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Interesting Differences Between American and British English

July 15, 2011

Going to college was a huge change for me – not only was I going to a whole new school, I was also going to a whole new country (from Hong Kong to US).

But the change that intrigued the most is the language. I grew up in a very westernized environment since Hong Kong was a former British colony. English is my first language so the last thing I expected to shock me was the language barrier. Yet little did I know how different American English can be…

I listed a few examples in this post (the left is US English, the right is UK English):

The Obvious Differences

Football vs Soccer – This is probably one that almost everybody knows. But it’s still a little awkward saying “soccer”

Biscuits vs Cookies – My parents call it cookies as well, so this wasn’t a big deal either

The Non-Obvious Ones

Jumper vs Sweater – It became an inside joke where my friends made fun of me for calling it a “jumper”

Revise vs Study/Review – People gave me a blank stare when I said, “Let’s go revise for the exam.” They think I’m trying to “fix” the exam

Toilet vs Bathroom/Restroom – Apparently, it’s “uncivilized” to call it a toilet. So how do Americans distinguish a toilet from a room where you rest or take a bath?

“I Forgot” vs “I Forget” – Americans prefer using present tense…

Rubbish Bin vs Trash Can – Americans don’t call it rubbish. Or even bin.

Torch vs Flashlight – When I said torch, they thought I was referring to a wooden stick with fire on top of it…

Maths vs Math – A half-british half-american friend corrected me this. Americans drop the “s”

Trousers vs Pants – A hipster friend corrected me this. I usually wore jeans so this was something I only found out much later in the year

Rubber vs Eraser – Apparently, rubber means something else in the US…

CV vs Resume – Here, job recruiters ask for your resume, not your CV

Boots vs Cleats – These are the shoes you wear for those who play football (aka soccer)

Anti-clockwise vs Counter-clockwise – Don’t they mean the same thing?

I’m sure there are tons more, but these are the ones from the top of my head that I use in my everyday life. It’s definitely not easy to change something you’ve been saying for 18 years…

UPDATED: (11/28/2012)

A few more that I’ve picked up since I wrote this post:

Tipex vs Whiteout – The first time I asked for tipex, my American friend stared at me with a complete blank look and I had to point at the object

Training vs Practice – I just found this out today. Sports team in America “practice”, not “train”

Match vs Game – Speaking of sports teams, Americans practice for a football game, not a football match

Car Park vs Parking Lot – I still say car park to this day. Parking lot just sounds weird… it’s a place where you park your car – hence car park.

Secondary School vs High School – Probably due more to the difference in the two education systems

Primary School vs Elementary School – Same as above

Year vs Grade – Another education difference. You’re in “12th Grade” as opposed to “Year 12”

Petrol vs Gas – Apparently you drive your car to the “gas station”. How can a liquid be gas?

Boot vs Trunk – I’ve converted. I now call it the car “trunk”

Lorry vs Truck – Also converted on this one. Truck sounds more masculine.

Lift vs Elevator – You take the elevator up the building in America.

Z(ed) vs Z(ee) – The first time I said “Zed” (to pronounce Z), my American friends laughed at me…

Bill vs Check – When you’re done with your meal at a restaurant, you ask for the “check”. Bill just sounds so much more classy.

Sofa vs Couch – Americans like to watch TV on their couches

Ground Floor vs First Floor – First floor in America is ground floor in Britain. First floor in Britain is second floor in America. Always have to plus/minus one every time I fly back home

Prawn vs Shrimp – For a long time, I thought these were two different types of food… Until I looked it up and realized they were the exact same thing!

Supply Teacher vs Substitute Teacher – I was watching a YouTube video yesterday and it kept calling them “substitute” teachers. Had to look that one up

Break Time vs Recess – This is more of a high school term. I’m just so used to having break times

Trainers vs Sneakers – Trainers? Sneakers? Both sound pretty weird to me.

Mum vs Mom – Mum sounds a lot sweeter

Caravan vs Trailer – When Americans go camping, they take their trailers

2 Discussion to this post

  1. Daniel Hoang says:

    Very interesting

  2. Wendi Tang says:

    I’ve got one…Tipex VS whiteout
    I got a puzzled look from a staff member of somewhere in Canada when I asked for the “tipex”. You were there too, but you were still small and ignorant back then:)

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