British versus American English

British v. American English

By Angie Spoto


English is English is English, right? Not quite! If you first learned English in the American style, you might be surprised to find some important differences between American and British English. There are more differences than you think, and knowing them could save you from an awkward situation!




American British
Pants Trousers
Underwear Pants
Sweater Jumper
Costume Fancy Dress
Sneakers Trainers

Watch out for the pants v. trousers conundrum! I’ve made the mistake of using ‘pants’ when I meant to say ‘trousers’, and it was an embarrassing (albeit funny!) conversation.

If someone invites you to a ‘fancy dress’ party, this doesn’t mean you should wear a ball gown or something fancy – it means you can wear a costume!


American British
Math Maths
Vacation Holiday
Eraser Rubber
Grade Mark

On the Road

American British
Parking Lot Car Park
Freeway/Highway Motorway
Truck Lorry
Gas Petrol
Dumpster Skip
Sidewalk Pavement
Exit Slip Road

And if you’ve ever driven in the UK, you’ve probably noticed there are more differences than just the vocabulary…


American British
Apartment Flat
Drug Store Chemist
Doctor’s Office Surgery
Bathroom Toilet/Loo

When I first moved to Scotland, I wondered why so many people were going to get surgery… then I realized, that ‘surgery’ simply means ‘doctor’s office.’


American British
Cookie Biscuit
Chips Crisps
Fries Chips
Eggplant Aubergine
Popsicle Ice Lolly
Slice of Bacon Rasher
Take Out Take Away

Did you know, if you order fries in the UK, you’ll get skinny chips instead of chunky ones?

Informal Phrases

In addition to the many differences in vocabulary, British English and American English also have different everyday phrases. Here are a few that confused me when I first moved here:

Phrase Explanation
You all right? In American English, if someone asked you if you’re all right, something must be wrong – maybe you look sick or you fell off your bike.

In British English, it’s often used as an informal greeting just like ‘Hi’, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How’s it going?’

That’s you then. A clerk in the grocery store might tell you this as she hands you your receipt. This phrase simply means ‘the transaction is finished’.
Hiya This phrase is used as a greeting. It’s equivalent to ‘Hi’ or ‘Hi there.’
Nae In informal speech, the word ‘nae’ can mean ‘no’ or ‘not.’ For example, ‘Nae bother, it wasnae your fault’ means ‘No problem, it wasn’t your fault.’



Setting Up You Computer for British English Spell Check

You’re probably familiar with the key differences in American v. British English spelling; American English tends to use ‘ize’ endings (rather than the British ‘ise’) and omits the ‘u’ in words like colour and favour.

It’s very likely that your computer is configured to check for spelling and grammar in the American style of English, which means you’ll get the squiggly red line underneath words like ‘colour’ and ‘organise’ even though they’re spelled properly.

To change Word’s settings to check for UK English, follow these instructions:

  1. Select the entire document (press Ctrl+A).
  2. From the Tools menu, choose Language… Word then displays the Language dialog box.
  3. In the list of languages, select English (UK).


  1. Click on the OK button.

 You can also set up English (UK) to be your default language, so that every time you open Word, Word automatically checks for British English. To do this:

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Language… Word then displays the Language dialog box.
  2. In the list of languages, select English (UK).
  3. Click on the Default… Then press Yes.


  1. Click on the OK

If you discover any more differences between American and British English, feel free to share them in the comments below!


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