Comparison of American and British English

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This is one of a series of articles about the differences between British English and American English, which, for the purposes of these articles, are defined as follows:

Written forms of British and American English as found in newspapers and textbooks vary little in their essential features, with only occasional noticeable differences in comparable media[1] (comparing American newspapers with British newspapers, for example). This kind of formal English, particularly written English, is often called "standard English".[2][3]

The spoken forms of British English vary considerably, reflecting a long history of dialect development amid isolated populations. In the United Kingdom, dialects, word use and accents vary not only between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also within them. Received Pronunciation (RP) refers to a way of pronouncing standard English that is actually used by about two percent of the UK population.[4] It remains the accent upon which dictionary pronunciation guides are based, and for teaching English as a foreign language. It is referred to colloquially as "the Queen's English", "Oxford English" and "BBC English", although by no means do all graduates of the university speak with such an accent and the BBC no longer requires it or uses it exclusively.[5] The present monarch uses a hyperlect of the Queen's English.

An unofficial standard for spoken American English has also developed, as a result of mass media and geographic and social mobility, and broadly describes the English typically heard from network newscasters, commonly referred to as non-regional diction, although local newscasters tend toward more parochial forms of speech.[6] Despite this unofficial standard, regional variations of American English have not only persisted but have actually intensified, according to linguist William Labov.[citation needed]

Regional dialects in the United States typically reflect some elements of the language of the main immigrant groups in any particular region of the country, especially in terms of pronunciation and vernacular vocabulary. Scholars have mapped at least four major regional variations of spoken American English: Northern, Southern, Midland, and Western.[7] After the American Civil War, the settlement of the western territories by migrants from the east led to dialect mixing and levelling, so that regional dialects are most strongly differentiated in the eastern parts of the country that were settled earlier. Localized dialects also exist with quite distinct variations, such as in Southern Appalachia, Boston and the New York City area.

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world, excluding countries where English is spoken natively such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. In many former British Empire countries where English is not spoken natively, British English forms are closely followed, alongside numerous AmE usages which have become widespread throughout the Anglosphere.[8][9] Conversely, in many countries historically influenced by the United States where English is not spoken natively, American English forms are closely followed. Many of these countries, while retaining strong BrE or AmE influences, have developed their own unique dialects, which include Indian English and Philippine English.

Chief among other native English dialects are Canadian English and Australian English, which rank third and fourth in the number of native speakers. For the most part, Canadian English, while featuring numerous British forms alongside indigenous Canadianisms, shares vocabulary, phonology and syntax with American English, leading many to recognize North American English as an organic grouping of dialects.[10] Australian English likewise shares many American and British English usages alongside plentiful features unique to Australia, and retains a significantly higher degree of distinctiveness from both the larger varieties than does Canadian English. South African English, New Zealand English and the Hiberno-English of Ireland are also distinctive and rank fifth, sixth and seventh in the number of native speakers.

Historical background

The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Similarly, the language spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British trade and colonization elsewhere and the spread of the former British Empire, which, by 1921, held sway over a population of 470–570 million people, approximately a quarter of the world's population at that time.

Over the past 400 years the form of the language used in the Americas—especially in the United States—and that used in the United Kingdom have diverged in a few minor ways, leading to the versions now occasionally referred to as American English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, and formatting of dates and numbers, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar structure tend to be much less than those of other aspects of the language in terms of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings in the two versions or are even unknown or not used in one of the versions. One particular contribution towards formalizing these differences came from Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary (published 1828) with the intention of showing that people in the United States spoke a different dialect from Britain, much like a regional accent.[11]

This divergence between American English and British English has provided opportunities for humorous comment, e.g., George Bernard Shaw has a character say that the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language";[12] and Oscar Wilde that "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language" (The Canterville Ghost, 1888). Henry Sweet incorrectly predicted in 1877 that within a century American English, Australian English and British English would be mutually unintelligible. It may be the case that increased worldwide communication through radio, television, the Internet and globalization has reduced the tendency towards regional variation. This can result either in some variations becoming extinct (for instance, the wireless, being progressively superseded by the radio) or in the acceptance of wide variations as "perfectly good English" everywhere.

Although spoken American and British English are generally mutually intelligible, there are occasional differences which might cause embarrassment—for example, in American English a rubber is usually interpreted as a condom rather than an eraser;[13] and a British fanny refers to the female pubic area, while the American fanny refers to an ass (US) or an arse (UK). Likewise the Australian root means to have sexual intercourse whilst in both British and American English it means to support someone for success.



Formal and notional agreement

In British English (BrE), collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively; compare a committee was appointed with the committee were unable to agree.[14][15] The term the Government always takes a plural verb in British civil service convention, perhaps to emphasise the principle of cabinet collective responsibility.[16] Compare also the following lines of Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army is here to stay / Oliver's Army are on their way . Some of these nouns, for example staff,[17] actually combine with plural verbs most of the time.

In American English (AmE), collective nouns are almost always singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree. However, when a speaker wishes to emphasize that the individuals are acting separately, a plural pronoun may be employed with a singular or plural verb: the team takes their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. Such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats.[18] Despite exceptions such as usage in The New York Times, the names of sports teams are usually treated as plurals even if the form of the name is singular.[19]

The difference occurs for all nouns of multitude, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance,

BrE: SuperHeavy is a band that shouldn't work or First Aid Kit are a band full of contradictions;[20][21] AmE: The Clash is a well-known band.
BrE: FC Red Bull Salzburg is an Austrian association football club; AmE: The New York Red Bulls are an American soccer team.

Proper nouns that are plural in form take a plural verb in both AmE and BrE; for example, The Beatles are a well-known band; The Patriots are the champions, with one major exception: in American English, the United States is almost universally used with a singular verb. Although the construction the United States are was more common early in the history of the country, as the singular federal government exercised more authority and a singular national identity developed (especially following the American Civil War) it became standard to treat the United States as a singular noun.[22]


Verb morphology

  • The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell, burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular (learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.). In BrE, both irregular and regular forms are current, but for some words (such as smelt and leapt) there is a strong tendency towards the irregular forms, especially by users of Received Pronunciation. For other words (such as dreamed, leaned, and learned[23]) the regular forms are somewhat more common. In most accents of AmE, the irregular forms are never or rarely used (except for burnt, leapt and dreamt).[24]
    The t endings may be encountered frequently in older American texts, especially poetry. Usage may vary when the past participles are used as adjectives, as in burnt toast. (The two-syllable form learnèd /ˈlɜrnɪd/, usually written without the accent, is used as an adjective to mean "educated" or to refer to academic institutions in both BrE and AmE.) Finally, the past tense and past participle of dwell and kneel are more commonly dwelt and knelt in both standards, with dwelled and kneeled as common variants in the US but not in the UK.
  • Lit as the past tense of light is more common than lighted in the UK; American English uses lit to mean "set afire" / "kindled" / "made to emit light" but lighted to mean "cast light upon" (e.g., "The stagehand lighted the set and then lit a cigarette.").[25] Conversely, British English favours fitted as the past tense of fit generally, whereas the preference of American English is more complex: AmE prefers fitted for the metaphorical sense of having made an object [adjective-]"fit" (i.e., suited) for a purpose; in spatial transitive contexts, AmE uses fitted for the sense of having made an object conform to an unchanged object that it surrounds (e.g., "fitted X around Y") but fit for the sense of having made an object conform to an unchanged object that surrounds it (e.g., "fit[-past] X into Y"); and for the spatial senses (both intransitive and transitive) of having been matching with respect to contour, with no alteration of either object implied, AmE prefers fit ("The clothes [past-]fit."; "The clothes [past-]fit me well.").[26]
  • The past tense of spit "expectorate" is spat in BrE, spit or spat in AmE.[27] AmE typically has spat in figurative contexts, for example, "He spat out the name with a sneer", or in the context of expectoration of an object that is not saliva, for example, "He spat out the foul-tasting fish" but spit for "expectorated" when it refers only to the expulsion of phlegm or saliva.
  • The past participle of saw is normally sawn in BrE and sawed in AmE (as in sawn-off/sawed-off shotgun).[28]
  • The past participle gotten is never used in modern BrE (apart from in dialects that retain the older form), which generally uses got, except in old expressions such as ill-gotten gains. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, "The form gotten is not used in British English but is very common in North American English." The American dictionary Merriam-Webster, however, lists "gotten" as a standard past participle of "get." In AmE gotten emphasizes the action of acquiring and got tends to indicate simple possession (for example, Have you gotten it? versus Have you got it?). Gotten is also typically used in AmE as the past participle for phrasal verbs using get, such as get off, get on, get into, get up, and get around: If you hadn't gotten up so late, you might not have gotten into this mess. AmE, but not BrE, has forgot as a less common alternative to forgotten for the past participle of forget.
  • In BrE, the past participle proved is strongly preferred to proven; in AmE, proven is now about as common as proved.[29] (Both dialects use proven as an adjective, and in formulas such as not proven).[30]
  • AmE further allows other irregular verbs, such as dive (dove)[31][32] or sneak (snuck),[33][34] and often mixes the preterite and past participle forms (springsprang, US also springsprung),[35][36] sometimes forcing verbs such as shrink (shrankshrunk) to have a further form, thus shrunkshrunken.[37][38] These uses are often considered nonstandard; the AP Stylebook in AmE treats some irregular verbs as colloquialisms, insisting on the regular forms for the past tense of dive, plead and sneak. Dove and snuck are usually considered nonstandard in Britain, although dove exists in some British dialects and snuck is occasionally found in British speech.
  • By extension of the irregular verb pattern, verbs with irregular preterits in some variants of colloquial AmE also have a separate past participle, for example, "to buy": past tense bought spawns boughten. Such formations are highly irregular from speaker to speaker, or even within idiolects. This phenomenon is found chiefly in the northern US and other areas where immigrants of German descent are predominant and may have developed as a result of German influence.[39] Even in areas where the feature predominates, however, it has not gained widespread acceptance as standard usage.

Use of tenses

  • Traditionally, BrE uses the present perfect to talk about an event in the recent past and with the words already, just and yet. In American usage these meanings can be expressed with the present perfect (to express a fact[citation needed]) or the simple past (to imply an expectation[citation needed]). This American style has become widespread only in the past 20 to 30 years; the British style is still in common use as well. Recently the American use of just with simple past has made inroads into BrE, most visibly in advertising slogans and headlines such as "Cable broadband just got faster".
    • BrE: "I have just arrived home" or "I've just arrived home." AmE: "I just arrived home."
    • BrE: "I have already eaten" or "I've already eaten." AmE: "I already ate."
  • Similarly AmE occasionally replaces the past perfect with the simple past.[citation needed]
  • In BrE, have got or have can be used for possession and have got to and have to can be used for the modal of necessity. The forms that include got are usually used in informal contexts and the forms without got in contexts that are more formal. In American speech the form without got is used more than in the UK, although the form with got is often used for emphasis. Colloquial AmE informally uses got as a verb for these meanings—for example, I got two cars, I got to go.
  • In conditional sentences, US spoken usage often substitutes would and would have (usually shortened to [I]'d and would've) for the simple past and for the pluperfect (If you'd leave now, you'd be on time. / If I would have [would've] cooked the pie we could have [could've] had it for lunch). This tends to be avoided in writing because it is often still considered non-standard although such use of would is widespread in spoken US English in all sectors of society. Some reliable sources now label this usage as acceptable US English and no longer label it as colloquial.[40][41] (There are situations where would is used in British English too in seemingly counterfactual conditions, but these can usually be interpreted as a modal use of would: If you would listen to me once in a while, you might learn something.)[42][43] In cases in which the action in the if clause takes place after that in the main clause, use of would in counterfactual conditions is, however, considered standard and correct usage in even formal UK and US usage: If it would make Bill happy, I'd [I would] give him the money.[42]
  • The subjunctive mood (morphologically identical with the bare infinitive) is regularly used in AmE in mandative clauses (as in They suggested that he apply for the job). In BrE, this usage declined in the 20th century in favour of constructions such as They suggested that he should apply for the job (or even, more ambiguously, They suggested that he applied for the job). However, the mandative subjunctive has always been used in BrE.[44]

Verbal auxiliaries

  • Shall (as opposed to will) is more commonly used by the British than by Americans.[45] Some prescriptions about the distinction exist.[45] Shan't is almost never used in AmE; rather, it is almost invariably replaced by won't or am/are/is not going to. American grammar also tends to ignore some traditional distinctions between should and would;[46] however, expressions like I should be happy are rather formal even in BrE.[citation needed]
  • The periphrastic future "be going to" is about twice as frequent in AmE as in BrE.[47]
  • Use of "do" as a pro-predicate is almost exclusively British usage.[48]
  • Example: "Did Frank love nature or fair play?" — "Why, he must have done."[49]
The AmE response would be "Why, he must have." omitting the form of "do". The BrE usage is commonly found with all forms of "do", for example:[48]

I have done.
I haven't done.
I will do.
I might have done.
I could do.
I could have done.
I should do.
I should have done.

Except in the negative, the initial pronoun may be omitted in informal speech.


The following verbs show differences in transitivity between BrE and AmE:

  • agree: Transitive or intransitive in BrE, usually intransitive (except with objective clauses) in AmE (agree a contract/agree to or on a contract, but I agree that this is a good contract in both). However, in formal AmE and BrE legal writing one often sees constructions such as as may be agreed between the parties (rather than as may be agreed upon between the parties).
  • appeal (as a decision): Usually intransitive in BrE (used with against) and transitive in AmE (appeal against the decision to the Court/appeal the decision to the Court).[50]
  • catch up ("to reach and overtake"): Transitive or intransitive in BrE, strictly intransitive in AmE (to catch somebody up/to catch up with somebody). A transitive form exists in AmE, with a different meaning: to catch somebody up means that the subject will help the object catch up, rather the opposite of the BrE transitive meaning.
  • cater ("to provide food and service"): Intransitive in BrE, transitive or intransitive in AmE (to cater for a banquet/to cater a banquet).
  • cater to ("to allow for a possibility"): to cater to the speaker not turning up. A British speaker would probably recast the sentence.
  • claim: Sometimes intransitive in BrE (used with for), strictly transitive in AmE.
  • meet: AmE uses intransitively meet followed by with to mean "to have a meeting with", as for business purposes (Yesterday we met with the CEO), and reserves transitive meet for the meanings "to be introduced to" (I want you to meet the CEO; she is such a fine lady), "to come together with (someone, somewhere)" (Meet the CEO at the train station), and "to have a casual encounter with". BrE uses transitive meet also to mean "to have a meeting with"; the construction meet with, which actually dates back to Middle English, appears to be coming back into use in Britain, despite some commentators who preferred to avoid confusion with meet with meaning "receive, undergo" (the proposal was met with disapproval). The construction meet up with (as in to meet up with someone), which originated in the US,[51] has long been standard in both dialects.
  • provide: Strictly monotransitive in BrE, monotransitive or ditransitive in AmE (provide somebody with something/provide somebody something).
  • protest: In sense "oppose", intransitive in BrE, transitive in AmE (The workers protested against the decision/The workers protested the decision). The intransitive protest against in AmE means "to hold or participate in a demonstration against". The older sense "proclaim" is always transitive (protest one's innocence).
  • write: In BrE, the indirect object of this verb usually requires the preposition to, for example, I'll write to my MP or I'll write to her (although it is not required in some situations, for example when an indirect object pronoun comes before a direct object noun, for example, I'll write her a letter). In AmE, write can be used monotransitively (I'll write my congressman; I'll write him).


  • The verbs prevent and stop can be found in two different constructions: "prevent/stop someone from doing something" and "prevent/stop someone doing something". The latter is well established in BrE, but not in AmE.
  • Some verbs can take either a to+infinitive construction or a gerund construction (for example, to start to do something/to start doing something). For example, the gerund is more common:

Presence or absence of syntactic elements

  • Where a statement of intention involves two separate activities, it is acceptable for speakers of AmE to use to go plus bare infinitive. Speakers of BrE would instead use to go and plus bare infinitive. Thus, where a speaker of AmE may say I'll go take a bath, BrE speakers would say I'll go and have a bath. (Both can also use the form to go to instead to suggest that the action may fail, as in He went to take/have a bath, but the bathtub was full of children.) Similarly, to come plus bare infinitive is acceptable to speakers of AmE, where speakers of BrE would instead use to come and plus bare infinitive. Thus, where a speaker of AmE may say come see what I bought, BrE speakers would say come and see what I've bought (notice the present perfect: a common British preference).[59]
  • Use of prepositions before days denoted by a single word. Where British people would say She resigned on Thursday, Americans often say She resigned Thursday, but both forms are common in American usage. Occasionally the preposition is also absent when referring to months: I'll be here December (although this usage is generally limited to colloquial speech). The prepositions which are omitted in the original American text are supplied before it is re-published in most British publications. In teaching English lessons to children while they grow older the prepositions are almost always required in oral and written answers.
  • In the UK, from is used with single dates and times more often than in the United States. Where British speakers and writers may say the new museum will be open from Tuesday, Americans most likely say the new museum will be open starting or on Tuesday. (This difference does not apply to phrases of the pattern from A to B, which are used in both BrE and AmE.) A variation or alternative of this is the mostly American the play opens Tuesday and the mostly British the play opens on Tuesday.
  • American legislators and lawyers always use the preposition of between the name of a legislative act and the year it was passed; their British counterparts do not. Compare Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The year preceding the short title is also common (e.g. 19xx <title of act>) in both systems when citing laws, but not widespread.

Definite article

  • A few 'institutional' nouns take no definite article when a certain role is implied: for example, at sea (as a sailor), in prison (as a convict), and at/in college (for students). Among this group, BrE has in hospital (as a patient) and at university (as a student), where AmE requires in the hospital and at the university (though AmE does allow in college and in school). When the implied roles of patient or student do not apply, the definite article is used in both dialects. However, both variations drop the definite article with rush hour: at rush hour (BrE)/in rush hour (AmE).
  • BrE distinguishes in future ("from now on") from in the future ("at some future time"); AmE uses in the future for both senses.
  • AmE often omits, and BrE requires, the definite article in a few expressions[clarification needed] such as tell (the) time, play (the) piano.
  • In BrE, numbered highways usually take the definite article (for example, "the M25", "the A14"); in America, they usually do not ("I-495", "Route 66"). Upstate New York, southern California English, and Arizona are exceptions, where "the 33", "the 5", or "the 10" are the standard. A similar pattern is followed for named roads (for example, Strand in London is almost always referred to as the Strand), but in America, there are local variations, and older American highways tend to follow the British pattern ("the Boston Post Road").
  • AmE distinguishes in back of [behind] from in the back of; the former is unknown in the UK and liable to misinterpretation as the latter. Both, however, distinguish in front of from in the front of.
  • Dates often include a definite article in UK spoken English, such as "the eleventh of July", or "July the eleventh"; American speakers most commonly say "July eleventh", and the form "July eleven" is now occasionally used by American speakers. However, the UK variants are also found in the US, even in formal contexts, perhaps influenced by other English variants, one example being "the Fourth of July", Independence Day in the US.

Prepositions and adverbs

  • In the United States, the word through can mean "up to and including" as in Monday through Friday. In the UK (and for many Americans) Monday to Friday, or Monday to Friday inclusive is used instead; Monday through to Friday is also sometimes used. (In some parts of Northern England, mainly parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the term while can be used in the same way, as in Monday while Friday, whereas in Ireland[citation needed] and other parts of northern England Monday till Friday would be more natural.)
  • British athletes play in a team; American athletes play on a team. (Both may play for a particular team.)
  • In AmE, the use of the function word out as a preposition in out the door and out the window is standard to mean "out through". For example, in AmE, one jumps "out of a boat" by jumping "out the porthole," and it would be incorrect in standard AmE to "jump out the boat" or climb "out of the porthole" (although "out of the porthole" is used in certain Northeastern American dialects.) In BrE, out of is preferred in writing for both meanings, but out is common in some speech dialects.[60] Several other uses of out of are peculiarly British (out of all recognition, out of the team; cf. above);[61]
  • In the New York City area, "on line" (two words) refers to the state of waiting in a line or queue; for example, standing on a sidewalk waiting for a table at a restaurant. Elsewhere in AmE, one waits "in line". In BrE and AmE, going "online" (one word) refers to using the Internet. Usage of "queue" among Americans has increased in the last twenty years.[62] In BrE, queue is the universal term and no variants of line are used in relation to waiting in turn. In BrE, people talk of standing in a queue, queuing up, joining the queue, sitting in a queue (for example, when driving) and simply queuing; Britons may be confused by the expression "in line", thinking that a row rather than a column of people is meant.
  • In AmE, the opposite of clockwise is counterclockwise. This usage is not seen in BrE, which invariably uses anticlockwise.
  • To refer to an animal's sexually receptive time, the phrase on heat is heard in the UK (Regional Variation) but in heat in the US.
  • The intransitive verb affiliate can take either with or to in BrE, but only with, or, in the case that "affiliate" is used as a noun, "of" (as in the phrase "Microsoft is an affiliate of my company") in AmE.
  • The verb enrol(l) usually takes on in BrE and in in AmE (as in "to enrol(l) on/in a course") and the on/in difference is used when enrolled is dropped (as in "I am (enrolled) on the course that studies....").
  • In AmE, one always speaks of the street on which an address is located, whereas in BrE in can also be used in some contexts. In suggests an address on a city street, so a service station (or a tourist attraction or indeed a village) would always be on a major road, but a department store might be in Oxford Street. Moreover if a particular place on the street is specified then the preposition used is whichever is idiomatic to the place, thus "at the end of Churchill Road."
  • BrE favours the preposition at with weekend ("at (the) weekend(s)"); the constructions on, over and during (the) weekend(s) are found in both varieties but are all more common in AmE than BrE.[63] See also Word derivation and compounds. Similarly, BrE also favours "at" with "Christmas".[clarification needed]
  • Adding at to the end of a question requesting a location is common in the southern states of the U.S. and in some British dialects, for example, "where are you at?", but is not considered correct in standard American English and would be considered superfluous or humorous in standard BrE. However, some south-western British dialects use to in the same context; for example "where are you to?", to mean "where are you on your journey?".
  • After talk or chat American can also use the preposition with but British always[citation needed] uses to (that is, I'll talk with Dave / I'll talk to Dave). The former form is sometimes seen as more politically correct in British organizations, inducing the ideal of discussing (with) as opposed to lecturing (to). This is unless talk is being used as a noun; for example: "I'll have a talk with him" in which case this is acceptable in both BrE and AmE.
  • In both dialects, from is the preposition prescribed for use after the word different: American English is different from British English in several respects. However, different than is also commonly heard in the US, and is often considered standard when followed by a clause[citation needed] (American English is different than it used to be), whereas different to is a common alternative in BrE, despite its informality.[64][65]
  • It is common in BrE to say opposite to as an alternative to opposite of when used as a noun, the only form normally found in AmE. The use of opposite as a preposition (opposite the post office) has long been established in both dialects but appears to be more common in British usage.
  • The noun opportunity can be followed by a verb in two different ways: opportunity plus to-infinitive ("the opportunity to do something") or opportunity plus of plus gerund ("the opportunity of doing something"). The first construction is the most common in both dialects but the second has almost disappeared in AmE and is often regarded as a Briticism.
  • Both British and Americans may say (for example) that a river is named after a state, but "named for a state" would rightly be regarded as an Americanism.[citation needed]
  • BrE sometimes uses to with near (we live near to the university); AmE avoids the preposition in most usages dealing with literal, physical proximity (we live near the university), although the to reappears in AmE (as in BrE) when near takes the comparative or superlative form, as in she lives nearer/nearest to the deranged axe murderer's house.
  • In BrE, one rings someone on their telephone number; in AmE, one calls someone at their telephone number.
  • When referring to the constituency of an American legislator, the preposition "from" is usually used: "Senator from New York," whereas British MPs are "for" their constituency: "MP for East Cleveland."
  • In AmE, the phrases aside from and apart from are used about equally; in BrE, apart from is far more common.[66]
  • In AmE, the compound "off of" may be used where BrE almost always uses "off", and "off of" is considered slang. Compare AmE "He jumped off of the box" and BrE "He jumped off the box". Even in AmE the "of" is best omitted for simplicity.
  • In AmE absent is sometimes used as a preposition to introduce a prepositional phrase[67] (Absent any objections, the proposal was approved.). The traditional equivalent in BrE would be In the absence of any objections, the proposal was approved; this form is also common in AmE. In legal usage in BrE the shorter form has become more common, specially among lawyers with a Scots background.

Phrasal verbs

  • Influenced by the German "ausfüllen", in the US forms are usually but not invariably filled out but in Britain they are usually filled in. However, in reference to individual parts of a form Americans may also use in (fill in the blanks). In AmE the direction fill it all in (referring to the form as a collection of blanks, perhaps) is as common as fill it all out.
  • Britons facing extortionate prices may have no option but to fork out, whereas Americans are more likely to fork (it) over or sometimes up; however, the out usage is found in both dialects.
  • In both countries, thugs will beat up their victim; AmE also allows beat on (as both would for an inanimate object, such as a drum) or beat up on, which are often considered slang.
  • When an outdoor event is postponed or interrupted by rain, it is rained off in the UK and rained out in the US.

Miscellaneous grammatical differences

  • In names of American rivers the word river usually comes after the name (for example, Colorado River) whereas for British rivers it comes before (as in the River Thames). Exceptions in BrE include the Fleet River, which is rarely called the River Fleet by Londoners outside official documentation, and also where the river name is an adjective (the Yellow River). Exceptions in the US are the River Rouge and the River Raisin, both in Michigan and named by the French. The American convention is used in Australia, while convention is mixed in some Commonwealth nations, where both arrangements are often seen.
  • In BrE speech, some descriptions of offices do not become titles (Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister and Mr Jones, the team's coach), while they do in AmE (Prime Minister Thatcher and Coach Jones). However the AmE pattern is sometimes found in BrE, usually in journalism.
  • In BrE the word sat is often colloquially used to cover sat, sitting, and seated: I've been sat here waiting for half an hour. The bride's family will be sat on the right-hand side of the church. This construction is not often heard outside the UK. In the 1960s, its use would mark a speaker as coming from the north of England but by the turn of the 21st century this form had spread to the south. Its use often conveys lighthearted informality, when many speakers intentionally use a dialect or colloquial construction they would probably not use in formal written English. This colloquial usage is widely understood by British speakers. Similarly stood can be used instead of standing. To an American and still to many Britons these usages are passive and may imply that the subject had been involuntarily forced to sit or stand or directed to hold that location.
  • In a few areas of the Upper Midwest of the United States, the word with is also used as an adverb: I'll come with instead of I'll come along, although it is rarely used in writing. Come with is used as an abbreviation of come with me, as in I'm going to the office – come with by speakers in Minnesota and parts of the adjoining states. These parts of the United States have high concentrations of both Scandinavian and German American populations (German mitkommen). It is similar to South African English, where the expression comes from Dutch, and is used by Afrikaans speakers when speaking English. These contractions are rarely used by native BrE speakers.
  • The word also is used at the end of a sentence in AmE (just as as well and too are in both dialects) but not so commonly in BrE, although it is encountered in Northern Ireland. Additionally, the sentence-ending as well is more formal in AmE than in BrE.
  • Before some words beginning with a pronounced (not silent) h in an unstressed first syllable, such as hallucination, hilarious, historic(al), horrendous and horrific, some (especially older) British writers prefer to use an over a (an historical event, etc.).[68] An is also preferred before hotel by some writers of BrE (probably reflecting the relatively recent adoption of the word from French, where the h is not pronounced, though it also fits the stress rule described—it is the second syllable that is stressed).[69] The use of "an" before words beginning with an unstressed "h" is more common generally in BrE than American.[69] Such usage would now be seen as affected or incorrect in AmE.[70] American writers normally use a in all these cases, although there are occasional uses of an historic(al) in AmE.[71] According to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, such use is increasingly rare in BrE too.[68] Unlike BrE, AmE typically uses an before herb, since the h in this word is silent for most Americans.

Word derivation and compounds

  • Directional suffix -ward(s): British forwards, towards, rightwards, etc.; American forward, toward, rightward. In both dialects distribution varies somewhat: afterwards, towards, and backwards are not unusual in America; while in Britain forward is common, and standard in phrasal verbs such as look forward to. The forms with -s may be used as adverbs (or preposition towards) but rarely as adjectives: in Britain as in America, one says "an upward motion". The Oxford English Dictionary in 1897 suggested a semantic distinction for adverbs, with -wards having a more definite directional sense than -ward; subsequent authorities such as Fowler have disputed this contention.
  • AmE freely adds the suffix -s to day, night, evening, weekend, Monday, etc. to form adverbs denoting repeated or customary action: I used to stay out evenings; the library is closed Saturdays. This usage has its roots in Old English but many of these constructions are now regarded as American (for example, the OED labels nights "now chiefly N. Amer. colloq." in constructions such as to sleep nights, but to work nights is standard in BrE).
  • In BrE, the agentive -er suffix is commonly attached to football (also cricket; often netball; occasionally basketball and volleyball). AmE usually uses football player. Where the sport's name is usable as a verb, the suffixation is standard in both dialects: for example, golfer, bowler (in Ten-pin bowling and in Lawn Bowls), and shooter. AmE appears sometimes to use the BrE form in baller as slang for a basketball player, as in the video game NBA Ballers. However, this is derived from slang use of to ball as a verb meaning to play basketball.
  • English writers everywhere occasionally (and from time immemorial) make new compound words from common phrases; for example, health care is now being replaced by healthcare on both sides of the Atlantic. However, AmE has made certain words in this fashion that are still treated as phrases in BrE.
  • In compound nouns of the form <verb><noun>, sometimes AmE favours the bare infinitive where BrE favours the gerund. Examples include (AmE first): jump rope/skipping rope; racecar/racing car; rowboat/rowing boat; sailboat/sailing boat; file cabinet/filing cabinet; dial tone/dialling tone; drainboard/draining board.
  • Generally AmE has a tendency to drop inflectional suffixes, thus favouring clipped forms: compare cookbook v. cookery book; Smith, age 40 v. Smith, aged 40; skim milk v. skimmed milk; dollhouse v. dolls' house; barbershop v. barber's shop.[72] This has recently been extended to appear on professionally printed commercial signage and some boxes themselves (not mere greengrocers' chalkboards): can vegetables and mash potatoes appear in the US.
  • Singular attributives in one country may be plural in the other, and vice versa. For example the UK has a drugs problem, while the United States has a drug problem (although the singular usage is also commonly heard in the UK); Americans read the sports section of a newspaper; the British are more likely to read the sport section. However, BrE maths is singular, just as AmE math is: both are abbreviations of mathematics.
  • Some British English words come from French roots, while American English finds its words from other places. For example, in the UK, one would say aubergine while in the US, one would say eggplant. Another similar confusing vegetable is zucchini in the US and is courgette in the UK.


Most of the differences in lexis or vocabulary between British and American English are in connection with concepts originating from the 19th century to the mid 20th century, when new words were coined independently.[citation needed] Almost the entire vocabularies of the car/automobile and railway/railroad industries (see Rail terminology) are different between the UK and US, for example. Other sources of difference are slang or vulgar terms (where frequent new coinage occurs) and idiomatic phrases, including phrasal verbs. The differences most likely to create confusion are those where the same word or phrase is used for two different concepts. Regional variations, even within the US or the UK, can create the same problems. From the mid-20th century, movies and television have spread new words in both countries, usually from the US to the UK.

It is not a straightforward matter to classify differences of vocabulary. David Crystal identifies some of the problems of classification on the facing page to his list of American English/British English lexical variation and states "this should be enough to suggest caution when working through an apparently simple list of equivalents".[73]

Overview of lexical differences

Note: A lexicon is not made up of different words but different "units of meaning" (lexical units or lexical items e.g., "fly ball" in baseball), including idioms and figures of speech.[citation needed] This makes it easier to compare the dialects.

Though the influence of cross-culture media has done much to familiarize BrE and AmE speakers with each other's regional words and terms, many words are still recognized as part of a single form of English. Though the use of a British word would be acceptable in AmE (and vice versa), most listeners would recognize the word as coming from the other form of English and treat it much the same as a word borrowed from any other language.

Words and phrases that have their origins in BrE

Most speakers of AmE are aware of some BrE terms, although they may not generally use them or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). It is generally very easy to guess what some words, such as "driving licence", mean. However, use of many other British words such as naff (slang but commonly used to mean "not very good") are unheard of in American English.

Words and phrases that have their origins in AmE

Speakers of BrE are likely to understand most common AmE terms, examples such as "sidewalk" (pavement), "gas (gasoline/petrol)", "counterclockwise" (anticlockwise) or "elevator (lift)", without any problem, thanks in part to considerable exposure to American popular culture and literature. Certain terms that are heard less frequently, especially those likely to be absent or rare in American popular culture, e.g., "copacetic (satisfactory)", are unlikely to be understood by most BrE speakers.


Words and phrases with different meanings

Words such as bill and biscuit are used regularly in both AmE and BrE but mean different things in each form. In AmE a bill is usually paper money (as in "dollar bill") though it can mean the same as in BrE, an invoice (as in "the repair bill was £250"). In AmE a biscuit is what in BrE is called a scone. In BrE a biscuit is what AmE calls a cookie. As chronicled by Winston Churchill, the opposite meanings of the verb to table created a misunderstanding during a meeting of the Allied forces;[74] in BrE to table an item on an agenda means to open it up for discussion whereas in AmE, it means to remove it from discussion, or at times, to suspend or delay discussion.

The word "football" in BrE refers to Association football, also known as soccer. In AmE, "football" means American football. The standard AmE term "soccer", a contraction of "association (football)", is of British origin, derived from the formalization of different codes of football in the 19th century, and was a fairly unremarkable usage (possibly marked for class) in BrE until relatively recently; it has lately become perceived incorrectly as an Americanism.[citation needed] In international (i.e. non-American) context, particularly in sports news outside English-speaking North America, American (or US branches of foreign) news agencies also use "football" to mean "soccer", especially in direct quotes.

Similarly, the word "hockey" in BrE refers to field hockey and in AmE, "hockey" means ice hockey.

Other ambiguity (complex cases)

Words with completely different meanings are relatively few; most of the time there are either (1) words with one or more shared meanings and one or more meanings unique to one variety (for example, bathroom and toilet) or (2) words the meanings of which are actually common to both BrE and AmE but that show differences in frequency, connotation or denotation (for example, smart, clever, mad).

Some differences in usage and/or meaning can cause confusion or embarrassment. For example the word fanny is a slang word for vulva in BrE but means buttocks in AmE—the AmE phrase fanny pack is bum bag in BrE. In AmE the word fag (short for faggot) is a highly offensive term for a homosexual male but in BrE it is a normal and well-used term for a cigarette, for hard work, or for a chore, while a faggot itself is a sort of meatball. In AmE the word pissed means being annoyed whereas in BrE it is a coarse word for being drunk (in both varieties, pissed off means irritated).

Similarly, in AmE the word pants is the common word for the BrE trousers and knickers refers to a variety of half-length trousers, while the majority of BrE speakers would understand pants to mean underpants and knickers to mean female underpants.

Sometimes the confusion is more subtle. In AmE the word quite used as a qualifier is generally a reinforcement: for example, "I'm quite hungry" means "I'm very hungry". In BrE quite (which is much more common in conversation) may have this meaning, as in "quite right" or "quite mad", but it more commonly means "somewhat", so that in BrE "I'm quite hungry" can mean "I'm somewhat hungry". This divergence of use can lead to misunderstanding.


  • In the UK the word whilst is historically acceptable as a conjunction (as an alternative to while, especially prevalent in some dialects). In AmE only while is used in both contexts.[citation needed] Other conjunctions with the -st ending are also found even in AmE as much as in BrE, despite being old-fashioned or an affection. Whilst tends to appear in non-temporal senses, as when used to point up a contrast.
  • In the UK generally the term fall meaning "autumn" is obsolete. Although found often from Elizabethan literature to Victorian literature, continued understanding of the word is usually ascribed to its continued use in America.[citation needed]
  • In the UK the term period for a full stop is not used; in AmE the term full stop is rarely, if ever, used for the punctuation mark. For example, Tony Blair said, "Terrorism is wrong, full stop", whereas in AmE, "Terrorism is wrong, period."[75] The use of the interjection: period to mean "and nothing else; end of discussion" is beginning to be used in colloquial British English, though sometimes without conscious reference to punctuation.

Social and cultural differences

Lexical items that reflect separate social and cultural development.


The naming of school years in British (except Scotland) and American English
Age range British English American English
Name Alternative/old name Syllabus Name Alternative name
1–4 Preschool (optional)  
Nursery Playgroup Foundation stage 1 Preschool
3–5 Primary school  
Reception Infants reception Foundation stage 2 Pre-kindergarten Pre-K
5–6 Year 1 Infants year 1 Key stage 1 Kindergarten
Elementary school
6–7 Year 2 Infants year 2 1st grade  
7–8 Year 3 First year Junior Key stage 2 2nd grade  
8–9 Year 4 Second year junior 3rd grade  
9–10 Year 5 Third year junior 4th grade  
10–11 Year 6 Fourth year junior 5th grade  
11–12 Secondary school / High school Middle school Junior high school
Year 7 First form[76] Key stage 3 6th grade  
12–13 Year 8 Second form 7th grade  
13–14 Year 9 Third form 8th grade  
14–15 Year 10 Fourth form Key stage 4, GCSE High school
9th grade Freshman year
15–16 Year 11 Fifth form 10th grade Sophomore year
16–17 Sixth form / FE College[77] 11th grade Junior year
Year 12 Lower sixth (AS) Key stage 5, A level
17–18 Year 13 Upper sixth (A2) 12th grade Senior year

The US has a more uniform nationwide system of terms than does the U.K., but the division by grades varies somewhat among the states and even among local school districts. For example, elementary school often includes kindergarten, and may include sixth grade, with middle school including only two grades or extending to ninth grade.

In the UK the US equivalent of a high school is often referred to as a "secondary school" regardless of whether it is state funded or private. Secondary education in the United States also includes middle school or junior high school, a two- or three-year transitional school between elementary school and high school. "Middle school" is sometimes used in the UK as a synonym for the younger junior school, covering the second half of the primary curriculum—current years four to six in some areas. However, in Dorset (South England) it is used to describe the second school in the three-tier system, which is normally from year five to year eight. In other regions, such as Evesham and the surrounding area in Worcestershire, the second tier goes from year six to year eight, and both starting secondary school in year nine. In Kirklees, West Yorkshire in the villages of the Dearne Valley there is a three tier system: first schools year reception to year five, middle school (Scissett/Kirkburton Middle School) year six to year eight and high school ([78])year 9 to year 13.

A public school has opposite meanings in the two countries. In AmE this is a government-owned institution open to all students, supported by public funding. The BrE use of the term is in contrast with "private" education, i.e., to be educated privately with a tutor.[79] In England and Wales the term strictly refers to an ill-defined group of prestigious private independent schools funded by students' fees, although it is often more loosely used to refer to any independent school. Independent schools are also known as "private schools", and the latter is the term used in Scotland and Northern Ireland for all such fee-funded schools. Strictly, the term public school is not used in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the same sense as in England, but nevertheless Gordonstoun, the Scottish private school, is sometimes referred to as a public school, as are some other Scottish private schools. Government-funded schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland are properly referred to as "state schools"—but are sometimes confusingly referred to as "public schools" (with the same meaning as in the US); whereas in the US, where most public schools are administered by local governments, a state school is typically a college or university run by one of the states.

Speakers in both the United States and the United Kingdom use several additional terms for specific types of secondary school. A US prep school or preparatory school is an independent school funded by tuition fees; the same term is used in the UK for a private school for pupils under thirteen, designed to prepare them for fee-paying public schools. An American catholic schools cover costs through tuition and have affiliations with a religious institution, most often a Catholic church or diocese. In England, where the state-funded education system grew from parish schools organized by the local established church, the Church of England (C. of E., or C.E.), and many schools, especially primary schools (up to age 11) retain a church connection and are known as church schools, C.E. schools or C.E. (aided) schools. There are also faith schools associated with the Roman Catholic Church and other major faiths, with a mixture of funding arrangements.

In the US, a magnet school receives government funding and has special admission requirements: in some cases pupils gain admission through superior performance on admission tests, while other magnet schools admit students through a lottery. The UK has city academies, which are independent privately sponsored schools run with public funding and which can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude. Moreover in the UK 36 local education authorities retain selection by ability at 11. They maintain grammar schools (state funded secondary schools), which admit pupils according to performance in an examination (known as the 11+) and comprehensive schools that take pupils of all abilities. Grammar schools select the most academically able 10% to 23% of those who sit the exam. Students who fail the exam go to a secondary modern school, sometimes called a "high school", or increasingly an "academy". In areas where there are no grammar schools the comprehensives likewise may term themselves high schools or academies. Nationally only 6% of pupils attend grammar schools, mainly in four distinct counties. Some private schools are called "grammar schools", chiefly those that were grammar schools long before the advent of state education.


In the UK a university student is said to "study", to "read" or, informally, simply to "do" a subject. In the recent past the expression 'to read a subject' was more common at the older universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. In the US a student studies or majors in a subject (although concentration or emphasis is also used in some US colleges or universities to refer to the major subject of study). To major in something refers to the student's principal course of study; to study may refer to any class being taken.


"She read biology at Cambridge."
"She studied biology at Cambridge."
"She did biology at Cambridge." (informal)


"She majored in biology at Harvard."
"She studied biology at Harvard."
"She concentrated in biology at Harvard."

At university level in BrE, each module is taught or facilitated by a lecturer or tutor; professor is the job-title of a senior academic (in AmE, at some universities, the equivalent of the BrE lecturer is instructor, especially when the teacher has a lesser degree or no university degree, though the usage may become confusing according to whether the subject being taught is considered technical or not; it is also different from adjunct instructor/professor). In AmE each class is generally taught by a professor (although some US tertiary educational institutions follow the BrE usage), while the position of lecturer is occasionally given to individuals hired on a temporary basis to teach one or more classes and who may or may not have a doctoral degree.

The word course in American use typically refers to the study of a restricted topic or individual subject (for example, "a course in Early Medieval England", "a course in integral calculus") over a limited period of time (such as a semester or term) and is equivalent to a module or sometimes unit at a British university. In the UK, a course of study or simply course is likely to refer to the entire programme of study, which may extend over several years and be made up of any number of modules, hence it is also practically synonymous to a degree programme. A few university-specific exceptions exist: for example, at Cambridge the word paper is used to refer to a module, while the whole course of study is called tripos.

A dissertation in AmE refers to the final written product of a doctoral student to fulfil the requirement of that program. In BrE, the same word refers to the final written product of a student in an undergraduate or taught master's programme. A dissertation in the AmE sense would be a thesis in BrE, though dissertation is also used.

Another source of confusion is the different usage of the word college. (See a full international discussion of the various meanings at college.) In the US this refers to a post-high school institution that grants either associate's or bachelor's degrees, while in the UK it refers to any post-secondary institution that is not a university (including sixth form college after the name in secondary education for years 12 and 13, the sixth form) where intermediary courses such as A levels or NVQs can be taken and GCSE courses can be retaken. College may sometimes be used in the UK or in Commonwealth countries as part of the name of a secondary or high school (for example, Dubai College). In the case of Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, London, Lancaster, Durham, Kent and York universities, all members are also members of a college which is part of the university, for example, one is a member of King's College, Cambridge and hence the university.

In both the US and UK college can refer to some division within a university that comprises related academic departments such as the "college of business and economics" though in the UK "faculty" is more often used. Institutions in the US that offer two to four years of post-high school education often have the word college as part of their name, while those offering more advanced degrees are called a university. (There are exceptions: Boston College, Dartmouth College and the College of William & Mary are examples of colleges that offer advanced degrees, while Vincennes University is an unusual example of a "university" that offers only associate degrees in the vast majority of its academic programs.) American students who pursue a bachelor's degree (four years of higher education) or an associate degree (two years of higher education) are college students regardless of whether they attend a college or a university and refer to their educational institutions informally as colleges. A student who pursues a master's degree or a doctorate degree in the arts and sciences is in AmE a graduate student; in BrE a postgraduate student although graduate student is also sometimes used. Students of advanced professional programs are known by their field (business student, law student, medical student). Some universities also have a residential college system, the details of which may vary but generally involve common living and dining spaces as well as college-organized activities. Nonetheless, when it comes to the level of education, AmE generally uses the word college (e.g., going to college) whereas BrE generally uses the word university (e.g., going to university) regardless of the institution's official designation/status in both countries.

In the context of higher education, the word school is used slightly differently in BrE and AmE. In BrE, except for the University of London, the word school is used to refer to an academic department in a university. In AmE, the word school is used to refer to a collection of related academic departments and is headed by a dean. When referring to a division of a university, school is practically synonymous to a college.

"Professor" has different meanings in BrE and AmE. In BrE it is the highest academic rank, followed by reader, senior lecturer and lecturer. In AmE "professor" refers to academic staff of all ranks, with (full) professor (largely equivalent to the UK meaning) followed by associate professor and assistant professor.

"Tuition" has traditionally had separate meaning in each variation. In BrE it is the educational content transferred from teacher to student at a university. In AmE it is the money (the fees) paid to receive that education (BrE: tuition fees).

General terms

In both the US and the UK, a student takes an exam, but in BrE a student can also be said to sit an exam. When preparing for an exam students revise (BrE)/review (AmE) what they have studied; the BrE idiom to revise for has the equivalent to review for in AmE.

Examinations are supervised by invigilators in the UK and proctors (or (exam) supervisors) in the US (a proctor in the UK is an official responsible for student discipline at the University of Oxford or Cambridge). In the UK a teacher sets an exam, while in the US, a teacher writes (prepares) and then gives (administers) an exam.


"I sat my Spanish exam yesterday."
"I plan to set a difficult exam for my students, but I don't have it ready yet."


"I took my exams at Yale."
"I spent the entire day yesterday writing the exam. I'm almost ready to give it to my students."

In BrE, students are awarded marks as credit for requirements (e.g., tests, projects) while in AmE, students are awarded points or "grades" for the same. Similarly, in BrE, a candidate's work is being marked, while in AmE it is said to be graded to determine what mark or grade is given.

There is additionally a difference between American and British usage in the word school. In British usage "school" by itself refers only to primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools and to sixth forms attached to secondary schools—if one "goes to school", this type of institution is implied. By contrast an American student at a university may talk of "going to school" or "being in school". US and British law students and medical students commonly speak in terms of going to "law school" and "med[ical] school", respectively. However, the word is used in BrE in the context of higher education to describe a division grouping together several related subjects within a university, for example a "School of European Languages" containing departments for each language and also in the term "art school". It is also the name of some of the constituent colleges of the University of London, for example, School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics.

Among high-school and college students in the United States, the words freshman (or the gender-neutral terms frosh or first year, sometimes freshie), sophomore, junior and senior refer to the first, second, third, and fourth years respectively. For first-year students, "frosh" and "freshie" are another gender-neutral terms that can be used as a qualifier, for example "Frosh class elections". It is important that the context of either high school or college first be established or else it must be stated directly (that is, She is a high school freshman. He is a college junior.). Many institutes in both countries also use the term first-year as a gender-neutral replacement for freshman, although in the US this is recent usage, formerly referring only to those in the first year as a graduate student. One exception is the University of Virginia; since its founding in 1819 the terms "first-year", "second-year", "third-year", and "fourth-year" have been used to describe undergraduate university students. At the United States service academies, at least those operated by the federal government directly, a different terminology is used, namely "fourth class", "third class", "second class" and "first class" (the order of numbering being the reverse of the number of years in attendance). In the UK first-year university students are sometimes called freshers early in the academic year; however, there are no specific names for those in other years nor for school pupils. Graduate and professional students in the United States are known by their year of study, such as a "second-year medical student" or a "fifth-year doctoral candidate." Law students are often referred to as "1L", "2L", or "3L" rather than "nth-year law students"; similarly, medical students are frequently referred to as "M1", "M2", "M3", or "M4".

While anyone in the US who finishes studying at any educational institution by passing relevant examinations is said to graduate and to be a graduate, in the UK only degree and above level students can graduate. Student itself has a wider meaning in AmE, meaning any person of any age studying at any educational institution or level, whereas in BrE it tends to be used for people studying at a post-secondary educational institution and the term pupil is more widely used for a young person at primary or secondary school, though the use of "student" for secondary school pupils in the UK is increasingly used, particularly for "sixth form" (years 12 and 13).

The names of individual institutions can be confusing. There are several "University High Schools" in the United States that are not affiliated with any post-secondary institutions and cannot grant degrees, and there is one public high school, Central High School of Philadelphia, which does grant bachelor's degrees to the top ten per cent of graduating seniors. British secondary schools occasionally have the word "college" in their names.

When it comes to the admissions process, applicants are usually asked to solicit letters of reference or reference forms from referees in BrE. In AmE, these are called letters of recommendation or recommendation forms. Consequently, the writers of these letters are known as referees and recommenders, respectively.

In the context of education, for AmE, the word staff mainly refers to school personnel who are neither administrators nor have teaching loads or academic responsibilities; personnel who have academic responsibilities are referred to as members of their institution's faculty. In BrE, the word staff refers to both academic and non-academic school personnel. As mentioned previously, the term faculty in BrE refers more to a collection of related academic departments.

Government and Politics

In Britain, political candidates stand for election, while in the US, they run for office. There is virtually no crossover between BrE and AmE in the use of these terms. Also, the document which contain's a party's positions/principles is referred to as a party platform in AmE, whereas it is in BrE commonly known as a party manifesto. The term general election is used slightly differently in British and American English. In BrE, it refers exclusively to a nationwide parliamentary election, whereas in AmE, it refers to any election in the US which involves a race between at least two parties (e.g., Democrat vs Republican candidate).

In AmE, the term swing state, swing county, swing district is used to denote a jurisdiction/constituency where results are expected to be close but crucial to the overall outcome of the general election. In BrE, the term marginal constituency is more often used for the same and swing is more commonly used to refer to how much one party has gained (or lost) an advantage over another.

In Britain, the term government only refers to what is commonly known in America as the executive branch of government.


In financial statements, what is referred to in AmE as revenue or sales is known in BrE as turnover.

A bankrupt firm goes into administration in BrE; in AmE it goes bankrupt, or files for Chapter 7 (liquidation) or Chapter 11 (reorganization). An insolvent individual or partnership goes bankrupt in both jurisdictions.

If a finance company takes possession of a mortgaged property from a debtor, it is called foreclosure in AmE and repossession in BrE. In some, limited scenarios, repossession may be used in AmE, but it is much less common compared to foreclosure.


In BrE, the term curriculum vitae (commonly abbreviated to CV) is used to describe the document prepared by applicants containing their credentials required for a job. In AmE, the term résumé is more commonly used, with CV primarily used in academic or research contexts, and is usually more comprehensive than the résumé.


Americans refer to transportation and British people to transport.[80] (Transportation in Britain has traditionally meant the punishment of criminals by deporting them to an overseas penal colony.) In AmE, the word transport is mainly used only as a verb, seldom as a noun or adjective except in reference to certain specialized objects, such as a tape transport or a military transport (e.g., a troop transport, a kind of vehicle, not an act of transporting).

Road transport

Differences in terminology are especially obvious in the context of roads. The British term dual carriageway, in American parlance, would be divided highway. The central reservation on a motorway or dual carriageway in the UK would be the median or center divide on a freeway, expressway, highway or parkway in the US. The one-way lanes that make it possible to enter and leave such roads at an intermediate point without disrupting the flow of traffic are known as slip roads in the UK but US civil engineers call them ramps and both further distinguish between on-ramps or entry-slips (for entering) and off-ramps or exit-slips (for leaving). When American engineers speak of slip roads, they are referring to a street that runs alongside the main road (separated by a berm) to allow off-the-highway access to the premises that are there, sometimes also known as a frontage road—in both the US and UK this is also known as a service road.

In the UK, the term outside lane refers to the higher-speed overtaking lane (passing lane in the US) closest to the centre of the road, while inside lane refers to the lane closer to the edge of the road. In the US outside lane is used only in the context of a turn, in which case it depends in which direction the road is turning (i.e., if the road bends right the left lane is the "outside lane" but if the road bends left it is the right lane). Both also refer to slow and fast lanes (even though all actual traffic speeds may be at or around the legal speed limit).

In the UK drink driving is against the law, while in the US, where the action is also outlawed, the term is drunk driving. The legal term in the US is driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (of alcohol) (DUI). The equivalent legal phrase in the UK is drunk in charge of a motor vehicle (DIC) or more commonly driving with excess alcohol.[81]

Specific auto parts and transport terms have different names in the two dialects, for example:

accelerator gas [pedal], accelerator
bonnet hood[82]
boot trunk[82][83]
mudguard, wheel arch, wing fender[84]
hood, soft/hard top convertible top
car park parking lot[85]
driving licence driver's license
dual carriageway divided highway[82]
estate car station wagon[85]
flyover overpass,[85] flyover
gearbox transmission[82]
hard shoulder shoulder
hired car, hire car rental car, rental
juggernaut, lorry 18 wheeler, tractor-trailer[86]
lorry truck[83]
articulated lorry trailer truck, semi[85]
manual stick shift, manual
motorway freeway[86] or highway
pavement sidewalk[86]
roadworks construction zone, roadwork
petrol gasoline or gas[82]
saloon sedan[87]
silencer muffler[82]
spanner wrench[82][83]
ticking over idling[86]
windscreen windshield[82]
car valeting auto detailing
Rail transport

There are also differences in terminology in the context of rail transport. The best known is railway in Britain and railroad in America, but there are several others. A railway station in the UK is a railroad station or train station in the US; trains have drivers (often called engine drivers) in Britain, while in America trains are driven by engineers; trains have guards in the UK and conductors in the US; a place where two tracks meet is called a set of points in the UK and a switch in the US; and a place where a road crosses a railway line at ground level is called a level crossing in Britain and a grade crossing in America. In Britain, the term sleeper is used for the devices that bear the weight of the rails and are known as ties or crossties in the United States. The British term platform in the sense "The train is at Platform 1" would be known in the US by the term track, and used in the phrase "The train is on Track 1". Also, the British term Brake Van or Guard's Van, is a Caboose in the US. Finally the American English phrase "All aboard!" when getting on a train is rarely used in Britain; the nearest British equivalent is "Take your seats!", and when the train reaches its final stop, in Britain the phrase used by announcers is "All change!" while in America it is "All out!"


Traditionally, a show on British television would have referred to a light-entertainment program (BrE programme) with one or more performers and a participative audience, whereas in American television, the term is used for any type of program. British English traditionally referred to other types of program by their type, such as drama, serial etc., but the term show has now taken on the American meaning. In American television the episodes of a program first broadcast in a particular year constitute a season, while the entire run of the program—which may span several seasons—is called a series. In British television, on the other hand, the word series may apply to the episodes of a program in one particular year, for example, "The 1998 series of Grange Hill", as well as to the entire run. However, the entire run may occasionally be referred to as a "show". The term telecast, meaning television broadcast, is not used in British English. A television program would be broadcast, aired or shown in Britain.


A long-distance call is a "trunk call" in British English, but is a "toll call" in American English. The distinction is a result of historical differences in the way local service was billed; the Bell System traditionally flat-rated local calls in all but a few markets, subsidising local service by charging higher rates, or tolls, for intercity calls, allowing local calls to appear to be free. British Telecom (and the British Post Office before it) charged for all calls, local and long distance, so labelling one class of call as "toll" would have been meaningless.

Similarly, a toll-free number in America is a freephone number in Great Britain. The term "freefone" is a BT trademark.

Levels of buildings

There are also variations in floor numbering between the US and UK. In most countries, including the UK, the "first floor" is one above the entrance level, while the entrance level is the "ground floor". In the US the ground floor is considered the first floor. In a British lift one would press the "G" or "0" button to return to the ground floor, whereas in an American elevator, one would push the "1", "G", or "L" (for Lobby) button to return to the ground floor. The "L" button (or sometimes "-1") in a British lift would take you to the lower ground floor, which implies that the building is built on a slope and thus there are two ground floors - there would similarly be a "U" button (or "0") for upper ground floor.

American (AmE) apartment buildings / (BrE) blocks of flats are frequently exceptions to this rule. The ground floor often contains the lobby and parking area for the tenants, while the numbered floors begin one level above and contain only the flats (AmE apartments) themselves.

Units and measurement


When saying or writing out numbers, the British insert an and before the tens and units, as in one hundred and sixty-two or two thousand and three.[88][89] In the United States it is considered correct to drop the and, as in one hundred sixty-two or two thousand three. However, the and is also retained even in AmE speech, for emphasis.

Some American and Canadian schools teach students to pronounce decimally written fractions (for example, .5) as though they were longhand fractions (five tenths), such as thirteen and seven tenths for 13.7. This formality is often dropped in common speech and is steadily disappearing in instruction in mathematics and science as well as in international American schools. In the UK, and among most Americans, 13.7 would be read thirteen point seven.

In counting, it is common in both varieties of English to count in hundreds up to 1,900—so 1,200 may be twelve hundred. However, Americans use this pattern for much higher numbers than is the norm in British English, referring to twenty-four hundred where British English would most often use two thousand four hundred. Even below 2,000, Americans are more likely than the British are to read numbers like 1,234 as twelve hundred thirty-four instead of one thousand two hundred thirty-four.

In the case of years, however, twelve thirty-four would be the norm on both sides of the Atlantic for the year 1234. The years 2000 to 2009 are most often read as two thousand, two thousand (and) one and the like by both British and American speakers. For years after 2009, twenty eleven, twenty fourteen, etc. are more common, even in years earlier than 2009 BC/BCE. Likewise, the years after 1009 (until 1099) are also read in the same manner (e.g. 1015 is either ten fifteen or one thousand fifteen). Some Britons read years within the 1000s to 9000s BC/BCE in the American manner, that is, 1234 BC is read as twelve (hundred and) thirty-four BC, while 2400 BC can be read as either two thousand four hundred or twenty four hundred BC.

There is also a historical difference between billions, trillions, and so forth. Americans use billion to mean one thousand million (1,000,000,000), whereas in the UK, until the latter part of the 20th century, it was used to mean one million million (1,000,000,000,000).[90] In 1974 the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, told the House of Commons that UK government statistics would now use the short scale, followed by the Chancellor, Denis Healey, in 1975, that the treasury would now adopt the US billion version.[citation needed] One thousand million was sometimes described as a milliard, the definition adopted by most other European languages.[citation needed] However, the "American" version has since been adopted for all published writing, and the word milliard is obsolete in English, as are billiard (but not billiards, the game), trilliard, and so on.[citation needed] All major British publications and broadcasters, including BBC, which long used thousand million to avoid ambiguity, now use billion to mean thousand million.[citation needed]

Many people have no direct experience of manipulating numbers this large, and many non-American readers may interpret billion as 1012 (even if they are young enough to have been taught otherwise at school); moreover, usage of the "long" billion is standard in some non-English speaking countries. For these reasons, defining the word may be advisable when writing for the public. See long and short scales for a more detailed discussion of the evolution of these terms in English and other languages.

When referring to the numeral 0, British people would normally use nought, oh, or zero, although nil is common in sports scores. Americans use the term zero most frequently; oh is also often used (though never when the quantity in question is nothing), and occasionally slang terms such as zilch or zip are used. Phrases such as the team won two–zip or the team leads the series two–nothing are heard when reporting sports scores. In the case of association football—known as "football" in Britain and "soccer" in America—Americans will sometimes use "nil" as in Britain, although this usage is mostly confined to soccer journalists and hardcore fans and is not universal among either group. The digit 0, for example, when a phone or account number is being read aloud, is nearly always pronounced oh in both language varieties for the sake of convenience. In the internet age the use of the term oh can cause certain inconveniences when one is referencing an email address, causing confusion as to whether the character in question is a zero or the letter "O".

When reading numbers in a sequence, such as a telephone or serial number, British people will usually use the terms double followed by the repeated number. Hence 007 is double oh seven. Exceptions are the emergency telephone number 999, which is always nine nine nine and the apocalyptic "Number of the Beast", which is always six six six. In the US, 911 (the US emergency telephone number) is usually read nine one one, while 9/11 (in reference to the September 11, 2001, attacks) is usually read nine eleven.

Monetary amounts

  • Monetary amounts in the range of one to two major currency units are often spoken differently. In AmE one may say a dollar fifty or a pound eighty, whereas in BrE these amounts would be expressed one dollar fifty and one pound eighty. For amounts over a dollar an American will generally either drop denominations or give both dollars and cents, as in two-twenty or two dollars and twenty cents for $2.20. An American would not say two dollars twenty. On the other hand, in BrE, two-twenty or two pounds twenty would be most common.
  • It is more common to hear a British-English speaker say one thousand two hundred dollars than a thousand and two hundred dollars, although the latter construct is common in AmE. In British English, the "and" comes after the hundreds (one thousand, two hundred and thirty dollars). The term twelve hundred dollars, popular in AmE, is frequently used in BrE but only for exact multiples of 100 up to 1900. Speakers of BrE very rarely hear amounts over 1900 expressed in hundreds, for example twenty-three hundred.
  • In BrE, particularly in television or radio advertisements, integers can be pronounced individually in the expression of amounts. For example, on sale for £399 might be expressed on sale for three nine nine, though the full Three hundred and ninety-nine pounds is at least as common. An American advertiser would almost always say on sale for three ninety-nine, with context distinguishing $399 from $3.99.[citation needed] In British English the latter pronunciation implies a value in pounds and pence, so three ninety-nine would be understood as £3.99.
  • The BrE slang term quid is roughly equivalent to the AmE buck and is often used informally for whole (round) pound/dollar amounts, as in fifty-three quid for £53 and forty-seven bucks for $47. A hundred and fifty grand in either dialect could refer to £150,000 or $150,000 depending on context. Quid was formerly also used in Ireland for the punt and today is used for the euro. "Quid" does not (generally) have a plural form but "buck" does (aside from the expression quids in—meaning having made or won a lot of money).
  • A user of AmE may hand-write the mixed monetary amount $3.24 as $324 or $324 (often seen for extra clarity on a check); BrE users will write this as £3.24 or sometimes £324. There may or may not be a space after the currency symbol, or the currency symbols may be omitted depending on context.[91]
  • In order to make explicit the amount in words on a check (BrE cheque), Americans write three and ​24100 (using this solidus construction or with a horizontal division line): they do not need to write the word dollars as it is usually already printed on the check. On a cheque UK residents would write three pounds and 24 pence, three pounds 24 or three pounds 24p since the currency unit is not preprinted. To make unauthorized amendment difficult, it is useful to have an expression terminator even when a whole number of dollars/pounds is in use: thus, Americans would write three and ​00100 or three and ​no100 on a three-dollar check (so that it cannot easily be changed to, for example, three million), and UK residents would write three pounds only.[92]
  • The term pound sign in BrE always refers to the currency symbol £, whereas in AmE pound sign means the number sign, which the British call the hash symbol, #. (From the 1960s to the 1990s the British telephone company, the GPO and its successors Post Office Telecommunications and British Telecom referred to this as gate on telephone keypads.)
  • In spoken BrE the word pound is sometimes colloquially used for the plural as well. For example three pound forty and twenty pound a week are both heard in British English. Some other currencies do not change in the plural; yen and rand being examples. This is in addition to normal adjectival use, as in a twenty-pound-a-week pay-rise. The euro most often takes a regular plural -s in practice despite the EU dictum that it should remain invariable in formal contexts; the invariable usage is more common in Ireland, where it is the official currency.
  • In BrE the use of p instead of pence is common in spoken usage. Each of the following has equal legitimacy: 3 pounds 12 p; 3 pounds and 12 p; 3 pounds 12 pence; 3 pounds and 12 pence; as well as just 8 p or 8 pence. In everyday usage the amount is simply read as figures (£3.50 = three pounds fifty)as in AmE.
  • AmE uses words such as nickel, dime, and quarter for small coins. In BrE the usual usage is a 10-pence piece or a 10p piece or simply a 10p, for any coin below £1, but pound coin and two-pound coin. BrE did have specific words for a number of coins before decimalisation. Formal coin names such as half crown (2/6) and florin (2/-), as well as slang or familiar names such as bob (1/-) and tanner (6d) for pre-decimalization coins are still familiar to older BrE speakers but they are not used for modern coins. In older terms like two-bob bit (2/-) and thrupenny bit (3d), the word bit had common usage before decimalisation similar to that of piece today.


Dates are usually written differently in the short (numerical) form. Christmas Day 2000, for example, is 25/12/00 or 25.12.00 in the UK and 12/25/00 in the US, although the formats 25/12/2000, 25.12.2000, and 12/25/2000 now have more currency than they had before the Year 2000 problem. Occasionally other formats are encountered, such as the ISO 8601 2000-12-25, popular among programmers, scientists and others seeking to avoid ambiguity, and to make alphanumerical order coincide with chronological order. The difference in short-form date order can lead to misunderstanding. For example 06/04/05 could mean either June 4, 2005 (if read as US format), 6 April 2005 (if seen as in UK format) or even 5 April 2006 if taken to be an older ISO 8601-style format where 2-digit years were allowed.

When the output of a computer printer has a date in the header or footer this can cause problems since the date style depends on the software, not the country where the printer is located.

When using the name of the month rather than the number to write a date in the UK, the recent standard style is for the day to precede the month, e. g., 21 April. Month preceding date is almost invariably the style in the US, and was common in the UK until the late twentieth century. British usage often changes the day from an integer to an ordinal, i.e., 21st instead of 21. In speech, "of" and "the" are used in the UK, as in "the 21st of April". In written language, the words "the" and "of" may be and are usually dropped, i.e., 21 April. The US would say this as "April 21st", and this form is still common in the UK. One of the few exceptions in American English is saying "the Fourth of July" as a shorthand for the United States Independence Day. In the US military the British forms are used, but the day is read cardinally.

Phrases such as the following are common in Britain but are generally unknown in the US: "A week today", "a week tomorrow", "a week Tuesday" and "Tuesday week"; these all refer to a day more than a week in the future. "A fortnight Friday" and "Friday fortnight" refer to a day two weeks after the coming Friday). "A week on Tuesday" and "a fortnight on Friday" could refer either to a day in the past ("it's a week on Tuesday, you need to get another one") or in the future ("see you a week on Tuesday"), depending on context. In the US the standard construction is "a week from today", "a week from tomorrow", etc. BrE speakers may also say "Thursday last" or "Thursday gone" where AmE would prefer "last Thursday". "I'll see you (on) Thursday coming" or "let's meet this coming Thursday" in BrE refer to a meeting later this week, while "not until Thursday next" would refer to next week.


The 24-hour clock (18:00, 18.00 or 1800) is considered normal in the UK and Europe in many applications including air, rail and bus timetables; it is largely unused in the US outside of military, police, aviation and medical applications. British English tends to use the full stop or period (.) when telling time, compared to American English which uses Colons (:) (i.e., 11:15 PM or 23:15 for AmE and 11.15 pm or 23.15 for BrE).[93] Usually in the military (and sometimes in the police, aviation and medical) applications on both sides of the Atlantic 0800 and 1800 are read as (oh/zero) eight hundred and eighteen hundred hours respectively.

Fifteen minutes after the hour is called quarter past in British usage and a quarter after or, less commonly, a quarter past in American usage. Fifteen minutes before the hour is usually called quarter to in British usage and a quarter of, a quarter to or a quarter 'til in American usage; the form a quarter to is associated with parts of the Northern United States, while a quarter 'til is found chiefly in the Appalachian region.[citation needed] Thirty minutes after the hour is commonly called half past in both BrE and AmE; half after used to be more common in the US. In informal British speech, the preposition is sometimes omitted, so that 5:30 may be referred to as half five. The AmE formations top of the hour and bottom of the hour are not used in BrE. Forms such as eleven forty are common in both dialects. To be simple and direct in telling time, no terms relating to fifteen or thirty minutes before/after the hour are used; rather the time is told exactly as for example nine fifteen, ten forty-five.


In British usage, human body mass is colloquially expressed in stones (equal to 14 pounds). People normally describe themselves as weighing, for example, "11 stone 4" (11 stones and 4 pounds) and not "158 pounds" (the conventional way of expressing the same weight in the United States). Stones are never used in the United States, and most Americans are unfamiliar with the term. Kilogrammes (note the difference from the U.S. spelling, kilograms) are the official measurement in the United Kingdom, although very few people know their weight in kilogrammes. This is rarely noticed by the British (one such occasion might be a weight measurement at a hospital).

When used as the unit of measurement the plural form of stone is correctly stone (as in "11 stone"). When describing the units, the correct plural is stones (as in "Please enter your weight in stones and pounds").


Besides the differences between the shorthand word for the subject itself (i.e., Maths for BrE and Math for AmE), there are also differences in terms within the subject.

In geometry, what is referred to as a trapezoid (a quadrilateral with exactly 1 pair of parallel sides) in US textbooks is a trapezium in its UK counterparts. The slope of the line in AmE is said to be the gradient of a line in BrE. The skill of factoring polynomials in AmE is called factorisation in BrE; likewise, the words factor and factorise, respectively refer to their present tense forms.

In BrE the term mathematics is not commonly used for simple arithmetic. 2 + 2 = 4 is referred as arithmetic, not mathematics.

Holiday greetings

When people greet one another at Christmas in North America they say “Merry Christmas!”, whereas, in the UK, “Happy Christmas!” is an exceptionally common greeting. However, there are still a wide number of Britons who alternatively say "Merry Christmas!" to greet each other. It is increasingly common for Americans to say "Happy holidays", referring to all, or at least multiple, winter holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter solstice, Kwanzaa, etc.) especially when the subject's religious observances are not known; the phrase is rarely heard in the U.K. In Britain, the phrases "holiday season" and "holiday period" refer to the period in the summer when most people take time off from work, and travel; AmE does not use holiday in this sense, instead using vacation for recreational excursions.

Idiosyncratic differences

Figures of speech

Both BrE and AmE use the expression "I couldn't care less" to mean the speaker does not care at all. Many Americans use "I could care less" to mean the same thing. This variant is frequently derided as sloppy, as the literal meaning of the words is that the speaker does care to some extent.

In both areas, saying, "I don't mind" often means, "I'm not annoyed" (for example, by someone's smoking), while "I don't care" often means, "The matter is trivial or boring". However, in answering a question such as "Tea or coffee?", if either alternative is equally acceptable an American may answer, "I don't care", while a British person may answer, "I don't mind". Either sounds odd to the other.

Equivalent idioms

A number of English idioms that have essentially the same meaning show lexical differences between the British and the American version; for instance:

British English American English
not touch something with a bargepole not touch something with a ten-foot pole
sweep under the carpet sweep under the rug*
touch wood knock on wood
see the wood for the trees see the forest for the trees
put a spanner in the works throw a (monkey) wrench (into a situation)
put (or stick) your oar in[94]
but it won't make a ha'porth of difference[95]
to put your two penn'orth (or tuppence worth) in
to put your two cents (or two cents' worth) in[96]
skeleton in the cupboard skeleton in the closet
a home from home a home away from home
blow one's own trumpet blow (or toot) one's own horn
a drop in the ocean a drop in the bucket,[97] a spit in the ocean
flogging a dead horse beating a dead horse
haven't (got) a clue don't have a clue or have no clue (haven't got a clue is also acceptable)
a new lease of life a new lease on life
lie of the land lay of the land
take it with a pinch of salt take it with a grain of salt
a storm in a teacup a tempest in a teapot

* In the US, a "carpet" typically refers to a fitted carpet.



Before the early 18th century English spelling was not standardized. Different standards became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. For the most part current BrE spellings follow those of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755), while AmE spellings follow those of Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). In Britain, the influences of those who preferred the French spellings of certain words proved decisive. In many cases AmE spelling deviated from mainstream British spelling; on the other hand it has also often retained older forms. Many of the now characteristic AmE spellings were popularized, although often not created, by Noah Webster. Webster chose already-existing alternative spellings "on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology".[98] Webster did attempt to introduce some reformed spellings, as did the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 20th century, but most were not adopted. Later spelling changes in the UK had little effect on present-day US spelling, and vice versa.


Full stops and periods in abbreviations

There have been some trends of transatlantic difference in use of periods in some abbreviations. These are discussed at Abbreviation § Periods (full stops) and spaces. Unit symbols such as kg and Hz are never punctuated.[99]

Restrictive and non-restrictive modifiers

In American English, restrictive and non-restrictive modifying phrases require different words and sentence structures. In particular, a non-restrictive modifying phrase must be set off by commas, and it generally uses "which" as its pronoun. A restrictive modifying phrase, by contrast, is not set off by commas, and uses the pronoun "that." An example of the first in American English is: "The dog, which bit the man, was brown." In that sentence the phrase "which bit the man" is non-restrictive: it is merely providing background information about a dog whose identity is otherwise not in question. The contrasting sentence in American English would be: "The dog that bit the man was brown." In this sentence, the phrase "that bit the man" is restrictive: it tells the reader that, of several dogs that might have bitten the man, the actual biter was brown. Interchanging the two structures is grammatically incorrect in American English because they have different meanings.

British English, by contrast, generally does not require its writers to construct sentences in a manner that distinguishes between the restrictive and non-restrictive forms of modifiers. Thus, a writer of British English might write: "The dog which bit the man was brown." In this sentence, it is ambiguous whether the phrase "which bit the man" is serving to identify a particular dog among several candidates or just to provide background information about a dog whose identity is otherwise not in doubt. The reader must try to infer the distinction from context or from his own knowledge.

H. W. Fowler, in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage of 1926, recommends “that”, without a preceding comma, for restrictive (“defining”) use and “which”, with a comma, for descriptive (“non-defining”) use. However, he notes that it was not (then) commonly British English usage, and that British and American usages differed, without explicitly identifying this usage as American. He also notes several problems with this usage “The most important of these is its [that's] insistence on being the first word of its clause ; it cannot, like whom & which, endure that a preposition governing it should, by coming before it, part it from the antecedent or the main sentence ; such a preposition has to go, instead, at the end of the clause ; that is quite in harmony with the closer connexion between a defining, (or that-) clause & the antecedent than between a non-defining (or which-) clause & the antecedent ; but it forces the writer to choose between ending his sentence or clause with a preposition & and giving up that for which.” However, Fowler also goes on to reprise his assertion that prepositional endings are acceptable: “to shrink with horror from ending with a preposition is no more than a foolish superstition”.[100]


Americans begin their quotations with double quotation marks (") and use single quotation marks (') for quotations within quotations (nested quotations). BrE usage varies, with some authoritative sources such as The Economist and The Times recommending the same usage as in the US,[101] whereas other authoritative sources, such as The King's English, recommend single quotation marks.[102] In journals and newspapers, quotation mark double/single use depends on the individual publication's house style.

Americans almost always place commas and periods inside adjacent quotation marks. Specific exceptions are made for cases in which the addition of a period or comma could create confusion, such as the quotation of web addresses or certain types of data strings. In both styles, question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside the quotation marks if they belong to the quotation and outside otherwise. With narration of direct speech, both styles retain punctuation inside the quotation marks, with a full stop changing into a comma if followed by explanatory text, also known as a dialogue tag. Americans tend to apply quotations when signifying doubt of veracity (sarcastically or seriously), to imply another meaning to a word or to imply a cynical take on a paraphrased quotation, without punctuation at all.

  • Carefree means "free from care or anxiety." (American style)
  • Carefree means 'free from care or anxiety'. (British style, optional use of single quotes)
  • "Hello, John," I said. (both styles)[dubious ]
  • Did you say, "I'm shot"? No, I said, "Why not?" (Both styles)
  • My "friend" just told the whole school my secret. (American style, but also common in British English)

The American style is used by most American newspapers, publishing houses and style guides in the United States and Canada (including the Modern Language Association's MLA Style Manual, the American Psychological Association's APA Publication Manual, the University of Chicago's The Chicago Manual of Style, the American Institute of Physics's AIP Style Manual, the American Medical Association's AMA Manual of Style, the American Political Science Association's APSA Style Manual, the Associated Press' The AP Guide to Punctuation and the Canadian Public Works' The Canadian Style).[103]

Hart's Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors call the British style "new" quoting. It is also similar to the use of quotation marks in many other languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Dutch and German). A few US professional societies whose professions frequently employ various non-word characters, such as chemistry and computer programming, use the British form in their style guides (see ACS Style Guide). According to the Jargon File, American hackers switched to what they later discovered to be the British quotation system because placing a period inside a quotation mark can change the meaning of data strings that are meant to be typed character-for-character.[104][unreliable source?] (It may be noted that the current American system places periods and commas outside the quotation marks in these cases anyway.)


In British English, "( )" marks are often referred to as brackets, whereas "[ ]" are called square brackets and "{ }" are called curly brackets. In formal British English and in American English "( )" marks are parentheses (singular: parenthesis), "[ ]" are called brackets, and "{ }" can be called either curly brackets or curly braces.[105] In both countries, standard usage is to place punctuation outside the parenthesis, unless the entire sentence is contained within them:

  • "I am going to the store (if it is still open)."
  • (This page is intentionally blank.)

In the case of a parenthetical expression which is itself a complete sentence, the final punctuation may be placed inside the parenthesis, particularly if not a period:

  • "I am going to the store (Is it still open?)"
  • "I am going to the store (I hope it's still open!)"

Titles and headlines

Use of capitalization varies.

Sometimes the words in titles of publications and newspaper headlines as well as chapter and section headings are capitalized in the same manner as in normal sentences (sentence case). That is, only the first letter of the first word is capitalised, along with proper nouns, etc.

However, publishers sometimes require additional words in titles and headlines to have the initial capital, for added emphasis, as it is often perceived as appearing more professional. In AmE this is common in titles but less so in newspaper headlines. The exact rules differ between publishers and are often ambiguous; a typical approach is to capitalise all words other than short articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. This should probably be regarded as a common stylistic difference rather than a linguistic difference, as neither form would be considered incorrect or unusual in either the UK or the US. Many British tabloid newspapers (such as The Sun, The Daily Sport) use fully capitalised headlines for impact as opposed to readability (for example, BERLIN WALL FALLS or BIRD FLU PANIC). On the other hand the broadsheets (such as The Guardian, The Times, and The Independent) usually follow the sentence style of having only the first letter of the first word capitalised.

American newspapers commonly use a comma as a shorthand for "and" in headlines. For example, The Washington Post had the headline "A TRUE CONSERVATIVE: For McCain, Bush Has Both Praise, Advice."[106]

Keyboard layouts

See: British and American keyboards

See also


  • Algeo, John (2006). British or American English?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37993-8.
  • Hargraves, Orin (2003). Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515704-4
  • McArthur, Tom (2002). The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3.
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  • Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th ed. London: Arnold. ISBN 0-340-80834-9


  1. Even in vocabulary. "A British reader of Time or Newsweek would note distinctly American expressions only a few times on any page, matching the few distinctly British expressions an American reader of The Economist would note." Edward Finegan in Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century. Eds Charles Albert Ferguson, Edward Finegan, Shirley Brice Heath, John R. Rickford (Cambridge University Press, 2004). p. 29. See also: David Crystal, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language] (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 304.
  2. "Standard English is essentially written, printed English, seen in the textbooks, newspapers, and periodicals of the world – and also, these days on the WWW. It is largely identical in its global manifestation; we must allow only for the small amount of variation in vocab, grammar and spelling which make up the differences between Am, Br, Aus and other 'regional' standards." David Crystal, "The Past, Present, and Future of World English" in Andreas Gardt, Bernd-Rüdiger Hüppauf, Bernd Huppauf (eds) Globalization and the future of German (Walter de Gruyter, 2004). p. 39.
  3. NB: "standard English" as used to describe written and spoken international English is a more contentious usage.
    "standard English: In Sociolinguistics, a much debated term for the VARIETY of English used as a communicative norm throughout the English-speaking world. The notion has become increasingly difficult to handle because of the emergence of differing national standards of usage (in vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and spelling) in areas where large numbers of people speak English as a first or second language." [sic]
    David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics & Phonetics (Blackwell Publishing, 2003). p. 431.
  4. Kirby, Terry (28 March 2007). "Are regional dialects dying out, and should we care if they are?". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on August 15, 2004. Retrieved 27 December 2011. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "RP: a Social Accent of English". The British Library. Retrieved 26 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)
  7. Labov, William; Sharon Ash; & Charles Boberg. (2006). Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 311-016746-8. Compare with Labov, Ash, & Boberg. (1997). A national map of the regional dialects of American English. Linguistics Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania. [1]. Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  8. Clark, Laura (29 May 2012). "Unstoppable rise of American English: Study shows young Britons copying US writing style". Daily Mail. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  10. Trudgill and Hannah, 2002
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  12. See, for example, Krueger CL, Stade G, Karbiener K, Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries Book Builders LLC Infobase Publishing ISBN 0816046700, p. 309
  13. "Macmillan Dictionary". definition 3: Macmillan Publishing Lts. Retrieved 30 September 2013.CS1 maint: location (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Peters, p. 23
  15. Houghton Mifflin Company (2006). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 94–. ISBN 0-618-60499-5. Retrieved 29 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Instructions to Secretaries of Committees, Cabinet Office, nd
  17. Peters, p. 24
  18. Chapman, James A. Grammar and Composition IV. 3d ed. Pensacola: A Beka Book, 2002.
  19. "The names of sports teams, on the other hand, are treated as plurals, regardless of the form of that name."[2]
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  22. Winik, Jay (2001). April 1865: The month that saved America. New York: Harper. p. 379. ISBN 978-0-06-018723-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Peters, pp. 165 and 316.
  24. Algeo, pp. 15ff.
  25. Peters, p. 322.
  26. Peters, p. 208.
  27. Peters, p. 512
  28. Peters, p. 487.
  29. "prove – Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". 2010-08-13. Retrieved 2010-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Peters, p. 446.
  31. Dive - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  32. Dive | Define Dive at
  33. Sneak - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  34. Sneak | Define Sneak at
  35. Spring | Define Spring at
  36. Spring - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  37. Shrink | Define Shrink at
  38. Shrink - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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  40. "Conditional would is sometimes used in both clauses of an if-sentence. This is common in spoken American English". Retrieved 2010-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Pearson Longman, Longman Exams Dictionary, grammar guide: It is possible to use would in both clauses in US English but not in British English: US: The blockades wouldn't happen if the police would be firmer with the strikers. Br: The blockades wouldn't happen if the police were firmer with the strikers.
  42. 42.0 42.1 "NELL.links". Retrieved 2010-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. "To stress willingness of wish, you can use would or will in both clauses of the same sentence: If the band would rehearse more, they would play better. If the band will rehearse more, they will play better. Both mean the same. (based on the examples and explanations from Practical English Usage, Michael Swan, Oxford)". 2008-08-02. Retrieved 2010-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. Peters, p. 520 f.
  45. 45.0 45.1 American Heritage editorial staff (1996). The American Heritage Book of English Usage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 33. ISBN 0395767865.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. § 57. should. 1. Grammar. The American Heritage Book of English Usage. 1996[dead link]
  47. [3]; Algeo, p. 25.
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  51. Peters, p. 343.
  52. Peters, p. 515.
  53. Peters, p. 67.
  54. Algeo, p. 248.
  55. Algeo, p. 247
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  58. p. 245.
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  60. Algeo, p. 186; Peters, pp. 400–401.
  61. Algeo, p. 186.
  63. Algeo, pp. 163 f.
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  66. Peters, p. 50; cf. OALD.
  67. Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 610. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  68. 68.0 68.1 New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1999, usage note for an: "There is still some divergence of opinion over the form of the indefinite article to use preceding certain words beginning with h- when the first syllable is unstressed: ‘a historical document’ or ‘an historical document’; ‘a hotel’ or ‘an hotel’. The form depends on whether the initial h is sounded or not: an was common in the 18th and 19th centuries because the initial h was commonly not pronounced for these words. In standard modern English the norm is for the h to be pronounced in words such as hotel and historical and therefore the indefinite article a is used; however the older form, with the silent h and the indefinite article an, is still encountered, especially among older speakers."
  69. 69.0 69.1 Brown Corpus and Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen Corpus, quoted in Peters (2004: 1)
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  71. Algeo, p. 49.
  72. "''Cookbook'' is now often used in BrE". Retrieved 2010-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  73. Crystal states one of the classification problems as
    "We have to allow for words which have at least one [shared] meaning and one or more additional meanings that are specific to either AmE or BrE: an example is caravan, which in the sense of 'group of travellers in the desert' is common to both varieties; but in the sense of 'vehicle towed by a car' it is BrE (=AmE trailer)"
    David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of The English Language. 2nd Edition. (Cambridge University Press, 2003)
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  103. Other style guides and reference volumes include: U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual (2008, p. 217), US Department of Education's IES Style Guide (2005, p. 43), The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing (1997, p. 148), International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, International Reading Association Style Guide, American Dialect Society, Association of Legal Writing Directors' ALWD Citation Manual, The McGraw-Hill Desk Reference by K. D. Sullivan (2006, p. 52), Webster's New World Punctuation by Geraldine Woods (2005, p. 68), The New Oxford Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane (1994, pp. 278, 305, 306), Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors by Merriam-Webster (1998, p. 27), Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers by Lynn Troyka, et al. (1993, p. 517), Science and Technical Writing by Philip Rubens (2001, p. 208), Health Professionals Style Manual by Shirley Fondiller, Barbara Nerone (2006, p. 72), The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin (2000, p. 247), The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus (2007, p. 61), The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage by Allan M. Siegal, The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. (2004, p. 788), The Copyeditor's Handbook by Amy Einsohn (2000, p. 111), The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf, Auriel Douglas (2004, p. 446), Elements of Style by William Strunk, Elwyn B. White (1979, p. 36), Little English Handbook by Edward P. J. Corbett (1997, p. 135), Commonsense Grammar and Style by Phillip S. Sparks (2004, p. 18), Handbook of Technical Writing by Gerald Alred, et al. (2006, pp. 83, 373), MIT Guide To Science and Engineering Communication by J. Paradis, M. L. Zimmerman (2002, p. 314), Guide to Writing Empirical Papers by G. David Garson (2002, p. 178), Modern English by A. L. Lazarus, A. MacLeish, H. W. Smith (1971, p. 71), The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers (8th ed.) by John Ruszkiewicz, et al., Comma Sense by Richard Lederer, John Shore (2007, p. 138), Write right! by Jan Venolia (2001, p. 82), Scholastic Journalism by Earl English, Clarence Hach (1962. p. 75), Grammar in Plain English by Harriet Diamond, Phyllis Dutwin (2005, p. 199), Crimes Against the English Language by Jill Meryl Levy (2005, p. 21), The Analytical Writer by Adrienne Robins (1997, p. 524), Writing with a Purpose by James McNab McCrimmon (1973, p. 415), Writing and Reporting News by Carole Rich (2000, p. 60), The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well by Tom Goldstein (2003, p. 163), Woodroof's Quotations, Commas And Other Things English by D. K. Woodroof (2005, pp. 10–12), Journalism Language and Expression by Sundara Rajan (2005, p. 76), The Business Writer's Handbook by Gerald Alred, et al. (2006, p. 451), The Business Style Handbook by Helen Cunningham (2002, p. 213), Essentials of English by Vincent Hopper (2000, p. 127).
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  105. Crystal, David (2003), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (second ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 278, ISBN 0-521-82348-X<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "It also gives ... clues about the prosody ... through such features as question marks, exclamation marks and parentheses".
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