roughly the same
  • In America it is standard practice to call a clergyman Reverend Smith, for example. This is not unknown in Britain, but is regarded as incorrect. One should say Reverend John Smith, or Reverend Mr (or whatever) Smith.

Politics

In Britain one talks of right-wing and left-wing, while Americans say conservative and liberal. Note, however, that American politics is overall more right-wing/conservative than British.

Americans regularly say someone has won a plurality in an election. This usage is almost unknown in Britain, where it would tend to mean they got more than one vote. The corresponding term in Britain is majority, or where more clarity is required simple majority or relative majority. In America, majority is not used in this sense, always meaning what in Britain is called an absolute or overall majority.

British politicians are elected to represent constituencies in the House of Commons, or wards in local councils. Americans generally represent districts.

American usage has a term "logrolling" to refer to an agreement among politicians to support each other's pet proposals ("You help me roll my log and I'll help you roll yours"). There is no corresponding British idiom, only the broader term "horse-trading".

Law

Most differences in English legal terminology are not British versus American, but rather between the English common law tradition followed in most of the English-speaking world, and the legal systems of Louisiana, Quebec, Scotland and South Africa, which had their roots in Roman law, though they have adopted many aspects of common law.

However, most of the United States, and Canada, have distinctions between different "degrees" of murder. Typically, "first-degree murder" (or "murder one" in police shorthand) is planned in advance, while "second-degree murder" is committed on the spur of the moment. There are variations in this, and some states have a "third-degree" category too. In English law there is no formal subdivision of murder in this way (though such distinctions may be taken into account in sentencing), and "degree" is used in a completely different sense: the "principal in the first degree" in a crime (including murder) is the person who actually commits it; "principals in the second degree" are present on the scene and support the commission of the crime.

A sheriff is a ceremonial officer in England, a judge in Scotland, and a law enforcement officer in the USA.

If you sue a doctor for not doing their job with due care and attention, this is usually called negligence in England and malpractice in America.

Ethnic groups

In America, "African" (as in "African-American") is synonymous with "Black". In Britain it is restricted to fairly recent migrants from Africa, and is not applied to descendants of those transported to the Americas in past centuries.

"Asian" tends to mean East Asian in America, South Asian in Britain.

Usage

Lexis and idiom

  • In American, get has an alternative past participle to got: gotten, which is used in the sense of "become": "it had gotten wet".
  • The expression I guess, meaning 'I think', common in American English, is not used in British English.[27]
  • In British, one goes 'to hospital' or 'to university'; in American, one goes 'to the hospital' or 'to the university'. However, one goes 'to college' in both.
  • Toss and flip: in British English, one tosses a coin, but in American, it is usually flipped.
  • In British, an ass (rarely used nowadays) is a donkey or a fool; in American it is used instead of 'arse'.
  • In British, mad means crazy; in American angry.
  • In British, to wash up, or to do the washing up, is to do the dishes; in American however it is to wash oneself, where British English would say to wash one's face or have a wash.
  • What Americans call public schools are in Britain 'state schools', because 'public school' is the British term for a non-profit-making independent school, of which Eton is the most famous example.
  • Uptown and downtown are not widely used outside America. In British English, the former is rendered variously as 'in the suburbs' or 'on the outskirts', 'suburban' or 'residential', whichever is most appropriate. 'Down town' (two words) means to or in the city or town centre.
  • American English usually omits the and in numerals: 'two thousand eight', where BrE has 'two thousand and eight'.
  • British English has UK and US, American English U.S. and U.K.
  • A frying-pan can also be called a fry-pan or a skillet in American English.
  • The situation regarding the use of trapezium and trapezoid, whether referring to geometrical shapes or to bones, is complicated, and may be a question of idiolect.
  • In British, sport is used as an uncountable noun where Americans talk of 'sports'. In contrast, British has 'maths' and American math.
  • In British, the first floor is the first floor up, that is, above the ground floor, which is at street level. In American 'ground floor' may occasionally be used that way, but is more often figurative ('I got in on the ground floor', that is, at the beginning); it is the first floor that is at street level.
  • British English introduces a motion by tabling it; American postpones discussion by tabling it (that is, shelving it).
  • In British, bacteria is the plural of 'bacterium'; in American, 'bacterias' of 'bacteria'.
  • Anymore can be one word in American, and mean 'nowadays', even with a positive verb, in some varieties of AmE.
  • The River Nile in British English is the Nile River in American, and likewise with other rivers.
  • Likely is very often used in informal American to mean 'probably', whereas in British it only means 'probable', as in 'a likely story'.
  • In sports results, American often puts the preposition to between the scores: 'they won three to two'; British does not do this (though it does so in reporting votes).
  • Where British, in describing an unsatisfactory state of affairs, says, for example, "it could do with a polish", American says "it could use...".
  • The British describe a needless fuss as a storm in a teacup, which modifies to a tempest in a teapot in American.
  • In American, a thing or person can be named for another; in British, it is named after.
  • In American, to say someone is called something means that is a pet name or nickname; in British it can alternatively be their real name.
  • American doghouse is British kennel, though the phrase in the doghouse (meaning "in disgrace") is common to both.
  • In addition to its philosophical sense of intellect or divine reason, nous can be used in colloquial British English to mean savvy or gumption.
  • American English has a word unfamiliar in British (except to lawyers), ouster, meaning removal, of a person from a job or position.
  • British candidates stand for election; Americans run.
  • Americans talk of dating (someone). In Britain the usual idiom is going out with someone/together, with the word dating used in more abstract ways such as internet dating.
  • American usage retains the original distinction between a shop, where work is done on the premises, and a store, where goods are simply stored for sale. British usage calls both of these shops. Americans, however, go shopping like Britons, not *storing.
  • In British usage an art gallery is a place people go to view art. Americans usually call this an art museum, or just a museum. In Britain a museum is a place where some other interest dominates, though for example a museum of archaeology may contain works of art. American usage reserves the term art gallery for a place people go to buy art. This would be called in Britain a private or commercial gallery.
  • In the official English title system, esquire is the next rank below knight, and there are detailed rules to define who is entitled to it. In practice it was progressively extended as a courtesy to all respectable men, and then gradually declined in use. In America it is used by lawyers, male or female.
  • A vet in American English is both a veteran of armed combat and a veterinary surgeon; in British, it is a veterinary surgeon.
  • British English does not use through instead of from...to between numerical and time expressions, while American allows both: "2010 through 2015", "Sunday through Wednesday", "numbers 1 through 3" are not British English.
  • In British English, alternate means every other one (the first, the third, the fifth...) but in American it is the usual form for what BrE calls alternative, i.e. another, a different, a second option or thing.
  • Americans tend to say a couple something, but in Britain it is always a couple of something.
  • Traditionally, a prep(aratory) school covers ages 8–13 in England, 14–18 in America.
  • In American, ticked off means annoyed or irritated, and sounds like a euphemism for "pissed off"; in British it means reprimanded: "the teacher ticked them off for bullying".
  • American vicious cycles are British vicious circles.
  • In AmE, to wait on can be synonymous with to wait for, as well as meaning to serve.
  • As slang, hooter means "nose" in Britain, "breast" in America
  • British fortnight, meaning two weeks, is not used in America.
  • Serial numbers are usually indicated by No. in Britain, # in America.
  • Where British says a person is aged 28, American says they are age 28, or, where necessary, at age 28.
  • In British English, to tick someone off means to gently reprimand them; in American, ticked off means somewhat annoyed.

Grammar

  • American English generally prefers the singular for collective nouns: 'the government is considering' where British has 'the government are...' Thus, while 'the United States is topping the medals table', 'England are losing another Test Match'.
  • Where a verb has both regular and irregular past forms, American English prefers the regular, and British the irregular: for example, for 'spell' BrE prefers past tense and past participle 'spelt'; AmE the regular 'spelled'.
  • Some subjunctive verb forms are required in AmE but not in BrE. British speakers say things like "I suggest that he is fired" or "She asked that you rang her back". For Americans or Canadians, these must be "I suggest that he be fired" and "She asked that you ring her back". To American ears, this is an error about as severe as "I seen George yesterday", but it is perfectly normal even for well-educated BrE speakers.

The date

There are no hard and fast rules, but Americans tend to put the month before the day, so where Britons will more often say 'the thirtieth of July', an American might prefer 'July the thirtieth'; although omitting the article, as in 'July thirtieth' is distinctly American. And so in writing, British English tends toward '30 July 2009', American towards 'July 30, 2009', the numbers separated by a comma.

Wikipedia has helped to popularise the notion that there is a strict difference between the two idioms here, but this seems to be for its own, conflict-resolving, convenience: for example, the expression 'The Fourth of July' is as American as is the importance of the date.

Weights

Traditionally, British usage gives people's weights in stones, while American usage gives them in pounds. The plural form 'stones' is not used after a number: 'weighing ten stone'.

Spelling

There are a number of spelling differences, some systemic (most notably in suffixes), and others in individual words.

Suffixes

The most striking differences between the spelling of American English and British English are in these suffixes. (The accents, which are not used in English, show stress and pronunciation: see English spellings for a table and English phonemes for a comparison with the International Phonetic Alphabet; there is also a key at the foot of this page.)

British - American -
-ence[28] defénce -ense defénse
lîcence noun[29] lîcense
offénce offénse[30]
-l + l + suffix dîalling -l + suffix dîaling
trávelled tráveled
màrvellous màrvelous[31]
-l fulfíl -ll fulfíll
enrôl enrôll
instål inståll
instíl instíll
-ógue[32] cátalogue -óg cátalog
dîalogue dîalog
-our clámour -or clámor
còlour còlor
fâvour fâvor
flâvour flâvor
hàrbour hàrbor
hónour hónor
lâbour lâbor
ráncour ráncor
(Many words, however, have -or in both: dóctor, asséssor, sqùalor.)
-pp + suffix kídnápping -p + suffix kídnáping
wörshípped wörshíped
-re céntre[33] -er cénter
mêtre length mêter all
manoeûvre maneûver (also minus the o)
ôchre (ch as /k/) ôcher (ch as /k/)
scéptre scépter
thêatre thêater
(But in both: mêter machine, âcre *âker, eûchre *yûker)
-tt + suffix carburétted -t + suffix carburéted

Also, British advîser and protéster are advîsor and protéstor in American.

Final s

Some British words ending in s tend to drop it in American: BrE towårds, àfterwards, fŏrwards, máths; AmE towård, áfterward, fŏrward, máth.

-ise and -ize

It is normal to see spellings with -ize, such as rêalize, in American English, and those with -ise in British English, but -ize has been for centuries the standard spelling of Oxford University Press ("Oxford spelling", in contrast to Cambridge UP which uses either form at the option of the author) and there is some evidence to suggest that -ise predominated in the UK only after 1945. The -ise spelling reflects the French from which these words were borrowed, though many originally came from Greek, which uses a zeta, -ιζειν (-izein), via Latin. For examples, see English spellings/Catalogs/Retro E.

The following do not have z in any correct modern form of English: ádvertise, comprîse, cómpromise, despîse, disguîse, éxercise, excîse, prîse lever, surmîse and surprîse. (For AmE -ŷze and BrE -ŷse, see below.)

ae and oe become e

In Latin and Greek words where British has ae or oe, American English usually has a solitary e: aesthétic is esthétic and foêtus fêtus. This can result in differing acronyms, such as American GERD vs. British GORD for gástro-(o)esóphageal rêflux disêase.

This does not apply at the end of a word: thus -ae as Latin plural of -a is the same in both, though it is much less likely to be used at all in America, where foreign plurals generally are much more frequently avoided.

Other spellings

Other individual spelling variations are:

British American
ádze ádz
âgeing âging
alumínium[34] (-yəm) alûminum[35]
artefact ártifact
áxe áx
behôve behoôve[36]
callipers calipers
cárat kárat
chéque money chéck all meanings
chéquered chéckered
clarinéttist clarinétist
connéxion, connéction connéction only (cf. compléxion in both)
côsy côzy
defénce defénse, dêfense (the latter pronunciation is for sport only, but always the different spelling)
diaéresis (both *dî-érisis) diéresis
dísc, dísk, see below
dispatch, despatch dispatch only
dràught cold, net, liquids, game, horse dráft all meanings
ër üh
ërm üm
fíllet fílet
furŏrê fûrŏr[37]
grèy grây[38]
jeŵellery jeŵelry
júdgement, júdgment júdgment only
kërb road, cürb decrease cürb both meanings
kílomêtre kilómeter
largésse only largésse, largéss *larzhéss
líquoríce lícoríce (both *líckerish)
miaòw meòw
môuld môld
moustàche mústáche[39]
múm[40] mother móm[41]
ómelette ómelet
paêd- child péd-
per cént percént
phôney phôny
plòugh plòw
práctíse verb (British English noun is práctíce) práctíce: American English uses only práctíce, reflecting the pronunciation (not -îze/-îse).
prôgramme arts[42] prógram
pyjàmas pajàmas
refléxion, refléction refléction only (cf. compléxion in both)
roûble rûble
scéptical sképtical[43]
skílful skíllful
stǒrey building stǒry building = stǒry book
súlphur, súlphate, súlphide súlfur, súlfate, súlfide
sẁap = swóp swàp
tŷre car tîre car, tired
vîce vîce = vîse (the latter only for grip)
wílful wíllful

Words ending in -ŷse in British (ánalyse, páralyse, dîalyse, eléctrolyse) have -ŷze in American (ánalyze, páralyze, dîalyze, eléctrolyze).

The spelling dísk is preferred in American, which mainly confines the -c spelling to musical recordings, while British prefers dísc, except for computer disks, which are often spelt thus. [1]

The spelling pédlar is commoner in Britain, péddler in American, though neither is universal.

Also: dôve is an American alternative to dîved as past tense of dîve, with the same spelling as the bird dòve; matinée (pronounced mátinèe) can have a written é accent in British English but no accent in American English.

Initial capital letters

Champâgne *shám-pâin and Cointreau *quàn-trô have initial capitals in American English, as they are proprietary names; in British they both normally begin with a lower-case letter.

Pronunciation

The pronunciations discussed here are standard British (also called Received Pronunciation), which is associated with London and the Home Counties, and General American, heard in much of the United States and Canada.

Postvocalic r

Most strikingly, ‘postvocalic’ r, that is to say r after a vowel and in the same syllable, is silent in British English but pronounced in American English, in words like fàrm, càrve, cürve, swërve, fïrst, nŏrth, cŏrd, bïrth, ëarth. So càrd, *càd in BrE, contrasts with cád, and chàrted (-íd in most pronunciations, but -əd in some Commonwealth English) with chàrtered (-rd in AmE, but -əd in BrE).

For some speakers of both, postvocalic r is heard finally before a vowel in the next word: Mŷ càr ísn't réady (*rízzent) and an invisible 'r' can sometimes be heard between words: relâtions betwêen Chîna(r)and Rússia; this however is less common in British English than it used to be.

In American English an r between two vowels can have an effect on the first vowel: márry can sound to British ears like Mãry; the e in véry can sound like a stressed schwa.

British English has -ór- before a vowel but American English always has -ŏr-: British English órifice, órigin, fóreign, Flórida, American English ŏrifice, ŏrigin, fŏreign, Flŏrida. So móral can in American English sound to British ears almost like one syllable: *mŏrrl.

British English úr is American English ür: British English coúrage, cúrrency American English coürage, cürrency, and British English òr is similarly altered: British English wòrry, American wörry.

à versus á

British English à is very often in American English a long á: cán’t, lást, fást, hálf, ráther, láther. But not in fàther, Coloràdo, Chicàgo (Sh-), pajàmas (British English pyjàmas) nor before r: fàrm, stàrve nor before -lm: càlm, pàlm, bàlm.

In some place names where British English has á, à is preferred by many AmE speakers: Milàn, Vietnàm, Ugànda, Srì Lànka, Caràcas and Ànkara, where BrE has Milán, etc. This extends also to commercial names like BrE Níssán, AmE Nìssàn, and includes other imported words, e.g. the Spanish AmE tàco, BrE táco.

Many British journalists say Baráck or even bárrack for Baràck Obàma.

-ary, -ory and -ony

The suffix -ary has a silent a in traditional British English, but in American English it sounds like an é: díctionãry, vocábulãry (*dícshənérry, vəcábyəlérry as opposed to BrE *dícshənry, vəcábyəlry, much like strong and weak forms). Thus AmE sécondãry rhymes with Lóndondérry. A similar example is Rôsemary, pronounced with a schwa a in BrE, but as if two words, Rôse Mãry, in American. In the equivalent adverbs, the ã sound is clearly pronounced in both varieties: momentãrily, necessãrily (*momentérrily, *necessérrily).

Featuring as it does so much in popular culure, the American English sound has become increasingly common in British English, especially in broadcasting, with American pronunciations of some common words, such as nécessary, sécretary and mílitary, often being heard instead of the more typically British *nécəssry, *sécrətry, *mílətry, even though the same speakers when using other words with this ending – the likes of córonary, hónorary and heréditary – will not normally depart from the British *córonry, etc. Not untypically, a BrE-speaking presenter on the BBC in 2010 tailored her pronunciation to the office, referring to 'The Foreign *Sécrətry and the *Sécrətérry of State...' Similarly in British English labóratory and American láboratŏry, one o is stressed, rendering the other redundant: British English *labóratry, American English *lábratŏry. Other American pronunciations are cátegŏry, perémptŏry, stâtionéry and mónastéry; and also céremôny, álimôny and ácrimôny where British English has silence or schwa for o or e.

However, both varieties have a schwa or no sound for the a when the preceding syllable is the stressed one: suppleméntary (*súpləméntəry), compliméntary (*compləméntəry), but there is a difference where there is an o: AmE perémptŏry, BrE *perémptəry.

Differing e sound

British lêver (pronounced like lêaver from leave) is American léver; also in inflected forms: BrE lêverage/AmE léverage. The exact reverse happens with AmE lêisure/BrE léisure.

Similarly, evolûtion, ecológical, equiláteral, methane and pederasty have é- in American, ê- in British.

Short o

The [ɒ] (ó) vowel in British English hót does not exist for the vast majority of American English speakers, as it developed following the establishment of colonies in the New World (Australians do use it, since Australia was colonised later). American English may employ a variety of vowels in this position, depending on the phonological context and the speaker's regional background - [ɔ], [ɑ] or others in roughly the same area of the mouth, low and towards the back. They also make distinctions through the use of r, which for British English speakers are homophonous: cŏurt and cåught both use [ɔː], whereas American English speakers pronounce the r in the former: [kɔɹt] and [kɔt], for example. So also, American hót sounds like British heàrt, American póssible like British pàssable.

In words ending in -ós in BrE, for example from Spanish or Greek, AmE speakers may use -ôs, e.g. Càrlôs for Càrlós.

See the section on post-vocalic r above, for the behavior of short ó before r.

Short u and its o grapheme

The [ʌ] (ú) vowel in British English hút does not exist in American English: a stressed schwa is used instead, as it is also when the spelling is o, as in òther.

wh-

In words beginning wh- (apart from who, which is pronounced *hoô in both varieties) the h is ignored in British English but sounded before the w in American English, so that whén and whístle are pronounced *hwén and *hwíssle. (This is also the pronunciation in Scotland.)

-ile

The suffix -île in British English is usually schwa in American English so that vólatîle is pronounced *vólatle, stérîle *stérral, and frágîle *frájle. míssîle projectile is like míssal prayers and hóstile enemy sounds like hóstel shelter.

-duce

The suffix -dûce, as in redûce, indûce, prodûce verb and próduce noun is -dyoôss or -joôss in British English but can also be -doôss in American English.

-age

In three words from French with the suffix -age, where British English has an anglicised version, American English prefers to keep the French model, so á in the first syllable cedes its stress to the suffix (this is not to be confused with the cockney—and nowadays BBC—pronunciation of, for example, gárage as *garridge):

British American
bárràge (-àzh) barràge (*bəràzh)
gáràge (-àzh) garàge (*gəràzh)
mássàge (-àzh) massàge (*məssàzh)

-t- and -d- between vowels

In American English -t- and -d- between vowels, of which the first vowel is stressed, are voiced and sound like -d-, though actually the sound is a [ɾ] (a 'tap' or 'flap', i.e. a very rapid contact just behind the top front teeth): lâter *lâ[ɾ]er, bútter *bú[ɾ]er, líttle *lí[ɾ]le, shoôting *shoô[ɾ]ing; British English speakers keep these as -t- or -d-. In American English twénty, the -t- blends with the -n- and disappears altogether. The 'flap' often appears as the Scottish English pronunciation of /r/. British English speakers often partially or completely 'glottalise' -t- where American English speakers produce a flap. This glottal stop [ʔ] is common in London English, for example: *bú[ʔ]er for bútter. It also often replaces /t/ at the end of a syllable: *ca[ʔ] for cát. The glottal stop, which is formed by the vocal cords briefly coming together to restrict airflow, is not a phoneme of English and so speakers will usually identify it as a variant of -t-.

-euse

This ending, -ëüz in BrE after the original French, has two pronunciations in American English: in words such as AmE masseûse (pronounced with a hard s), the final e can be sounded: masseûsê, chanteûsê *massoôss(y), *shantoôss(y). British English has only the French-style massëuse, chantëuse, rhyming with the masculine plural forms massëurs, chantëurs *más-sërz, *shàn-tërz.

-ative

When preceded by an unstressed syllable, this ending has a secondary stress on the â in American, which is schwa in British, so American authŏritâtive is British authóritative, with a schwa, -tət-, and likewise British méditative is American méditâtive.

-rsion

Words with this ending, such as vërsion and excürsion, have the 'sh' sound in British and the 'zh' sound in American.

Other pronunciations

This table lists further examples of pronunciation differences. See the spelling section above for a table of items, such as kílomêtre/kilómeter, that are also spelt differently. The equals sign, =, means that the following word has the same pronunciation.

British American
accòmplice accómplice
accòmplish accómplish
addréss áddress
ádult adúlt
advërtísement ádvertîsement (cf. ádvertise in both)
aesthétic (ís-) aesthétic, esthétic (és-)
Ál-Qàêda (-Kŷda, or stress on ê) Ál-Qâeda
ámateur (eur as schwa: *ámətə) ámateur also; or various more phonetic variants, typically ámateûr (*ámatyûer)
Ámazon (o as schwa) Ámazón
ámbergrìs ámbergrís
amén (àh-) amén (ây-)
amênity amênity or aménity
ancíllary áncillãry
ántì- ántî-
ápparâtus apparátus
áristocrat arístocrat
ásthma (*ássma) *ázma
àunt áunt uncle (= ánt insect)
authóritative authŏritâtive
ávalànche (-lànsh) ávalánche
Baghdád Bághdad
báton batón
Bërnard Bernàrd (exception:[44])
bêta bèta
Bïrmíngham (-íngəm) Bïrmínghám (-íng-hám)[45]
bôgeymán boôgiemán[46]
bòrough (*búrə) börôugh town (= AmE bürrow ground)
brôchure (*brôsher) brochûre (*brô-shûre)
buŏy sea = bŏy child bûoy *bôoêe
càdre (-der) càdrè
cándidate (-ət) cándidâte
capíllary (kəp-) cápillãry
Caribbêan (*Cárri-bêən) Caríbbêan (*Cər-íbbêən)
Cécil (*Séssle) Cêcil (*Sêazle)
cérebral cerêbral
chágrín (sh-) chagrìn (*shəgrêen)
chámois (*shámwà) chámois (*shámmy)
charàde (sh-) charâde (sh-)
cicàda cicâda
cigarétte cígarette
clìchè *clêeshây (in both, the French accent may be written: cliché) clichè *clishây, where the American is closer to the French
cómplex compléx (adjective: noun is as British)
cómbatant combátant
cómrâde cómráde
córrugate cörrugate
coyôtê *kŷôat
dâta also dáta
Dâvíes (= Dâvis) Dâvìês (-êez)
débris (*débrêe or dâybrêe) *dəbrêe; the French accent may be written: débris
dépôt (*déppo) dêpôt (*dêepo)
derby (à) dërby
detérrence, -nt detërrence, -nt
dôcîle dócile (*dóssle)
dýnasty dŷnasty
Edinburgh (-brə) (-bórô)[47]
eîther êither
entreprenëur entrepreneûr (both ón-)
êra éra (= British English érror; or *ãira)
erâse (-z) erâse (-ss)
ërr érr (= American English ãir)
évidently evidéntly
explêtive éxpletive
fâkír *fəkír
fålcon fálcon
fígure (*fígə) can be *fígyùr
fíllet rhymes with bíllet, t pronounced *filây (after French)
gàla gâla[48]
génuíne génuîne
gêyser water (= gêezer man) geŷser
grimâce grímace
Hamás Hamàs
hárass haráss
hegémony (híg-) hégemôny (héj-)
hërb *ërb
hygiênic hygiénic (both ŷ)
húrricane (a as schwa: -kən) hürricâne[49]
ídyll idyllic îdyll (= îdle lazy = îdol god)
improvisâtion (o as schwa, -əvî-) improvisâtion (-óví-)
inquîry = enquîry ínquiry = enquiry (*ínkwəry)
îodìne îodîne
îron (*îən) *îrən or *îərn
jágûar (*jágyûə) jáguàr (*jágwàr)
Kósovo Kôsovo
labóratory láboratŏry
Lébanon (-ən) Lébanón
léisure lêisure
lieuténant (léft-) (lût-)
márathon (-thən, o as schwa) márathón
massëuse (based on French) masseûse
Maurice (= Mórris) Maurìce (*Mərêece, French-style)
mãyor town (= mãre horse) mâyor
médicine (*médsən) *médísən
mêthane méthane
mìgraine mîgraine
moôg *môag (can be capital M in both)
Móscôw can be Móscòw
múltì- múltî-
Mùslim Múslim
nåusea (-zìə) (-shə)
neîther nêither
nìche (*nêesh) níche (*nítch, *nísh), nìche
nónchalant (ch as sh) *nonshalàn
óccult occúlt
offénce óffense (sport only, but always)
páprika paprìka
partisán (-zán) pàrtisan (-zən)
pâtent pátent
pátronize, -ise pâtronize, -ise
penchant (*pànshàn) pénchant
përfume perfûme
phálanx phâlanx
pipétte (pí-) pipétte (pî-)
prêdecessor prédecessor
prémier government premíer (= premíere)
prémiére performance premíere (= premíer)
prívacy prîvacy (but prîvate in both)
prôcess prócess
prôgress noun prógress noun: progréss verb in both
Pûerto Rìco (Pŏr-) Puérto Rìco (Pwãir-)
qùadruplet (second u as schwa) quadrûplet (similarly with quínt- etc.)
râbid rábid
récŏrd noun (rhyming with cŏrd) récord (o as schwa: -kərd)
renâissànce rénaissànce
resëarch rêsëarch
resŏurce rêsource
réspîte réspíte
rodèo rôdêo
roûte journey (= roôt plant) ròute (= ròut victory)
sálon salón
sándwich (-ídge) (-ích)
scenàrio scenãrio, scenário
schédule (shé-) (ské-)
sêagúll sêagull (-əl)
shóne shône (= shôwn)
simultâneous (-) (-)
sôlder *sódder
spínach (-ídge) (-ích)
snoôker snoòker
stâtus státus
stràta strâta (= British English strâighter)
stràtum strâtum
thòrough (*thúrə) thörôugh (*thürrôw)
tomàto tomâto (cf. potâto in both, ‘potàto’ being an invention of Cole Porter)
tŏurnament toürnament
tŏurniquet (-nikây) toürniquet (-nikít)
Tunísia (*Tyû-nízìə, Chû-) Tunìsia (*Tû-nêezhə)
ván Gógh (*Góff = Góugh) ván Gôgh (= come)[50]
valìse (-z) valìse (-s)
vàse (*vàhz) vâse (*vâce, rhyming with báse, or *vâze, rhyming with hâze)
vërmouth vermoûth
vërsion (-sh-) vërsion (-zh-)
vítamin vîtamin
wåltz (-lss) wåltz as spelt
ẁrath (= Róth) wráth
yógurt yôgurt
Z (zéd) Z (zêe)

Punctuation

Inverted commas

In British English, a punctuation mark (usually a comma) goes before closing inverted commas (or a closing inverted comma, if single quotation marks are being used) to indicate dialogue, but is otherwise put, if needed, after the quotation marks. American English does not make this distinction, and punctuation always precedes closing quotation marks:

American English: The pen tip material is still called "iridium," although there is seldom any iridium in it. (Comma before closing inverted commas.)

British English: The pen tip material is still called "iridium", although there is seldom any iridium in it. (Comma after closing inverted commas.)

Both British and American: "Today we're looking at iridium," the teacher announced. (In quoted speech and dialogue, comma before closing inverted commas.)

Capital letters after a colon

In British English, a capital letter is used after a colon at the beginning of a quotation, but not otherwise. In American, a capital is used to begin a complete sentence after a colon, but not otherwise.

Hamlet: To be or not to be, that is the question. (Quotation, complete sentence, both British and American.)
"Today: iridium," the teacher announced. (Neither quotation nor sentence, both British and American.)
A conclusion was reached: it would not happen. (Complete sentence after colon, not a quotation, British.)
A conclusion was reached: It would not happen. (Complete sentence after colon, not a quotation, American.)

Names

In America it has long been standard practice for a married woman to combine her husband's surname with her own previous one, e.g. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In Britain, apart from Scottish legal documents, this was rare until very recently.

Notes

  1. in current usage, followed by the 2001 census; however, the 2011 census adds in Chinese, but not Arabs, and future usage may change accordingly
  2. In England; the equivalent in the Scottish legal system is called an advocate.
  3. but called parentheses in the printing and publishing trades
  4. In both variants, 'parenthesis' in the singular refers to the words contained between brackets/parentheses (or dashes or commas).
  5. Only with the meaning 'towed dwelling'; otherwise 'caravan' is used in American English.
  6. though an American drugstore often incorporates something of a café, which a British chemist does not
  7. Though strictly speaking, these are not quite the same thing, British chips being broader than French (i.e. American) fries.
  8. The term "curriculum vitae" is used in North America in academic and professional circles only, where it refers to a similar but lengthier and much more detailed document.
  9. but Chinese chequers (American Chinese checkers)
  10. Meaning 'stupid' (German 'dumm'), in American English, and increasingly giving way in British, as 'deaf and dumb' is to 'deaf mute'.
  11. Now obsolescent as the eider duck is a protected species, and most people now use duvets.
  12. 'Movie' is nowadays normal in British English when discussing Hollywood.
  13. officially known now as Fire and Rescue Service, but in ordinary speech still referred to by the old name
  14. Increasingly heard in British English; in San Francisco, California, at least, a city of small, shared buildings, both "flat" and "apartment" are used, mostly interchangeably. Purists, however, distinguish between the two: an "apartment" is in a building that has a shared main entrance; a "flat" has its own outside entrance door.
  15. This word also has a technical meaning in the game of backgammon.
  16. In a sentence, High Street requires a definite article: in the High Street, cf. on Main Street. One can also put the name of the town before it, unlike with Main Street: Bromley High Street.
  17. often adjectivally, e.g. "hosepipe ban".
  18. As in: "I can't do that. It's more than my job's worth."
  19. British trucks are traditionally small, and pulled, typically on rails.
  20. Pronounced exactly like 'naught', which means 'nothing' in a few phrases: 'I shall stop at naught'.
  21. A pitfall for British visitors to America, where 'rubber' is a vulgar term for a condom.
  22. Used in India.
  23. In American English, 'tomato sauce' refers to any kind but ketchup.
  24. Add ten or eleven to the number of the form or year to get an approximation of a child's age: thus, third formers are thirteen to fourteen-year-olds.
  25. Add five to the number of the grade to get an approximation of a child's age: thus, fifth graders are mostly ten-year-olds.
  26. Names of the letter Z, not usually spelt out.
  27. "If any one were asked to give an Americanism without a moment's delay, he would be more likely than not to mention I guess. Inquiry into it would at once bear out the American contention that what we are often rude enough to call their vulgarisms are in fact good old English. I guess is a favourite expression of Chaucer's...But although it is good old English, it is not good new English" (The King's English by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, Oxford University Press Third edition 1931, p 33.)
  28. But offénsive, defénsive in both.
  29. lîcense is the verb in British English, cf. licensêe in both. Mostly -ence is used in both, as with fénce; but sénse, dénse and suspénse in both.
  30. In American sporting contexts, one may hear óffénse and dêfénse.
  31. but British English wílful, American English wílful or wíllful
  32. In American English, both spellings of démagog(ue) and sýnagog(ue) are used.
  33. And so in other forms: British English céntred, American English céntered.
  34. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry recommends the British spellings alumínium and caêsium, but American súlfur
  35. Also pronounced differently: ['æləmɪnjəm] in British English, [ə'lu:mɪnəm] in American.
  36. Also pronounced differently: [bɪ'həʊv] in British English, [bɪ'hu:v] in American.
  37. Also pronounced differently: [fjʊ'rɔri] in British English, ['fʊrɔr] in American.
  38. But, in the surname, Grey is English, Gray Scottish
  39. Also pronounced differently: [mə'stɑʃ] in British English, ['mʌstæʃ] in American.
  40. standard Southern English; in the North, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the word is mám
  41. Also pronounced differently: though móm sounds much like múm to British ears, it is actually *màhm, as American ó = à. While an American hóckey móm has two identical stressed vowels, [ɑ], a British hóckey múm, if she exists, has both of them different again, [ɒ] and [ʌ].
  42. prôgram in the sense of computer is also British English, but usually -grám in both: grám, dîagram, càrdiogram.
  43. The k spelling is more logical, cf. scêne view (= sêen see), scént smell (= sént send). However, the c spelling is more etymological, there being a standard transliteration for words of classical Greek origin.
  44. St. Bernard's, a prominent, and exclusive, school for boys in New York City is pronounced in the British fashion.
  45. As in England and Alabama respectively, and likewise for other names with the -ham suffix.
  46. Also pronounced differently.
  47. But the actual inhabitants of the city use neither of these, but -búrə (= BrE bòrough).
  48. This pronunciation is also used in England for the Durham Miners' Gala (which still continues even though there are no more Durham miners).
  49. Thus all accented vowels are different in the name of the American pop group Jóhnny and the Hürricânes (BrE Húrricanes, and a different ó sound).
  50. Neither of these pronunciations is "correct": the Dutch say *Khåwkh.
  • The accents show stress and pronunciation (see English spellings): A: sát, mâde, pàrk, cāst (cást/càst), åll, ãir; E: ére, êar, vèin, fërn; I: sít, mîne, skì, bïrd; O: sóng, môde, lòve, wörd, ŏr; OO: moôn, foòt; U: sún, mûse, fùll, pürr; W: neŵ, ẁant; Y: gým, mŷ, keỳ, mÿrrh.