American vs. British English

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Even through English is the main language in both the US and the UK, it still took some time for me to adjust to their different words and spellings. I was really surprised by the old-timey spellings of words like tire and fair, in which the “i” is replaced by a “y”.  I have to admit, I found this very charming and quaint! Something I found not so charming? Adding another syllable to words, like changing aluminum to aluminium!  Interesting background behind this difference.


These spelling and phrase differences become even more important if you are writing your PhD thesis in the UK, as most will expect you to follow the British English way of spelling. I thought I had caught all the changes of “i” to “e” in words like artefacts, “z” to “s” in words like visualise, and adding the u in words like colour, but I had forgotten to add an extra “m” and “e” in programme throughout my thesis!  This wasn’t a huge deal, but it’s just something that didn’t occur to me at all at the time.

Here are a few differences between American and British English as a reference point.

Tire Tyre
Check Cheque
Program Programme
Aluminum Aluminium
Artifact Artefact
Color Colour
Visualize Visualise


Similar to British spellings, there are some variations in words or sayings that are used frequently. Most of these are just slightly different, but they make all the difference between looking like an (American) tourist and someone who appears to have been born and raised in England – especially if you can master the British accent! For example, looking to buy a purse in the UK? Make sure to ask for a handbag instead, as a purse means a wallet there. Similarly, ask for a vest, and they’ll show you the tank tops instead.

If you want to look like a local, here are some essential phrases and words to use when you’re in the UK:

£5 (five pounds) Fiver
£10 (five pounds) Tenner
14 pounds (as in weight) Stone
Bachelorette Party Hen Party
Baked Potato Jacket Potato
Band-Aid Plaster
Banner (as in a decoration) Bunting

**No one knew what I was talking about when I asked for beets at the grocery store!

Bill (i.e. Dollar Bill) Note (i.e. £1 Note)
Bucks (i.e. $5 = 5 Bucks) Quid (i.e. £5 = 5 quid)
Cash Register Till
Chips (i.e. Potato Chips) Crisps
Cobbler or Crisp (i.e. Apple Cobbler) Crumble
College/University Uni (College usually refers to High School)
Commercials/Ads Adverts

**Similar to beets, no one knew what i was talking about when I asked for cilantro at the grocery store

Cotton Candy Candy Floss
Cup (i.e. a cup of tea) Cuppa
Diaper Nappy
Dig In (i.e. at a meal) Tuck In
Dumpster Skip
Eggplant Aubergine
Elevator Lift
(Federal) Holiday Bank Holiday
Flashlight Torch
Flu Shot Jab
For Rent To Let
Fries Chips
Garbage Can Bin
Gasoline Petrol

(i.e. grade students’ exams)

High School College

(feeling like home)


(which means something very different to Americans!)

Hungry Peckish
Leash (for a dog) Lead
Move (to another house) Move house
Ornaments Baubles
Parentheses Brackets
Parking Lot Car Park
Prawn Shrimp
Refill Top Up
Round Trip Return Trip
Shopping Cart Trolley
Sneakers Runners
Sprite / 7 Up Lemonade
Steal Pinch
Study Revise
Sweater Jumper
Take Out Take Away
Tank Top Vest
Tasty Moreish
Trailer Caravan
Vacation Holiday
Vacuum Hoover
Vest Gilet
Wallet Purse
White-Out Tippex
Yield Give Way
Zucchini Courgette

I hope this give you an idea of the differences between American and British English! Even if you don’t have a trip to the UK planned, why not practice sounding British wherever you may be?

Have we left out an essential spelling or phrase difference?  Leave us a comment to let us know!


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