American and British English differences
Collected by SEYYED HOSSEIN ZAHEDI all From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Written forms of American English are fairly well standardized across the United States
and in the overwhelming majority of their grammatical forms they are in general
agreement with standard written British English. An unofficial standard for spoken
American English has developed because of the mass media and geographic and social
mobility. This standard is generally called a General American or Standard Midwestern
accent and dialect and can typically be heard from network newscasters, although local
newscasters tend toward more parochial forms of speech. Despite this unofficial standard
regional variations of American English have not only persisted but have actually
intensified, according to linguist William Labov.
Regional dialects in the United States typically reflect the 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 (really north-eastern),
Southern, Midland, and Western (Labov, Ash, & Boberg, 2006). 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 and New York City.
British English also has a reasonable degree of uniformity in its formal written form. The
12/14/2008spoken forms though vary considerably, reflecting a long history of dialect
development amid isolated populations. Dialects and accents vary not only between the
countries in the United Kingdom, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but
also within these individual countries.
There are also differences in the English spoken by different socio-economic groups in
any particular region. Received Pronunciation (RP), which is "the educated spoken
English of south-east England", has traditionally been regarded as "proper English"; this
is also referred to as BBC English or the Queen's English. The BBC and other
broadcasters now intentionally use a mix of presenters with a variety of British accents
and dialects, and the concept of "proper English" is now far less prevalent.
British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and
taught in the rest of the world. For instance, the English-speaking members of the
Commonwealth often closely follow British English forms while many new American
English forms quickly become familiar outside of the United States. Although the
dialects of English used in the former British Empire are often, to various extents, based
on standard British English, most of the countries concerned have developed their own
unique dialects, particularly with respect to pronunciation, idioms, and vocabulary; chief
among them are Canadian English and Australian English, which rank third and fourth in
number of native speakers.
1 Historical background
o 3.1 Nouns
3.1.1 Formal and notional agreement
o 3.2 Verbs
3.2.1 Verb morphology
3.2.2 Use of tenses
3.2.3 Verbal auxiliaries
o 3.3 Presence or absence of syntactic elements
3.3.1 The definite article
o 3.4 Prepositions and adverbs
3.4.1 Phrasal verbs
o 3.5 Miscellaneous grammatical differences
4 Word derivation and compounds
5 Lexis (vocabulary)
o 5.1 General trends
o 5.2 Words mainly used in a single form
5.2.1 Words mainly used in British English
5.2.2 Words mainly used in American English
5.2.3 Words with different meanings
o 5.3 Word choice
o 5.4 Numbers
o 5.5 Monetary amounts
o 5.6 Time-telling
o 5.7 Selected lexical differences
5.7.1 Levels of buildings
5.7.2 Figures of speech
o 5.8 Entertainment
o 6.1 Spelling
6.1.1 Historical origins
6.1.2 Spelling and pronunciation
6.1.3 Latin-derived spellings
o 3.1 -our, -or
o 3.2 -re, -er
o 3.3 -ce, -se
o 3.4 -xion, -ction
6.1.4 Greek spellings
o 126.96.36.199 -ise, -ize
4.1.1 -yse, -yze
o 188.8.131.52 -ogue, -og
o 184.108.40.206 Simplification of ae (æ) and oe (œ)
6.1.5 Compounds and hyphens
6.1.6 Doubled consonants
o 220.127.116.11 Doubled in British English
o 18.104.22.168 Doubled in American English
6.1.7 Dropped e
6.1.8 Different spellings, different connotations
6.1.9 Acronyms and abbreviations
6.1.10 Miscellaneous spelling differences
6.1.12 External links
o 6.2 Punctuation
o 6.3 Titles and headlines
o 6.4 Dates
o 6.5 Times
o 7.2.1 French stress
o 7.2.2 -ate and -atory
o 7.2.3 Miscellaneous stress
o 7.3.1 -ary -ery -ory -bury, -berry, -mony
o 7.3.2 -ile
o 7.3.3 -ine
7.4 Weak forms
7.5 Miscellaneous pronunciation differences
o 7.5.1 Single differences
o 7.5.2 Multiple differences
The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization,
beginning in the early 17th century. 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 about 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 and the British Islands have
diverged in many ways, leading to the dialects now commonly referred to as American
English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation,
grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, formatting of dates and
numbers, and so on, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar
structure tend to be much more minor than those of other aspects of the language in terms
of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings
between the two dialects or are even unknown or not used in one of the dialects. 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.
This divergence between American English and British English once caused George
Bernard Shaw to say that the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries
divided by a common language"; a similar comment is ascribed to Winston Churchill.
Likewise, Oscar Wilde wrote, "We have really everything in common with America
nowadays, except, of course, the language." (The Canterville Ghost, 1888) Henry Sweet
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 to regional variation. This can result either in some variations becoming extinct
(for instance, the wireless, superseded by the radio) or in the acceptance of wide
variations as "perfectly good English" everywhere. Often at the core of the dialect
though, the idiosyncrasies remain.
Nevertheless, it remains the case that although spoken American and British English are
generally mutually intelligible, there are enough differences to cause occasional
misunderstandings or at times embarrassment – for example, some words that are quite
innocent in one dialect may be considered vulgar in the other.
Formal and notional agreement
In BrE, collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional
agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is, respectively, on the body
as a whole or on the individual members; compare a committee was appointed... with the
committee were unable to agree.... Compare also the following lines of Elvis
Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army are on their way / Oliver's Army is here
to stay. Some of these nouns, for example staff, actually combine with plural verbs
most of the time.
In AmE, collective nouns are usually singular in construction: the committee was unable
to agree... AmE however may use plural pronouns in agreement with collective nouns:
the team takes their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. The rule of thumb is that a
group acting as a unit is considered singular and a group of "individuals acting
separately" is considered plural. However, such a sentence would most likely be recast
as the team members take their seats. 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.
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: The Clash are a well-known band; AmE: The Clash is a well-known band.
BrE: New York are the champions; AmE: New York is the champion.
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 Giants are the champions.
The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell (only in the word-
related sense), burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular
(learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.). In BrE, the irregular and
regular forms are current; in some cases (smelt, leapt) there is a strong tendency
towards the irregular forms (especially by speakers using Received
Pronunciation); in other cases (dreamed, leaned, learned) the regular forms are
somewhat more common. In AmE, the irregular forms are never or rarely used
(except for burnt and leapt).
Nonetheless, as with other usages considered nowadays to be typically British, the
t endings are often found in older American texts. However, usage may vary
when the past participles are actually adjectives, as in burnt toast. (Note that the
two-syllable form learnèd /'lɜːnɪd/, usually written simply as learned, is still
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 on both sides of the Atlantic, although
dwelled and kneeled are widely used in the US (but not in the UK).
Lit as the past tense of light is much more common than lighted in the UK; the
regular form enjoys more use in the US, although it is somewhat less common
than lit. By contrast, fit as the past tense of fit is much more used in AmE than
BrE, which generally favors fitted.
The past tense of spit "expectorate" is spat in BrE, spit or spat in AmE.
The past participle of saw is normally sawn in BrE and sawed in AmE (as in
The past participle gotten is rarely used in modern BrE (although it is used in
some dialects), 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, though even there it is often regarded as non-standard." 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. Interestingly, 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. (Both dialects use proven as an adjective,
and in formulas such as not proven).
AmE further allows other irregular verbs, such as dive (dove) or sneak (snuck),
and often mixes the preterit and past participle forms (spring–sprang, US also
sprung–sprung), sometimes forcing verbs such as shrink (shrank–shrunk) to have
a further form, thus shrunk–shrunken. 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
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
(though in German, both are regular past participle forms, cf. kaufen, kaufte,
gekauft (bought) and lesen, las, gelesen (read)). Even in areas where the feature
predominates, however, it has not gained widespread acceptance as "standard"
Use of tenses
BrE uses the present perfect tense 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) or the simple past
(to imply an expectation). This American style has become widespread
only in the past 20 to 30 years; the British style is still in common use as well.
o "I've just arrived home." / "I just arrived home."
o "I've already eaten." / "I already ate."
(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".)
Similarly, AmE occasionally replaces the pluperfect with the preterite.
Also, US spoken usage sometimes, especially with the contracted forms,
substitutes the conditional for the pluperfect (If I would have cooked the pie we
could have had it for lunch), but this tends to be avoided in writing.
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.
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 favor 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). Apparently,
however, the mandative subjunctive has recently started to come back into use in
Shall (as opposed to will) is more commonly used by the British than by
Americans.. Shan't is seldom used in AmE (almost invariably replaced by
won't or am not going to), and very much less so amongst Britons. American
grammar also tends to ignore some traditional distinctions between should and
would; however, expressions like I should be happy are rather formal even in
The periphrastic future (be going to) is about twice as frequent in AmE as in
The following verbs show differences in transitivity between BrE and AmE.
agree: Transitive or intransitive in BrE, usually intransitive in AmE (agree a
contract/agree to or on a contract). However, in formal AmE legal writing one
often sees constructions like 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
catch up ("to reach and overtake"): Transitive or intransitive in BrE, strictly
intransitive in AmE (to catch sb up/to catch up with sb). A transitive form does
exist in AmE, but has a different meaning: to catch sb up means that the subject
will help the object catch up, rather the opposite of the BrE transitive meaning. In
other words, the subject acts more like an indirect object.
cater ("to provide food and service"): Intransitive in BrE, transitive in AmE (to
cater for a banquet/to cater a banquet).
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, has long been standard in both dialects.
provide: Strictly monotransitive in BrE, monotransitive or ditransitive in AmE
(provide sb with sth/provide sb sth).
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
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
(e.g., to start to do something/doing something). For example, the gerund is more
o In AmE than BrE, with start, begin, omit, enjoy;
o In BrE than AmE, with love, like, intend.
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 might 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 bath 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 might say
come see what I bought, BrE speakers would say come and see what I've bought
(notice the present perfect tense: a common British preference).
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).
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
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
American legislators and lawyers always use the preposition of between the name
of a legislative act and the year it was passed, while their British colleagues do
The 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. (When
the implied roles of patient or student do not apply, the definite article is used in
Likewise, BrE distinguishes in future ("from now on") from in the future ("at
some future time"); AmE uses in the future for both senses.
AmE omits, and BrE requires, the definite article in a few standard
expressions[clarification needed] such as tell (the) time.
In BrE, numbered highways usually take the definite article (for example "the
M25", "the A14") while in America they usually do not ("I-495", "Route 66").
Southern California is an exception, where "the 5" or "the 405" are the standard.
A similar pattern is followed for named roads, 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 usually include a definite article in UK spoken English, such as "the
eleventh of July", or "July the eleventh", while American speakers most
commonly say "July eleventh".
Prepositions and adverbs
In the United States, the word through can mean "up to and including" as in
Monday through Friday. In the UK 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 the term while can be used in the same way, as in
Monday while Friday, whereas in Northern Ireland 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." In BrE, out of
is preferred in writing for both meanings, but out is common in speech. Several
other uses of out of are peculiarly British (out of all recognition, out of the team;
cf. above); all of this notwithstanding, out of is overall more frequent in AmE
than in BrE (about four times as frequent, according to Algeo).
The word heat meaning "mating season" is used with on in the UK and with in in
The intransitive verb affiliate can take either with or to in BrE, but only with in
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.
Adding at to the end of a question requesting a location is common in AmE, for
example, "where are you at?", but would be considered superfluous in BrE.
After talk American can use the preposition with but British always
uses to (that is, I'll talk with Dave / I'll talk to Dave). The American form is
sometimes seen as more politically correct in British organisations, inducing the
ideal of discussing (with), as opposed to lecturing (to). This is, of course, 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 (American English is different than it used to be),
whereas different to is a common alternative in BrE.
It is common in BrE to say opposite to as an alternative to opposite of, 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.
BrE sometimes uses to with near (we live near to the university), while AmE
avoids the preposition in most usages dealing with literal, physical proximity (we
live near the university), although the to reappears in AmE when near takes the
comparative or superlative form, as in she lives nearer/nearest to the deranged
axe murderer's house.
In BrE, one calls (or rings) someone on his or her telephone number; in AmE, one
calls someone at his or her telephone number.
When referring to the constituency of a US Senator 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.
In the US, forms are usually but not invariably filled out, but in Britain they can
also be 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; both usages are
however 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 AmE, some prescriptionists feel that which should not be used as an antecedent
in restrictive relative clauses. According to The Elements of Style (p. 59), "that is
the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive."
This distinction was endorsed by Fowler's Modern English Usage, but the use of
which as a restrictive pronoun is common in great literature produced on both
sides of the Atlantic.
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 of 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.
This convention is mixed, however, in some Commonwealth nations, where both
arrangements are often seen.
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, as many speakers intentionally use an
ungrammatical 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, 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 most areas of the United States, the word with is also used as an adverb: I'll
come with instead of I'll come along. However, in some British Dialects, come
with is used as an abbreviation of come with me, as in I'm going to the office Ŕ
come with. This particular variant is also used by speakers in Minnesota and parts
of the adjoining states: Want to come with? This is another expression possibly
arising from German (kommst du mit?) in parts of the United States with high
concentrations of German American populations. It is similar to South African
English, where the expression comes from Dutch, and is used by Afrikaans
speakers when speaking English.
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, sentence ending as well is more formal in AmE
than in BrE.
Before some words beginning with h with the first syllable unstressed, such as
hallucination, hilarious, historic(al), horrendous, and horrific, some (but not
most) British writers prefer to use an over a (an historical event, etc.). American
writers normally use a, although there are occasional uses of an historic (al) in
AmE. 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 like 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."; but to work nights is standard in
In BrE, the agentive -er suffix is commonly attached to football (also cricket;
often netball; occasionally basketball). 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 to sometimes 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 a 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 favors 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.
More generally, AmE has a tendency to drop inflectional suffixes, thus favoring
clipped forms: compare cookbook vs. cookery book; Smith, age 40 vs. Smith, aged
40; skim milk vs. skimmed milk; dollhouse vs. doll's house; barbershop vs.
barber's shop. 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 U.S.
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, while 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.
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. 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.
While the use of American expressions in the UK is often noted, movement in the
opposite direction is less common. But such words as book (meaning "to reserve") and
roundabout (otherwise called a traffic circle or rotary) are clearly current in AmE,
although often regarded as British. Some other "Briticisms", such as go missing (as an
alternative to disappear), bespoke (for custom-made or made-to-order), or run-up (for
"period preceding an event") are increasingly used in AmE, and a few (for instance, early
on) are now completely standard.
Words mainly used in a single form
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.
For instance, an American using the word chap or mate to refer to a friend would be
heard in much the same way as an American using the Spanish word amigo.
Words mainly used in British English
Some speakers of AmE are aware of some BrE terms, such as lorry, queue, chap, bloke,
loo, and shag, although they would not generally use them, or may be confused as to
whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). They
will be able to guess approximately what some others, such as ―driving licence,‖ mean.
However, use of many other British words such as naff (unstylish, though commonly
used to mean "not very good"), risks rendering a sentence incomprehensible to most
Words mainly used in American English
Speakers of BrE are likely to understand most AmE terms, examples such as sidewalk,
gas (gasoline/petrol), counterclockwise or elevator (lift), without any problem although
they would generally not use them. Certain terms which are heard less frequently in the
UK, such as semi (articulated lorry), stroller (pram/pushchair) or kitty-corner/catty-
corner (diagonally opposite) are highly unlikely to be understood by most BrE speakers.
Words with different meanings
Words such as bill (AmE "paper money", BrE and AmE "invoice") and biscuit (AmE:
BrE's "scone", BrE: AmE's "cookie") are used regularly in both AmE and BrE, but mean
different things in each form. As chronicled by Winston Churchill, the opposite meanings
of the verb to table created a misunderstanding during a meeting of the Allied forces] 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.
In the UK, the word whilst may be used as a conjunction (as an alternative to
while, especially prevalent in some dialects), but while is used as a noun. In AmE
only while is used in both contexts. For example, I will be a while versus
whilst/while you were out, your friend called. To Americans the word whilst, in
any context, seems very archaic or pretentious or both. In some regions of
England, the word while is used to mean "until", so whilst may be used in spoken
English to avoid confusion.
In the UK, generally the term fall meaning "autumn" is obsolete. Although found
often from Elizabethan to Victorian literature, continued understanding of the
word is usually ascribed to its continued use in America.
In the UK, the term period for a full stop is now obsolete. For example, Tony
Blair said, "Terrorism is wrong, full stop", whereas in AmE, "Terrorism is wrong,
Media domination has seen American vocabulary encroaching on British in recent
decades, so that (for example) truck is now increasingly heard in the UK instead
of lorry, and line is used as well as queue – so that the verb queue up or queue is
now sometimes replaced with stand in line.
When saying or writing out numbers, the British will typically insert an and before the
tens and units, as in one hundred and sixty-two or two thousand and three. In America, it
is considered correct to drop the and, as in two thousand three; however, this is rarely
heard in everyday speech, two thousand and three being much more common.
Some American schools teach students to pronounce decimally written fractions (e.g. .5)
as though they were longhand fractions (five tenths), such as five hundred thirteen and
seven tenths for 513.7. This formality is often dropped in common speech. It is steadily
disappearing in instruction in mathematics that is more advanced and science work as
well as in international American schools. In the UK, 513.7 would generally be read five
hundred and thirteen point seven, although if it were written 513 7⁄10, it would be
pronounced five hundred and thirteen and seven tenths.
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 and thirty-four. In BrE, it is
also common to use phrases such as three and a half thousand for 3,500, whereas in AmE
this construction is almost never used for numbers under a million.
In the case of years, however, twelve thirty-four would be the norm on both sides of the
Atlantic for the year 1234. The year 2000 and years beyond it are read as two thousand,
two thousand (and) one and the like by both British and American speakers. For years
after 2009, they are frequently said twenty ten, twenty twelve etc. by the BBC.
For the house number (or bus number, etc.) 272, British people tend to say two seven two
while Americans tend to say two seventy-two.
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). It is believed that Margaret Thatcher started the change on advice
from the Bank of England. The British prime minister, Harold Wilson, in 1974, 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. Although historically such numbers were not often required outside of
mathematical and scientific contexts. One thousand million was sometimes described as a
milliard, the definition adopted by most other European languages. 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. However, the term yard, derived from milliard, is still used in the financial
markets on both sides of the Atlantic to mean "one thousand million". All major British
publications and broadcasters, including the BBC, which long used thousand million to
avoid ambiguity, now use billion to mean thousand million.
Many people have no direct experience with 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); also, 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, zero or
nil in instances such as sports scores and voting results. 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. Phrases such as the team won
twoŔzip or the team leads the series, twoŔnothing are heard when reporting sports scores.
The digit 0, for example, when reading a phone or account number 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 or triple/treble 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. The directory inquiries prefix 118 is also one one eight in Britain. 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 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 pounds twenty would be the most common form. 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. 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.
The BrE slang term quid is roughly equivalent to the AmE buck and both are
often used in the two respective dialects for round amounts, as in fifty quid for £50
and twenty bucks for $20. A hundred and fifty grand in either dialect could refer to
£150,000 or $150,000 depending on context.
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 always write this as £3.24,
£3·24 or, for extra clarity on a cheque, as £3—24. In all cases there may or may
not be a space after the currency symbol, or the currency symbols may be omitted
depending on context.
In order to make explicit the amount in words on a check, Americans write three
and 24⁄100 (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.
UK residents, on a cheque, 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 00⁄100 or three and no⁄100 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, or three pounds exactly.
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,
#. (The British telephone company BT, in the 1960s–1990s, called this gate on
In BrE, the plural of the word pound is often considered pound as opposed to
pounds. For example, three pound forty and twenty pound a week are both
legitimate British English. This does not apply to other currencies, however, so
that the same speaker would most likely say three dollars forty, twenty dollars a
week in similar contexts.
In BrE, the use of p instead of pence is common in spoken usage. Each of the
following have equal legitimacy: three pounds, twelve p, three pounds and twelve
p, three pounds, twelve pence, three pounds and twelve pence, as well as just eight
p or eight pence.
AmE uses words like nickel, dime, and quarter for small coins. In BrE, the usual
usage is 10-pence piece or 10p piece for any coin below £1, with piece sometimes
omitted, but pound coin and two-pound coin. BrE did have specific words for a
number of coins before decimalisation.
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 till in
American usage; the form a quarter to is associated with parts of the Northern United
States, while a quarter till is found chiefly in the Appalachian region. Thirty minutes
after the hour is commonly called half past in both BrE and AmE. In informal British
speech, the preposition is sometimes omitted, so that 5:30 may be referred to as half five
(by contrast, in the German halb fünf is half-an-hour before five, i.e. 4:30). Half after
used to be more common in the US. The AmE formations top of the hour and bottom of
the hour are not commonly used in BrE. Forms like eleven forty are common in both
dialects. See below for variation in written forms.
Selected lexical differences
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". On (BrE) lift / (AmE) elevator buttons in the UK the Ground Floor
is often denoted by the letter G, or the number 0. Normal American usage labels the
entrance level as the "first floor" or the "ground floor", the floor immediately above that
is the "second floor".
American (AmE) apartment buildings / (BrE) blocks of flats frequently are 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 apartments
Figures of speech
Both BrE and AmE use the expression "I couldn't care less" to mean the speaker does not
care at all. Speakers of AmE sometimes incorrectly state this as "I could care less",
literally meaning precisely the opposite. Intonation no longer reflects the originally
sarcastic nature of this variant, which is not idiomatic in BrE and might be interpreted as
anything from nonsense (or sloppiness) to an indication that the speaker does care.
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 like "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.
In BrE, the phrase I can't be arsed (to do something) is a vulgar equivalent to the British
or American I can't be bothered (to do something). This can be extremely confusing to
Americans, as the Southern British pronunciation of the former sounds similar to I can't
be asked..., which sounds either defiantly rude or nonsensical.
Older BrE often uses the exclamation "No fear!" where current AmE has "No way!" An
example from Dorothy L. Sayers:
Q.: Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?
A.: No fear!
— from A Catechism for Pre- and Post-Christian Anglicans
This usage may confuse users of AmE, who are likely to interpret and even use "No
fear!" as enthusiastic willingness to move forward.
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 ten-foot
not touch something with a bargepole
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
throw a (monkey) wrench (in the
throw a spanner (in the works)
also two pennies' worth, two pence worth, two
two cents' worth
two penny'th, or (using a different coin) ha'penny'th)
skeleton in the cupboard skeleton in the closet
a home from home a home away from home
blow one's trumpet blow (or toot) one's horn
a drop in the ocean a drop in the bucket
storm in a teacup tempest in a teapot
flogging a dead horse beating a dead horse
haven't (got) a clue don't have a clue or have no clue
a new lease of life a new lease on life
if the cap fits (wear it) if the shoe fits (wear it)
lie of the land lay of the land
taking the mick/mickey making fun of
taking the piss making fun of
having a go making fun of
am i bothered? (pronounced bah-verd) do i care?
take the shame own up to it
In some cases, the "American" variant is also used in BrE, or vice versa.
In the UK, a 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, while to study may refer to any class being taken. Students may
also major in a subject in the UK as a part of degrees with modules from two or more
"She did biology at Cambridge." (informal use only)
"She studied biology at Cambridge."
"She read biology at Cambridge."
"She majored in biology at MIT."
"His concentration is biology at MIT."
At the tertiary or university level in BrE, each module is taught by a lecturer or tutor,
while professor is the job-title of a head of department, that is, there is only one Professor
of English at the university. In AmE, each class is generally taught by a professor (at
some institutions, professor is a reserved title, with other members of the faculty being
referred to as lecturers or instructors in a way that more closely corresponds to the BrE
usage). In both BrE and AmE, anyone giving an actual lecture is clearly, at that moment,
a lecturer, whether or not they are also a professor, an instructor, a tutor or indeed a
special guest speaker. At the primary and secondary levels, the term teacher is used
instead in both BrE and AmE.
The word course in American use typically refers to the study of a restricted topic (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 at a
British university. In the UK, a course of study is likely to refer to a whole program of
study, which may extend over several years, and be made up of any number of modules.
In the UK, a student is said to sit or take an exam, while in the US, a student takes an
exam. The expression he sits for an exam also arises in BrE, but only rarely in AmE;
American lawyers-to-be sit for their bar exams, and American master's and doctoral
students may sit for their comprehensive exams, but in nearly all other instances,
Americans take their exams. 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. In the UK, a teacher sets an exam, while in the US, a teacher
writes or gives 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
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 bachelor's degrees, while in the UK it refers
primarily to an institution between secondary school and university (normally referred to
as a Sixth Form College after the old name in secondary education for Years 12 and 13,
the 6th 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). It should be noted, however, that in the case of Oxford, Cambridge,
London, Lancaster and Durham universities, all members are also members of a college
which is part of the university, for example, one is a member of St. Peter's College,
Oxford and hence the University.
In both the US and UK, college can refer to some division within a university such as the
"college of business and economics". 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, of course:
Boston College, Dartmouth College and The College of William and Mary are examples
of colleges that offer advanced degrees.) 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 also sometimes used.
Students of advanced professional programs are known by their field (business student,
law student, medical student, the last of which is frequently shortened to med student).
Some universities also have a residential college system, the details of which may vary
from school to school but generally involve common living and dining spaces as well as
"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.
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 law students and med
students almost universally speak in terms of going to "law school" and "med 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, e.g. School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of
Among high school and college students in the United States, the words freshman (or the
gender-neutral term frosh or first year), sophomore, junior and senior refer to the first,
second, third, and fourth years, respectively. For first-year students, "frosh" is another
gender-neutral term 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 institutions 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 military academies, at least those operated directly by the federal
government, a different terminology is used, namely "fourth class", "third class", "second
class", and "first class" (note that the order of numbering is the reverse of the number of
years in attendance). In the UK, first year university students are often called freshers,
especially early in the academic year; however, there are no specific names for those in
other years, or for school pupils. Graduate and professional students in the United States
are known by their year of study (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, whereas in BrE it
tends to be used for people studying at a post-secondary educational institution.
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.
The names of individual institutions can be confusing. There are several "University High
Schools" in the United States that are not affiliated with any postsecondary 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 percent of graduating
seniors. British secondary schools often have the word 'college' in their names.
A public school has opposite meanings in the two countries. In the US this is a
government-owned institution supported by taxpayers. 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 correct term
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 which Charles, Prince of Wales
attended, is sometimes referred to as a public school. 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 schools. A 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 parochial school covers costs through tuition and has affiliation with a
religious institution. In England, where the state-funded education system grew from
parish schools organised 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: students gain admission through superior performance on admission tests.
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. Also, in the UK
some Local Education Authorities maintain Grammar Schools (State funded secondary
schools) which admit pupils according to performance in an examination(known as the
11+). Admission is usually restricted to the top 10% or less of those who sit the exam.
Americans refer to transportation, while British people refer to transport. As
transportation in Britain was a penalty for a crime, that is, deportation, the British use the
word communication to include goods and persons, whereas in America the word
primarily refers to messages sent by post or electronics. The British devised the term
telecoms for this last use; it is not quite standard in America.
Differences in terminology are especially obvious in the context of roads. The British
term dual carriageway, in American parlance, would be a divided highway. Central
reservation on a motorway in the UK would be a median 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
generally known as slip roads in the UK, but US civil engineers call them ramps, and
further distinguish between on-ramps (for entering) and off-ramps (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 the UK this is known as a service
In the UK, the term outside lane refers to the higher-speed overtaking lane (passing lane
in the US) closest to the center of the road, while inside lane refers to the lane closer to
the edge of the road. In the US, outside lane is only used in the context of a turn, in which
case it depends on 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 the right lane is the outside lane). Both
also refer to slow and fast lanes (even though all actual traffic speeds may be at or even
above the legal speed limit). UK traffic officials, firefighters and police officers refer to
Lanes 1, 2 and 3 as slow, middle and fast lanes respectively. In the US the meanings are
exactly reversed, with Lane 1 referring to the fast lane and so on.
In the UK, drink driving is against the law, while in the US 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.
When Christmas is explicitly mentioned in a greeting, the universal phrasing in North
America is Merry Christmas. In the UK, Happy Christmas is also heard. It is increasingly
common for Americans to say Happy Holidays, referring to all winter holidays
(Christmas, Yule, New Year's Day, Hanukkah, Diwali, St. Lucia Day and Kwanzaa)
while avoiding any specific religious reference. Season's Greetings is a less common
phrase in both America and Britain.
On British television each year of a show is referred to as a series, while on American
television each year is referred to as a season. Additionally, the entire run of a show is
called a series in American English and several series can take place in the same fictional
American and British English spelling differences are one aspect of American and
British English differences.
The spelling systems of Commonwealth countries, for the most part, closely resemble the
British system. In Canada, however, while most spelling is "British", many "American"
spellings are also used. Additional information on Canadian and Australian spelling is
provided throughout the article.
In the early 18th century, English spelling was not standardized. Differences became
noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. Current British English
spellings follow, for the most part, those of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English
Language (1755), whereas many American English spellings follow Noah Webster's An
American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828.
Webster was a strong proponent of spelling reform for reasons both philological and
nationalistic. Many spelling changes proposed in the US by Webster himself, and in the
early 20th century by the Simplified Spelling Board, never caught on. Among the
advocates of spelling reform in England, the influences of those who preferred the
Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of certain words proved decisive. Subsequent
spelling adjustments in the UK had little effect on present-day US spelling, and vice
versa. While in many cases American English deviated in the 19th century from
mainstream British spelling, on the other hand it has also often retained older forms.
Spelling and pronunciation
In a few cases, essentially the same word has a different spelling which reflects a
As well as the miscellaneous cases listed in the following table, the past tenses of some
irregular verbs differ in both spelling and pronunciation, as with smelt (mainly UK)
versus smelled (mainly US): see American and British English differences: Verb
UK USA Notes
aeroplane airplane Aeroplane, originally a French loanword, is the older spelling.
According to the OED, "[a]irplane became the standard U.S.
term (replacing aeroplane) after it was adopted by the National
Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1916. Although A.
Lloyd Jones recommended its adoption by the BBC in 1928, it
has until recently been no more than an occasional form in
British English." In the British National Corpus, aeroplane
outnumbers airplane by more than 7:1. The case is similar for
UK aerodrome and US airdrome, although both of these
forms are now obsolescent. The prefixes aero- and air- both
mean air, the first coming from the Greek word αέρας. Thus, for
example, the first appears in aeronautics, aerostatics and
aerodynamics, and so on, where the second suffix is a Greek
word, while the second occurs (invariably) in aircraft, airport,
airliner, airmail, etc. where the second suffix is an English
word. In Canada, Airplane is used more commonly than
aeroplane, although aeroplane is not unknown, especially in
parts of French Canada (the current French term is, however,
avion — aéroplane designating in French 19th-century flying
machines. Both Canada and Australia use aerodrome as a
aluminium aluminum The spelling aluminium is the international standard in the
sciences (IUPAC). The American spelling is nonetheless used
by many American scientists. Humphry Davy, the element's
discoverer, first proposed the name alumium, and then later
aluminum. The name aluminium was finally adopted to conform
with the -ium ending of metallic elements. Canada as US,
Australia as UK.
arse ass In vulgar senses "buttocks" ("anus"/"wretch"); unrelated sense
"donkey"/"idiot" is ass in both. Both forms are found in Canada
and Australia ("ass" to a lesser extent in the latter; "arse" may be
used in North America as a "non-vulgar replacement").
barmy balmy In sense "slightly insane", "crazy", "foolish", which has
limited meaning in American English. Both forms originated in
19th century England from other senses: barmy meant "frothing
[as of beer]"; balmy means "warm and soft [as of weather]".
British barmy is generally misheard in North America as balmy.
bogeyman boogeyman The spoken form is pronounced IPA: /ˈbo ʊgiːˈmæn/ ("BOH-
ghi-man") in the UK, so that the US form, boogeyman, is
reminiscent of the 1970s disco dancing 'boogie' to the UK ear.
carburettor carburetor British pronunciation IPA: /ˈk ɑːbəˈ ɹɛtə(ɹ)/; US IPA:
/ˈk ɑɹbəˈ ɹeɪtɚ/. Canada spelling and pronunciation as US.
charivari shivaree, In the US, where both terms are mainly regional, charivari is
charivari usually pronounced as shivaree, which is also found in Canada
and Cornwall, and is a corruption of the French word.
coupé coupe For a two-door car; the horse-drawn carriage is coupé in both;
unrelated "cup"/"bowl" is always coupe. In the US, the E is
accented when used as a foreign word.
eyrie aerie Rhyme with weary and hairy respectively. Both spellings and
pronunciations occur in the US.
fillet fillet, filet Meat or fish. Pronounced the French way (approximately) in the
furore furor Furore is a late 18th-century Italian loan that replaced the
Latinate form in the UK in the following century, and is
usually pronounced with a voiced e. Canada as US, Australia has
grotty grody Clippings of grotesque; both are slang terms from the 1960s.
haulier hauler Haulage contractor; haulier is the older spelling.
moustache mustache In the US, according to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate
Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary, the British
spelling is an also-ran, yet the pronunciation with second-
syllable stress is a common variant.
mum(my) mom(my) Mother. Mom is sporadically regionally found in the UK (West
Midlands English); some British dialects have mam, and this
is often used in Northern English, Irish and Welsh English. In
the US region of New England, especially in the case of the
Boston accent, the British pronunciation of mum is often
retained, while it is still spelled mom. Canada has mom and
mum; in Australia, mum is used.
naivety naïveté ɪ/;
The American form is from French, ending /-ˈe the British
form is nativised, ending /-i/. In the UK, naïveté is a minor
variant, used about 20% of the time in the British National
Corpus; in the US, naivete and naiveté are marginal variants, and
naivety is almost unattested.
pernickety persnickety Persnickety is a late 19th-century North American alteration of
the Scottish word pernickety.
quin quint Abbreviations of quintuplet.
scallywag scalawag In the US (where the word originated, as scalawag),
scallywag is not unknown.
speciality specialty In British English the standard usage is speciality, but specialty
occurs in the field of medicine, and also as a legal term for a
contract under seal. In Canada, specialty prevails; in Australia
both are current.
Most words ending in unstressed -our in the United Kingdom (e.g., colour, flavour,
honour, armour, rumour) end in -or in the United States (i.e., color, flavor, honor, armor,
rumor). Where the vowel is unreduced, this does not occur: contour, paramour,
troubadour, are spelled thus everywhere. Most words of this category derive from Latin
non-agent nouns having nominative -or; the first such borrowings into English were from
early Old French and the ending was -or or -ur. After the Norman Conquest, the
termination became -our in Anglo-French in an attempt to represent the Old French
pronunciation of words ending in -or, though color has been used occasionally in
English since the fifteenth century. The -our ending was not only retained in English
borrowings from Anglo-French, but also applied to earlier French borrowings. After
the Renaissance, some such borrowings from Latin were taken up with their original -or
termination; many words once ending in -our (for example, chancellour and governour)
now end in -or everywhere. Many words of the -our/-or group do not have a Latin
counterpart; for example, armo(u)r, behavio(u)r, harbo(u)r, neighbo(u)r; also arbo(u)r
meaning "shelter", though senses "tree" and "tool" are always arbor, a false cognate of
the other word. Some 16th and early 17th century British scholars indeed insisted that -or
be used for words of Latin origin (e.g. color) and -our for French loans; but in many
cases the etymology was not completely clear, and therefore some scholars advocated -or
only and others -our only.
Webster's 1828 dictionary featured only -or and is generally given much of the credit for
the adoption of this form in the US. By contrast, Dr Johnson's 1755 dictionary used the -
our spelling for all words still so spelled in Britain, as well as for emperour, errour,
governour, horrour, tenour, terrour, and tremour, where the u has since been dropped.
Johnson, unlike Webster, was not an advocate of spelling reform, but selected the version
best-derived, as he saw it, from among the variations in his sources: he favoured French
over Latin spellings because, as he put it, "the French generally supplied us." Those
English speakers who began to move across the Atlantic would have taken these habits
with them and H L Mencken makes the point that, "honor appears in the Declaration of
Independence, but it seems to have got there rather by accident than by design. In
Jefferson‘s original draft it is spelled honour. " Examples such as color, flavor,
behavior, harbor, or neighbor scarcely appear in the Old Bailey's court records from the
17th and 18th century, whereas examples of their -our counterparts are numbered in
thousands. One notable exception is honor: honor and honour were equally frequent
down to the 17th century, Honor still is, in the UK, the normal spelling as a person's
Derivatives and inflected forms. In derivatives and inflected forms of the -our/or words,
in British usage the u is kept before English suffixes that are freely attachable to English
words (neighbourhood, humourless, savoury) and suffixes of Greek or Latin origin that
have been naturalized (favourite, honourable, behaviourism); before Latin suffixes that
are not freely attachable to English words, the u can be dropped (honorific, honorist,
vigorous, humorous, laborious, invigorate), can be either dropped or retained
(colo(u)ration, colo(u)rize), or can be retained (colourist). In American usage,
derivatives and inflected forms are built by simply adding the suffix in all environments
(favorite, savory, etc.) since the u is absent to begin with.
Exceptions. American usage in most cases retains the u in the word glamour, which
comes from Scots, not Latin or French; saviour is a common variant of savior in the US.
The British spelling is very common for "honour" (and "favour") on wedding invitations
in the United States. The Space Shuttle Endeavour has a u as it is named after Captain
Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour.
The name of the herb savory is thus spelled everywhere, although the probably related
adjective savo(u)ry, like savour, has a u in the UK. Honor (the name) and arbor (the tool)
have -or in Britain, as mentioned above. As a general noun, rigour (IPA: /ˈrɪgə(ɹ)/) has
a u in the UK; the medical term rigor (often IPA: /ˈraɪgɔː(ɹ)/) does not.
Commonwealth usage. Commonwealth countries normally follow British usage. In
Canada -or endings are not uncommon, particularly in the Prairie Provinces, though they
are rarer in Eastern Canada. In Australia, -or terminations enjoyed some use in the
19th century, and now are sporadically found in some regions, usually in local and
regional newspapers, though -our is almost universal. The name of the Australian Labor
Party, founded in 1891, is a remnant of this trend.
In British usage, some words of French, Latin, or Greek origin end with a consonant
followed by -re, with the -re unstressed and pronounced /ə(ɹ)/. Most of these words have
the ending -er in the US. The difference is most common for words ending -bre or -tre:
British spellings theatre, goitre, litre, lustre, mitre, nitre, reconnoitre, saltpetre, spectre,
centre, titre; calibre, fibre, sabre, and sombre all have -er in American spelling. The
ending -cre, as in acre, lucre, massacre, mediocre, is preserved in American English, to
indicate the c is pronounced /k/ rather than /s/. After other consonants, there are not many
-re endings even in British English: louvre, manoeuvre after -v-; meagre, ogre after -g-;
euchre, ochre, sepulchre after -ch-. In the US, ogre and euchre are standard; manoeuvre
and sepulchre are usually maneuver and sepulcher; and the other -re forms listed are
variants of the equivalent -er form.
The e preceding the r is retained in US derived forms of nouns and verbs, for example,
fibers, reconnoitered, centering, which are, naturally, fibres, reconnoitred and centring
respectively in British usage. It is dropped for other inflections, for example, central,
fibrous, spectral. However such dropping cannot be regarded as proof of an -re British
spelling: for example, entry derives from enter, which has not been spelled entre for
The difference relates only to root words; -er rather than -re is universal as a suffix for
agentive (reader, winner) and comparative (louder, nicer) forms. One consequence is the
British distinction of meter for a measuring instrument from metre for the unit of
measurement. However, while poetic metre is often -re, pentameter, hexameter, etc. are
Exceptions. Many other words have -er in British English. These include Germanic
words like anger, mother, timber, water, and Romance words like danger, quarter,
river. Some -er words, like many -re words, have a cognate in Modern French spelled
with -re: among these are chapter, December, diameter, disaster, enter, letter, member,
minister, monster, number, oyster, powder, proper, sober, tender, filter, parameter.
Theater is the prevailing American spelling used to refer to both the dramatic arts and
buildings where stage performances and screenings of movies take place (i.e., "movie
theaters"); for example, a national newspaper such as The New York Times uses theater
throughout its "Theater", "Movies", and "Arts & Leisure" sections. In contrast, the
spelling Theatre or theatre appears in the names of many New York City theaters on
Broadway (cf. Broadway theatre) (and elsewhere in the United States) and in listings and
reviews in "The Theatre" section of The New Yorker. In 2003 the proposal of the
American National Theatre (ANT), eventually to be founded and inaugurated in the fall
of 2007, was referred to by the New York Times as the "American National Theater"; but
the organization actually uses "re" in the spelling of its name. The John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., or The Kennedy Center, features
the more common American spelling theater in its references to The Eisenhower Theater,
part of The Kennedy Center.
In rare instances, places in the United States have Centre in their names (e.g., Newton
Centre, Massachusetts and Rockville Centre, New York), named both before and after
spelling reform, and there are also a few cases of the use of Center in the UK (e.g.,
Valley Centertainment in Sheffield), although this is in fact a portmanteau of the cent- of
centre and -ertainment of entertainment.
For British accoutre(ment), US practice varies: Merriam-Webster prefers the -re
spelling, American Heritage the -er spelling.
More recent French loanwords retain an -re spelling in American English. These are not
exceptions when a French-style pronunciation is used (/ɹ(ə)/ rather than /ɚ/), as with
double-entendre, genre, or oeuvre; however, the unstressed /ɚ/ pronunciation of an -er
ending is used more or less frequently with some words, including cadre, macabre,
maître d', Notre Dame, piastre, and timbre.
Commonwealth usage. The -re endings are standard throughout the Commonwealth.
The -er spellings are recognized, as minor variants, only in Canada.
Nouns ending in -ce with -se verb forms: American English and British English both
retain the noun/verb distinction in advice / advise and device / devise, but American
English has abandoned the distinction with licence / license and practice / practise
(where the two words in each pair are homophones) that British spelling retains.
American English uses practice and license for both meanings.
Also, American English has kept the Anglo-French spelling for defense and offense,
which are usually defence and offence in British English; similarly there are the American
pretense and British pretence; but derivatives such as defensive, offensive, and pretension
are always thus spelled in both systems.
The spellings connexion, inflexion, deflexion, reflexion, genuflexion are now somewhat
rare in everyday British usage, but are not used at all in the US: the more common
connection, inflection, deflection, reflection, genuflection have almost become the
standard internationally. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the older spellings
are more etymologically conservative, since these four words actually derive from Latin
forms in -xio-. The US usage derives from Webster who discarded -xion in favour of -
ction for analogy with such verbs as connect.
Connexion has found preference again amongst recent British government initiatives such
as Connexions (the national careers and training scheme for school early leavers). Until
the early 1980s, The Times of London also used connexion as part of its house style. It
is still used in legal texts and British Methodism retains the eighteenth century spelling
connexion to describe its national organization, for historical reasons.
In both forms, complexion (which comes from the stem complex) is standard and
complection is not. However, the adjective complected (as in "dark-complected"),
although sometimes objected to, can be used as an alternative to complexioned in the
US, but is quite unknown in this sense in the UK, although there is an extremely rare
usage to mean complicated (OED). Note, however, that crucifiction is an error in either
form of English; crucifixion is the correct spelling.
American spelling accepts only -ize endings in most cases, such as organize, recognize,
and realize. British usage accepts both -ize and the more French-looking -ise (organise,
recognise, realise). The -ize spelling is preferred by some authoritative British sources
including the Oxford English Dictionary — which, until recently, did not list the -ise
form of many words, even as an alternative — and Fowler's Modern English Usage. The
OED firmly deprecates usage of "-ise", stating, "[T]he suffix…, whatever the element to
which it is added, is in its origin the Gr[eek] -ιζειν, L[atin] -izāre; and, as the
pronunciation is also with z, there is no reason why in English the special French spelling
in -iser should be followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and
phonetic." Noah Webster rejected -ise for the same reasons. Despite these
denouncements, however, the -ize spelling is now rarely used in the UK in the mass
media and newspapers, and is often incorrectly regarded as an Americanism.
The ratio between -ise and -ize stands at 3:2 in the British National Corpus. The OED
spelling (which can be indicated by the registered IANA language tag en-GB-oed), and
thus -ize, is used in many British-based academic publications, such as Nature, the
Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. In Australia and New Zealand
-ise spellings strongly prevail; the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, among other
sources, gives the -ise spelling first. The -ise form is preferred in Australian English at a
ratio of about 3:1 according to the Macquarie Dictionary. Conversely, Canadian usage is
essentially like American. Worldwide, -ize endings prevail in scientific writing and are
commonly used by many international organizations.
The same pattern applies to derivatives and inflections such as colonisation/colonization.
Some verbs ending in -ize or -ise do not derive from Greek -ιζειν, and their endings are
therefore not interchangeable; some verbs take the -z- form exclusively, for instance
capsize, seize (except in the legal phrase to be seised of/to stand seised to), size and prize
(only in the "appraise" sense), whereas others take only -s-: advertise, advise, apprise,
arise, chastise, circumcise, incise, excise, comprise, compromise, demise, despise, devise,
disguise, exercise, franchise, improvise, merchandise, revise, supervise, surmise,
surprise, and televise. Finally, the verb prise (meaning to force or lever) is spelled prize
in the US and prise everywhere else, including Canada, although in North
American English pry (a back-formation from or alteration of prise) is often used in its
The distribution of -yse and -yze endings, as in analyse / analyze, is different: the former
is British, the latter American. Thus, UK analyse, catalyse, hydrolyse, paralyse; US
analyze, catalyze, hydrolyze, paralyze. However, analyse was commonly spelled analyze
from the first—the spelling preferred by Samuel Johnson; the word, which came
probably from French analyser, on Greek analogy would have been analysize, from
French analysiser, from which analyser was formed by haplology. In Canada, -yze
prevails; in Australia, -yse stands alone. Unlike -ise/-ize, neither of the endings has any
resemblance to the Greek original ending. The Greek verb from which the word λύσις
(lysis) (and thus all its compound words) derives, is λύειν (lyein).
Some words of Greek origin, a few of which derive from Greek λόγος or αγωγός, can end
either in -ogue or in -og: analog(ue), catalog(ue), dialog(ue), demagog(ue), pedagog(ue),
monolog(ue), homolog(ue), synagog(ue) etc. In the UK (and generally in the
Commonwealth), the -ogue endings are the standard. In the US, catalog has a slight edge
over catalogue (note the inflected forms, catalogued and cataloging v catalogued and
cataloguing); analog is standard for the adjective, but both analogue and
analog are current for the noun; in all other cases the -gue endings strongly prevail,
except for such expressions as dialog box in computing, which are also used in the UK.
Finally, in Canada, New Zealand and Australia as well as the US analog has currency as
a technical term (e.g. in electronics, as in "analog computer" and many video game
consoles might have an analog stick).
Simplification of ae (æ) and oe (œ)
Many words are written with ae or oe in British English, but a single e in American
English. The sound in question is /i/ or /ɛ/ (or unstressed /ə/). Examples (with non-
American letter in bold): anaemia, anaesthesia, caesium, diarrhoea, gynaecology,
haemophilia, leukaemia, oesophagus, oestrogen, orthopaedic, paediatric. Words where
British usage varies include encyclopaedia, foetus (though the British medical
community deems this variant unacceptable for the purposes of journal articles and the
like, since the Latin spelling is actually fetus), homoeopathy, mediaeval. In American
usage, aesthetics and archaeology prevail over esthetics and archeology, while
oenology is a minor variant of enology.
The Ancient Greek diphthongs <αι> and <οι> were transliterated into Latin as <ae> and
<oe>. The ligatures æ and œ were introduced when the sounds became monophthongs,
and later applied to words not of Greek origin, in both Latin (for example, cœli) and
French (for example, œuvre). In English, which has imported words from all three
languages, it is now usual to replace Æ/æ with Ae/ae and Œ/œ with Oe/oe. In many
cases, the digraph has been reduced to a single e in all varieties of English: for example,
oeconomics, praemium, and aenigma. In others, it is retained in all varieties: for
example, phoenix, and usually subpoena. This is especially true of names: Caesar,
Oedipus, Phoebe, etc. There is no reduction of Latin -ae plurals (e.g. larvae); nor where
the digraph <ae>/<oe> does not result from the Greek-style ligature: for example,
maelstrom, toe. British aeroplane is an instance (compare other aero- words such as
aerosol). The now chiefly North American airplane is not a respelling but a recoining,
modelled on airship and aircraft. Airplane dates from 1907, at which time aero- was
trisyllabic, often written aëro-.
Commonwealth usage. In Canada, e is usually preferred over oe and often over ae as
well; in Australia and elsewhere, British usage prevails, but the spellings with just e are
increasingly used. Manoeuvre is the only spelling in Australia and the most common
one in Canada, where maneuver and manoeuver are also sometimes found. In Canada,
oe and ae are used occasionally in the academic and science communities.
Internationally, the American spelling is closer to the usage in a number of other
languages using the Latin alphabet; for instance, almost all Romance languages (which
tend to have more phonemic spelling) lack the ae and oe spellings (a notable exception is
French), as do Swedish, Polish, and others, while Dutch uses them ("ae" is rare and "oe"
is the normal representation of the sound IPA: [u], while written "u" represents either the
sound y or ʏ in IPA). Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and some other languages retain the
original ligatures. German, through umlauts, retains its equivalent of the ligature, for
when written without the umlaut, words resemble the British usage (i.e. ä becomes ae
and ö becomes oe). Similarly, Hungarian uses "é" as a replacement for "ae" (although it
becomes "e" sometimes), and the special character "ő" (sometimes "ö") for "oe".
Compounds and hyphens
British English often prefers hyphenated compounds, such as counter-attack, whereas
American English discourages the use of hyphens in compounds where there is no
compelling reason, so counterattack is much more common. Many dictionaries do not
point out such differences. Canadian and Australian usage is mixed, although
Commonwealth writers generally hyphenate compounds of the form noun plus phrase
(such as editor-in-chief).
any more or anymore: In sense "any longer", the single-word form is usual in
North America and Australia but unusual in the UK, at least in formal writing.
Other senses always have the two-word form; thus Americans distinguish "I
couldn't love you anymore [so I left you]" from "I couldn't love you any more
[than I already do]".
for ever or forever: Traditional British usage makes a distinction between for
ever, meaning for eternity (or a very long time), as in "I have been waiting for you
for ever"; and forever, meaning continually, always, as in "They are forever
arguing". In contemporary British usage, however, forever prevails in the "for
eternity" sense as well, in spite of several style guides maintaining the
distinction. American writers usually use forever in all senses.
near by or nearby: Some British writers make the distinction between the
adverbial near by, which is written as two words, as in, "No one was near by";
and the adjectival nearby, which is written as one, as in, "The nearby house".
In American English the one-word spelling is standard for both forms.
Doubled in British English
The final consonant of an English word is sometimes doubled when adding a suffix
beginning with a vowel. Generally this occurs only when the word's final syllable ends
with a single vowel followed by a single consonant, and the syllable is stressed; but in
British English, a final -l is often doubled even when the final syllable is unstressed.
This exception is no longer usual in American English, apparently because of Noah
Webster. The -ll- spellings are nonetheless still regarded as acceptable variants by both
Merriam-Webster Collegiate and American Heritage dictionaries.
The British English doubling is required for all inflections (-ed, -ing, -er, -est) and
for noun suffixes -er, -or. Therefore, British counsellor, cruellest, modelling,
quarrelled, signalling, traveller; American usually counselor, cruelest, modeling,
quarreled, signaling, traveler.
o parallel keeps a single -l- in British English, as in American English
(paralleling, unparalleled), to avoid a cluster -llell-.
o Words with two vowels before l are covered where the first either acts as a
consonant (Br equalling, initialled; US usually equaling, initialed) or
belongs to a separate syllable (Br fu•el•ling, di•alled; US usually fu•el•ing
The distinction applies to victualler/victualer in spite of the
irregular pronunciation IPA: /ˈv ɪtlə(ɹ)/
British woollen is a further exception (US woolen); also, wooly is
accepted in America though woolly dominates in both.
Endings -ize/-ise, -ism, -ist, -ish usually do not double the l in British English:
normalise, dualism, novelist, devilish
o Exceptions: tranquillise; duellist, medallist, panellist, sometimes triallist
For -ous, British English has a single l in scandalous and perilous, but two in
marvellous and libellous.
For -ee, British English has libellee.
For -age British English has pupillage but vassalage.
American English has unstressed -ll-, as in the UK, in some words where the root
has -l. These are cases where the alteration occurs in the source language, often
Latin. (Examples: bimetallism, cancellation, chancellor, crystallize, excellent,
But both dialects have compelled, excelling, propelled, rebelling (notice the stress
difference); revealing, fooling (double vowel before the l); hurling (consonant
before the l).
Canadian and Australian English largely follow British usage.
Among consonants other than l, practice varies for some words, such as where the final
syllable has secondary stress or an unreduced vowel. In the US, the spellings kidnaped
and worshiped, introduced by the Chicago Tribune in the 1920s, are common
alongside kidnapped and worshipped, the only standard British spellings.
British calliper or caliper; American caliper.
British jewellery; American jewelry. The standard pronunciations (UK IPA:
/ˈd ʒuː(ə)lri/, US IPA: /ˈd ʒu(ə)lri/) do not reflect this difference. According
to Fowler, jewelry used to be the "rhetorical and poetic" spelling in the UK.
Canada has both, but jewellery is most used. Likewise, Commonwealth (including
Canada) has jeweller and US has jeweler for a jewel(le)ry retailer.
Doubled in American English
Conversely, there are words where British writers prefer a single l and Americans usually
use a double l. These include wil(l)ful, skil(l)ful, thral(l)dom, appal(l), fulfil(l),
fulfil(l)ment, enrol(l)ment, instal(l)ment. In the UK ll is used occasionally in distil(l),
instil(l), enrol(l) and enthral(l)ment, and often in enthral(l). Former spellings instal,
fulness, and dulness are now rare. The Scottish tolbooth is cognate with toll booth, but
has a specific distinct sense.
The preceding words have monosyllabic cognates always written with -ll: will, skill,
thrall, pall, fill, roll, stall, still. Comparable cases where a single l occurs in American
English include full→useful, handful; all→almighty, altogether; null→annul, annulment;
till→until; well→welfare, welcome; chill→chilblain; and others where the connection is
less transparent. Note that British fulfil and American fulfill are never fullfill or fullfil.
Dr Johnson wavered on this issue; his dictionary of 1755 lemmatizes distil and instill,
downhil and uphill.
British English sometimes keeps silent e when adding suffixes where American English
British prefers ageing, American usually aging (compare raging, ageism). UK
often routeing; US usually routing (for route; rout makes routing everywhere).
Both systems retain the silent e in dyeing, singeing, swingeing, to distinguish from
dying, singing, swinging. In contrast, bathe and the British bath both form
bathing. UK often whingeing, US less so; whinge is chiefly British. Both systems
vary for tinge and twinge; both prefer cringing, hinging, lunging, syringing.
Before -able, UK prefers likeable, liveable, rateable, saleable, sizeable,
unshakeable, where US prefers to drop the -e; but UK as US prefers
breathable, curable, datable, lovable, movable, notable, provable, quotable,
scalable, solvable, usable, and those where the root is polysyllabic, like
believable or decidable. Both systems retain the silent e when necessary to
preserve a soft c, ch, or g, as in traceable, cacheable, changeable; both retain e
after -dge, as in knowledgeable, unbridgeable.
Both abridgment and the more regular abridgement are current in the US, only the
latter in the UK. Similarly for lodg(e)ment. Both judgment and judgement can
be found everywhere, although the former strongly prevails in the US and the
latter prevails in the UK except in law, where judgment is standard. Similarly
for abridgment. Both prefer fledgling to fledgeling, but ridgeling to ridgling.
The informal Briticisms moreish (causing a desire for more of something) and
blokeish usually retain e; more established words like slavish and bluish
usually do not.
Different spellings, different connotations
artefact or artifact: In British usage, artefact is the main spelling and artifact a
minor variant. In American English, artifact is the usual spelling. Canadians
prefer artifact and Australians artefact, according to their respective
dependant or dependent: British dictionaries distinguish between dependent
(adjective) and dependant (noun). In the US, dependent is usual for both noun and
adjective, notwithstanding that dependant is also an acceptable variant for the
noun form in the US.
disc or disk: Traditionally, disc used to be British and disk American. Both
spellings are etymologically sound (Greek diskos, Latin discus), although disk is
earlier. In computing, disc is used for optical discs (e.g. a CD, Compact Disc;
DVD, Digital Versatile/Video Disc) while disk is used for products using
magnetic storage (e.g. floppy disk and hard disk; short for diskette). For this
limited application, these spellings are used in both the US and the
enquiry or inquiry: According to Fowler, inquiry should be used in relation to
a formal inquest, and enquiry to the act of questioning. Many (though not all)
British writers maintain this distinction; the OED, on the other hand, lists inquiry
and enquiry as equal alternatives, in that order. Some British dictionaries, such as
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary , present the two spellings as
interchangeable variants in the general sense, but prefer inquiry for the "formal
inquest" sense. In the US, only inquiry is commonly used. In Australia, inquiry
and enquiry are often interchangeable, but inquiry prevails in writing. Both are
current in Canada, where enquiry is often associated with scholarly or intellectual
ensure or insure: In the UK (and Australia), the word ensure (to make sure, to
make certain) has a distinct meaning from the word insure (often followed by
against – to guarantee or protect against, typically by means of an "insurance
policy"). The distinction is only about a century old, and this helps explain why
in (North) America ensure is just a variant of insure, more often than not.
According to Merriam-Webster's usage notes, ensure and insure "are
interchangeable in many contexts where they indicate the making certain or
[making] inevitable of an outcome, but ensure may imply a virtual guarantee <the
government has ensured the safety of the refugees>, while insure sometimes
stresses the taking of necessary measures beforehand <careful planning should
insure the success of the party>
matt or matte: In the UK, matt refers to a non-glossy surface, and matte to the
motion-picture technique; in the US, matte covers both.
programme or program: The British programme is a 19th-century French version
of program. Program first appeared in Scotland in the 17th century and is the
only spelling found in the US. The OED entry, written around 1908 and listing
both spellings, said program was preferable, since it conformed to the usual
representation of the Greek as in anagram, diagram, telegram etc. In British
English, program is the common spelling for computer programs, but for other
meanings programme is used. In Australia, program has been endorsed by
government style for all senses since the 1960s, although programme is also
distinction between it and programme; many Canadian government documents
use programme in all senses of the word also to match the spelling of the French
tonne or ton: in the UK, the spelling tonne refers to 1000 kg, the unit of mass
usually known as the metric ton in the US; the short ton and the long ton are
always thus spelled; unqualified ton usually refers to the long ton in the UK and
to the short ton in the US.
Compare also meter/metre, for which an older English written distinction between
etymologically related forms with different meanings once existed, but was obviated in
the regularization of American spellings.
Acronyms and abbreviations
Proper names formed as proper acronyms are often rendered in title case by
Commonwealth writers, but usually as upper case by Americans: for example, Nasa /
NASA or Unicef / UNICEF. This does not apply to most initialisms, such as USA or
HTML; though it is occasionally done for some, such as Pc (Police Constable).
Contractions, where the final letter is present, are often written in British English without
stops/periods (Mr, Mrs, Dr, St). Abbreviations where the final letter is not present
generally do take stops/periods (such as vol., etc., ed.); British English shares this
convention with French: Mlle, Mme, Dr, Ste, but M. for Monsieur. In American and
Canadian English, abbreviations like St., Mr., Mrs., and Dr. always require stops/periods.
Miscellaneous spelling differences
UK US Remarks
adze adze, adz
annexe annex To annex is the verb in both British and American usage;
however, when speaking of an annex(e) – the noun referring to
an extension of a main building, not military conquest, which
would be annexation – , it is usually spelled with an -e at the
end in the UK, but in the US it is not.
axe ax, axe Both noun and verb. The two-letter form is more
etymologically conservative (the word comes from Old
camomile, chamomile, In the UK, according to the OED, "the spelling cha- is chiefly
chamomile camomile in pharmacy, after Latin; that with ca- is literary and popular".
In the US chamomile dominates in all senses.
cheque check In banking. Hence pay cheque and paycheck. Accordingly, the
North American term for what is elsewhere known as a current
account or cheque account is spelled chequing account in
Canada and checking account in the US. Some US financial
institutions, notably American Express, prefer cheque.
chequer checker As in chequerboard/checkerboard, chequered/checkered flag,
etc. Canada as US. While "checker" is more common in the
US, "exchequer" is commonly used.
cosy cozy In all senses (adjective, noun, verb).
doughnut doughnut, In the US, both are used with donut indicated as a variant of
donut doughnut. In the UK, donut is indicated as a US variant for
draught draft The UK usually uses draft for all senses as a verb; for a
preliminary version of a document; for an order of payment
(bank draft), and for military conscription (although this last
meaning is not as common as in American English). It uses
draught for drink from a cask (draught beer); for animals used
for pulling heavy loads (draught horse); for a current of air; for
a ship's minimum depth of water to float; and for the game
draughts, known as checkers in the US. It uses either draught
or draft for a plan or sketch (but almost always draughtsman in
this sense; a draftsman drafts legal documents). The US uses
draft in all these cases (although in regard to drinks, draught is
sometimes found). Canada uses both systems; in Australia,
draft is used for technical drawings, is accepted for the
"current of air" meaning, and is preferred by professionals in
the nautical sense. The pronunciation is always the same for
all meanings within a dialect (RP /drɑ:ft/, General American
/dræft/). The spelling draught is older; draft appeared first in
the late 16th century.
gauntlet gauntlet, When meaning "ordeal", in the phrase running the ga(u)ntlet,
gantlet some American style guides favor gantlet. This spelling is
unused in Britain and less usual in America than gauntlet.
The word is an alteration of earlier gantlope by folk etymology
with gauntlet ("armored glove"), always spelled thus.
glycerine Scientists use the term glycerol.
grey gray Grey became the established British spelling in the 20th
century, pace Dr. Johnson and others, and is but a minor
variant in American English, according to dictionaries.
Canadians tend to prefer grey. Non-cognate greyhound is
never grayhound. Both Grey and Gray are found in proper
jail, gaol jail In the UK, gaol and gaoler are used, apart from literary usage,
chiefly to describe a Medieval building and guard.
kerb curb For the noun designating the edge of a roadway (or the edge of
a [UK] pavement/[US] sidewalk/[Australia] footpath). Curb is
the older spelling, and in the UK as in the US is still the proper
spelling for the verb meaning restrain. Canada as US.
liquorice licorice Licorice prevails in Canada and is common in Australia, but is
rarely found in the UK; liquorice, which has a folk etymology
cognate with liquor, is all but nonexistent in the US.
("chiefly British", according to dictionaries).
mollusc The related adjective is normally molluscan in both.
In all senses of the word. In Canada both have wide
omelette omelet, Omelette prevails in Canada and Australia. The shorter
omelette spelling is older, despite the etymology (French omelette).
Originally an Americanism, this word made its appearance in
Britain during the Phoney War.
Pronounced /-'dʒɑːməz/ in the UK, /-'dʒɑməz/ or /-'dʒæməz/
in the US. Canada has both.
per cent percent
plough plow Both date back to Middle English; the OED records several
dozen variants. In the UK, plough has been the standard
spelling for about three centuries. Although plow was
Webster's pick, plough continued to have currency in the US,
as the entry in Webster's Third (1961) implies; newer
dictionaries label plough "chiefly British". The word
snowplough/snowplow, originally an Americanism, predates
Webster's reform and was first recorded as snow plough.
Canada has both plough and plow, although snowplough is
much rarer than snowplow.
rack and wrack and Several words "rack" and "wrack" have been conflated, with
ruin ruin both spellings thus accepted as variants for senses connected to
torture (orig. rack) and ruin (orig. wrack, cf. wreck) In
"(w)rack and ruin", the W-less variant is now prevalent in the
UK but not the US.
sceptic (-al, skeptic (-al, The American spelling, akin to Greek, preferred by Fowler,
-ism) -ism) and used by many Canadians, is the earlier form. Sceptic
also pre-dates the settlement of the US and follows the French
sceptique and Latin scepticus. In the mid-18th century Dr
Johnson's dictionary listed skeptic without comment or
alternative but this form has never been popular in the UK;
sceptic, an equal variant in Webster's Third (1961), has now
become "chiefly British". Australians generally follow British
usage. All are pronounced with a hard "c" though in French the
letter is silent and is pronounced like septique.
storey story Level of a building. Note also the differing plural, storeys vs
sulphur sulphur, Sulfur is the international standard in the sciences (IUPAC),
sulfur and is supported by the UK's RSC. Sulphur was preferred
by Johnson, is still used by British and Irish scientists and is
still actively taught in British and Irish schools, prevails in
Canada and Australia, and is also found in some American
place names (e.g., Sulphur Springs, Texas and Sulphur,
Louisiana). AmE usage guides suggest sulfur for technical
usage, and both sulphur and sulfur in common usage.
tyre tire The outer lining of a wheel, which contacts the road or rail and
may be metal or rubber. Canada as US. Tire is the older
spelling, but both were used in the 15th and 16th centuries (for
a metal tire); tire became the settled spelling in the 17th
century but tyre was revived in the UK in the 19th century for
pneumatic tyres, possibly because it was used in some patent
documents, though many continued to use tire for the iron
variety. The Times newspaper was still using tire as late as
vice vise The two-jaw tool. Americans (and Canadians) retain a
medieval distinction between vise (the tool) and vice (the sin
and the Latin prefix meaning "deputy"), both of which are vice
in the UK (and Australia).
yoghurt, yogurt Yoghurt is an also-ran in the US, as yoghourt is in the UK.
yogurt Although Oxford Dictionaries have always preferred yogurt, in
current British usage yoghurt seems to be preferred. In Canada
yogurt prevails, despite the Canadian Oxford preferring
yogourt, which has the advantage of being bilingual, English
and French. Australia as the UK. Whatever the spelling, the
word has different pronunciations in the UK /jɒ-/ (or /jəʊ-/)
and the US. /joʊ-/. Australia as US with regard to
pronunciation. The word comes from the Turkish yoğurt.;
the voiced velar fricative represented by in the modern
Turkish (Latin) alphabet was traditionally written gh in
romanizations of the Ottoman Turkish (Arabic) alphabet used
Full stops/Periods in abbreviations: Americans tend to write Mr., Mrs., St., Dr.,
while British will most often write Mr, Mrs, St, Dr, following the rule that a full
stop is used only when the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the
complete word; this kind of abbreviation is known as a contraction in the UK.
Many British writers would tend to write other abbreviations without a full stop,
such as Prof, etc, eg, and so forth (as recommended by OED). The 'American'
usage of periods after most abbreviations can also be found in the UK although
publications generally tend to eschew the extreme use of punctuation found in US
publications. Unit symbols such as kg and Hz are never punctuated.
It is sometimes believed that BrE does not hyphenate multiple-word
adjectives (e.g. "a first class ticket"). The most common form is as in AmE ("a
first-class ticket"), but some British writers omit the hyphen when no ambiguity
Quoting: Americans start with double quotation marks (") and use single
quotation marks (') for quotations within quotations. In BrE usage varies, with
some authoritative sources such as The Economist recommending the same usage
as in the U.S., while the opposite is often used in more formal circumstances
such as book publishing. In journals and newspapers, quotation mark
double/single use depends on the individual publication's house style.
Contents of quotations: Americans are taught to put commas and periods inside
quotation marks (except for question marks and exclamation points that apply to a
sentence as a whole), whereas British people will put the punctuation inside if it
belongs 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
o Carefree means "free from care or anxiety." (American style)
o Carefree means "free from care or anxiety". (British style)
o "Hello, world," I said. (Both styles)
The American style was established for typographical reasons, a historical
holdover from the days of the handset printing press. It also eliminates the need to
decide whether a period or comma belongs to the quotation. However,
many people find the usage counterintuitive. Hart's Rules and the Oxford
Dictionary for Writers and Editors call the British style "new" or "logical"
quoting; it is similar to the use of quotation marks in many other languages
(including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Dutch, and German). For
this reason, the more "logical" British style is increasingly used in America,
although formal writing still generally calls for the "American" style. In fact, the
British style is often the de facto standard among Americans for whom formal or
professional writing is not a part of their daily life; many are in fact unaware that
the normative American usage is to place commas and periods within the
quotation marks. (This rule of placing all punctuation inside quotation
if and only if it belongs to the quotation is expressly prescribed by some
American professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society; see
ACS Style Guide.) According to the Jargon File, American hackers have switched
to using "logical" British quotation system, because including extraneous
punctuation in a quotation can sometimes change the fundamental meaning of the
quotation. More generally, it is difficult for computer manuals, online
instructions, and other textual media to accurately quote exactly what a computer
user should see or type on their computer if they follow American punctuation
In both countries, the "British" style is used for quotation around parentheses, so
in both nations one would write:
"I am going to the store. (I hope it is still open.)"
"I am going to the store (if it is still open)."
Letter-writing: American students in some areas have been taught to write a
colon after the greeting in business letters ("Dear Sir:") while British people
usually write a comma ("Dear Sir,") or make use of the so-called open
punctuation ("Dear Sir"). However, this practice is not consistent throughout the
United States, and it would be regarded as a highly formal usage by
Titles and headlines
Use of capitalization varies.
Sometimes, the words in titles of publications, 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 capitalized, along with proper nouns,
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
capitalize 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, News of the World)
use fully capitalized 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 capitalized.
Dates are usually written differently in the short (numerical) form. Christmas Day 2000,
for example, is 25/12/00 or 25.12.00 (dashes are occasionally used) 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.
A consequence of the different short-form of dates is that in the UK many people would
be reluctant to refer to "9/11", although its meaning would be instantly understood. On
the BBC, "September the 11th" is generally used in preference to 9/11. However, 9/11 is
commonplace in the British press to refer specifically to the events of September 11,
Phrases such as the following are common in Britain and Ireland but are generally
unknown in the U.S: "A week today", "a week tomorrow", "a week on Tuesday", "a week
Tuesday", "Tuesday week" (this is found in central Texas), "Friday fortnight", "a
fortnight on Friday" and "a fortnight Friday" (these latter referring to two weeks after
"next Friday"). 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" instead of
The 24-hour clock (18:00 or 1800), which, in the UK, is considered normal in many
applications (for example, air/rail/bus timetables), is largely unused in the US outside of
military, police, or medical applications.
Differences in pronunciation between American English (AmE) and British English
(BrE) can be divided into:
differences in accent (i.e. phoneme inventory and realisation). Accents vary
widely within AmE and within BrE, so the features considered here are mainly
differences between General American (GAm) and British Received
Pronunciation (RP); for information about other accents see regional accents of
differences in the pronunciation of individual words in the lexicon (i.e. phoneme
distribution). In this article, transcriptions use RP to represent BrE and GAm and
to represent AmE.
In the following discussion
superscript A2 after a word indicates the BrE pronunciation of the word is a
common variant in AmE
superscript B2 after a word indicates the AmE pronunciation of the word is a
common variant in BrE
GAm is rhotic while RP is non-rhotic; that is, the letter r is only pronounced in
RP when it is immediately followed by a vowel sound (unless it's silent). Where
GAm has /r/ before a consonant, RP either has nothing (if the preceding vowel is
/ɔː/ or /ɑː/, as in bore and bar) or has a schwa instead (the resulting sequences
are diphthongs or triphthongs). Similarly, where GAm has r-coloured vowels (/ɚ/
or /ɝ/, as in cupboard or bird), RP has plain vowels /ə/ or /ɜː/. However many
British accents, especially in Scotland and the West Country, are rhotic, and some
American accents, such as the traditional Boston accent, are non-rhotic.
The "intrusive R" of many RP speakers (in such sequences as "the idea-r-
of it") is absent in GAm; this is a consequence of the rhotic/non-rhotic
GAm has fewer vowel distinctions before intervocalic /r/ than RP; for many GAm
speakers, unlike RP, merry, marry and Mary are homophones; mirror rhymes
with nearer, and furry rhymes with hurry. However, some eastern American
accents, such as the Boston accent, have the same distinctions as in RP.
For some RP speakers (upper class), unlike in GAm, some or all of tire, tower,
and tar are homophones; this reflects the merger of the relevant vowels; similarly
the pour-poor merger is common in RP but not in GAm.
RP has three open back vowels, where GAm has only two or even one. Most
GAm speakers use the same vowel for RP "short O" /ɒ/ as for RP "broad A" /ɑː/
(the father-bother merger); many also use the same vowel for these as for RP
/ɔː/ (the cot-caught merger).
For Americans without the cot-caught merger, the lot-cloth split results in /ɔː/ in
some words which now have /ɒ/ in RP; as reflected in the eye dialect spelling
"dawg" for dog.
The trap-bath split has resulted in RP having "broad A" /ɑː/ where GAm has
"short A" /æ/, in most words where A is followed by either /n/ followed by
another consonant, or /s/, /f/, or /θ/ (e.g. plant, pass, laugh, path). However, many
British accents, such as most Northern English accents, agree with GAm in
having short A in these words, although it is usually phonetically [a] rather than
RP has a marked degree of contrast of length between "short" and "long" vowels
(The long vowels being the diphthongs, and /iː/, /uː/, /ɜː/, /ɔː/, /ɑː/). In
GAm this contrast is much less evident, and the IPA length symbol (ː) is often
The "long O" vowel (as in boat) is realised differently: GAm pure [oː] or
diphthongized [oʊ]; RP central first element[əʊ]. However there is considerable
variation in this vowel on both sides of the Atlantic.
The distinction between unstressed /ɪ/ and /ə/ (e.g. roses vs Rosa's) is often lost
in GAm. In RP it is retained, in part because it helps avoid nonrhotic
homophones; e.g. batted vs battered as /'bætɪd/ vs /'bætəd/. It is, however, lost
in Australian English (which is also non-rhotic) meaning both words are
pronounced the same, unlike American or British English.
Where GAm has /iː/ in an unstressed syllable at the end of a morpheme,
conservative RP has /ɪ/, not having undergone happY tensing. This distinction is
retained in inflected forms (e.g. candied and candid are homophones in RP, but
not in GAm).
In GAm, flapping is common: when either a /t/ or a /d/ occurs between a sonorant
phoneme and an unstressed vowel phoneme, it is realized as an alveolar-flap
allophone [ɾ]. This sounds like a /d/ to RP speakers, although many GAm
speakers distinguish the two phonemes by aspirating /t/ in this environment,
especially after /ɪ/ or /eɪ/ (thus bitter and rated are distinguishable from bidder
and raided), or by lengthening the vowel preceding an underlying /d/. [ɾ] is an
allophone of /r/ in conservative RP, which is hence caricatured in America as a
"veddy British" accent.
Yod-dropping occurs in GAm after all alveolar consonants, including /t/, /d/, /θ/,
/s/, /z/, /n/, /l/; i.e. historic /juː/ (from spellings u, ue, eu, ew), is pronounced
/uː/ in a stressed syllable. In contrast, RP speakers:
o always retain /j/ after /n/: e.g. new is RP /njuː/, GAm /nuː/;
o retain or coalesce it after /t/, /d/: e.g. due is RP /djuː/ or /dʒuː/, GAm
o retain or drop it after /θ/, /l/: e.g. allude is RP /ə'ljuːd/ or (as GAm)
o retain, coalesce or drop it after /s/, /z/: e.g. assume is RP /ə'sjuːm/ or
/ə'ʃuːm/, or (as GAm) /ə'suːm/;
In some words where /j/ has been coalesced in GAm, it may be
retained in RP: e.g. issue is RP /'ɪsjuː/ or (as GAm) /'ɪʃuː/
For many loanwords from French where AmE has final-syllable stress, BrE stresses an
earlier syllable. Such words include:
BrE first-syllable stress: adultA2,B2, balletA2, baton, beret, bidet, blasé, brevetA2,
brochureB2, buffet, caféA2, canardB2, chagrin, chaletA2, chauffeurA2,B2, chiffon,
clichéB2, coupé, croissant, debrisB2, debut, décor, detailA2, détenteB2, flambé,
frappé, garageB2, gateau, gourmetA2, lamé, montageA2, parquet, pastel, pastille,
pâté, précis, sachet, salon, soupçon, vaccine; matinée, négligée, nonchalant,
nondescript; also some French names, including BernardB2, Calais, Degas, Dijon,
Dumas, Francoise, ManetA2, Maurice, MonetA2, Pauline, Renault, RenéB2, Renoir,
BrE second-syllable stress: attaché, consommé, décolleté, déclassé, De Beauvoir,
Debussy, démodé, denouement, distingué, Dubonnet, escargot, fiancé(e),
A few French words have other stress differences:
AmE first-syllable, BrE last-syllable: addressA2 (postal), m(o)ustacheA2;
cigaretteA2, limousineB2, magazineB2,
AmE first-syllable, BrE second-syllable: exposéB2, liaisonA2, macramé,
AmE second-syllable, BrE last-syllable: New Orleans
-ate and -atory
Most 2-syllable verbs ending -ate have first-syllable stress in AmE and second-syllable
stress in BrE. This includes castrate, dictateA2, donateA2, locateA2, mandateB2, migrate,
placate, prostrate, pulsate, rotate, serrateB2, spectate, striated, translateA2, vacate,
vibrate; in the case of cremate, narrate, placate, the first vowel is in addition reduced to
/ə/ in BrE. Examples where AmE and BrE match include create, debate, equate, elate,
negate, orate, relate with second-syllable stress; and mandate and probate with first-
syllable stress. Derived nouns in -ator may retain the distinction, but those in -ation do
not. Also, migratoryA2 and vibratory retain the distinction.
Most longer -ate verbs are pronounced the same in AmE and BrE, but a few have first-
syllable stress in BrE and second-syllable stress in AmE: elongate, infiltrateA2,
remonstrate, tergiversate. However, some derived adjectives ending -atory have a
difference, as stress shifting to -at- can occur in BrE. Among these cases are
regulatoryB2, celebratoryA2, participatoryB2, where AmE stresses the same syllable as the
corresponding -ate verb; and compensatory, where AmE stresses the second syllable.
A further -atory difference is laboratory: AmE /'læbrɪˌt ri/ and BrE /lə'bɒrət(ə)riː/.
There are a number of cases where same-spelled noun, verb and/or adjective have
uniform stress in one dialect but distinct stress in the other (e.g. alternate, prospect): see
The following table lists words where the only difference between AmE and BrE is in
stress (possibly with a consequent reduction of the unstressed vowel). Words with other
points of difference are listed in a later table.
BrE AmE words with relevant syllable stressed in each dialect
1st 2nd caffeine, cannotA2, casein, Kathleen, SuezA2, communal, escalopeB2, harass,
omega, paprikaB2, patina, subaltern, stalactite, stalagmite, ThanksgivingB2,
transference, aristocratA2,B2, kilometerB2
2nd 1st defense (sport), guffawA2, ice creamA2,B2, guru, mama, papa, pretense,
princessA2,B2, weekendB2, Canton, anginaA2, Augustine, Bushido, Ghanaian,
LofotenB2, marshmallow, patronal, spread-eagle, controversy, formidableB2,
hospitableB2, miscellany, predicative, saxophonistB2, submariner, ancillary,
capillary, catenary, corollary, fritillary, medullary
1st 3rd ParmesanB2, partisan, premature, opportune, carburet(t)or
3rd 1st margarine, PyreneesB2, cockatoo
2nd 3rd advertisement
3rd 2nd arytenoidA2, oregano, obscurantist
-ary -ery -ory -bury, -berry, -mony
Where the syllable preceding -ary,-ery or -ory is stressed, AmE and BrE alike pronounce
all these endings /əri(ː)/. Where the preceding syllable is unstressed, however, AmE has
a full vowel rather than schwa: /ɛri/ for -ary and -ery and /ɔri/ for -ory. BrE retains the
reduced vowel /əriː/, or even elides it completely to /riː/. (The elision is avoided in
carefully enunciated speech, especially with endings -rary,-rery,-rory.) So military is
AmE /'mɪlɪtɛriː/ and BrE /'mɪlɪtəriː/ or /'mɪlɪtriː/.
Note that stress differences occur with ending -atory (explained above) and a few others
like capillary (included above). A few words have the full vowel in AmE in the ending
even though the preceding syllable is stressed: library, primaryA2, rosemary.
Pronouncing library as /'laɪbɛri/ rather than /'laɪbrɛri/ is highly stigmatized in AmE,
whereas in BrE, /'laɪbriː/ is common in rapid or casual speech.
Formerly the BrE-AmE distinction for adjectives carried over to corresponding adverbs
ending -arily, -erily or -orily. However, nowadays most BrE speakers adopt the AmE
practice of shifting the stress to the antepenultimate syllable: militarily is thus
/ˌmɪlɪ'tɛrɪliː/ rather than /'mɪlɪtrɪliː/.
The placename component -bury (e.g. Canterbury) has a similar difference after a
stressed syllable: AmE /bɛri/ and BrE /brɪː/ or /bərɪː/. The ending -mony after a
stressed syllable is AmE /moʊni/ but BrE /mənɪː/. The word -berry in compounds has
a slightly different distinction: in BrE, it is reduced (/bəriː/ or /briː/) after a stressed
syllable, and may be full /bɛriː/ after an unstressed syllable; in AmE it is usually full in
all cases. Thus, strawberry is BrE /'strɔːbəriː/ but AmE /'strɔbɛri/, while
whortleberry is BrE /'wɔːtlbɛriː/ and similarly AmE /'wɔrtlbɛri/.
Words ending in unstressed -ile derived from Latin adjectives ending -ilis are mostly
pronounced with a full vowel (/aɪl/) in BrE but a reduced vowel /ɪl/ or syllabic /l/ in
AmE (e.g. fertile rhymes with fur tile in BrE but with turtle in AmE). This difference
generally to agile, docile, facile, fertile, fissile, fragile, futile, infertile, missile,
nubile, octile, puerile, rutile, servile, stabile, sterile, tactile, tensile, virile,
usually to ductile, hostile, (im)mobile (adjective), projectile, textile, utile,
not usually to decile, domicile, infantile, juvenile, labile, mercantile, pensile,
not to crocodile, exile, gentile, percentile, reconcile; nor to compounds of
monosyllables (e.g. turnstile from stile).
Related endings -ility, -ilize, -iliary are pronounced the same in AmE as BrE. The name
Savile is pronounced with (/ɪl/) in both BrE and AmE. Mobile (sculpture), camomile and
febrile are sometimes pronounced with /il/ in AmE and /aɪl/) in BrE. Imbecile has /aɪl/ or
/iːl/ in BrE and often /ɪl/ in AmE.
The suffix -ine, when unstressed, is pronounced sometimes /aɪn/ (e.g. feline), sometimes
/i(ː)n/ (e.g. morphine) and sometimes /ɪn/ (e.g. medicine). Some words have variable
pronunciation within BrE, or within AmE, or between BrE and AmE. Generally, AmE is
more likely to favour /in/ or /ɪn/, and BrE to favour /aɪn/: e.g. adamantineA2, carbine,
crystallineA2, labyrinthine, philistine, serpentineA2, turbineA2. However, sometimes AmE
has /aɪn/ where BrE has /iːn/; e.g. iodineB2, strychnineA2.
Some function words have a weak form in AmE, with a reduced vowel used when the
word is unstressed, but always use the full vowel in RP. These include: or [ɚ]; you [jə];
On the other hand, the titles Saint and Sir before a person's name have "weak forms" in
BrE but not AmE: before vowels, [snt] and [sər]; before consonants, [sn] and [sə].
Miscellaneous pronunciation differences
These tables list words pronounced differently but spelled the same.
Words with multiple points of difference of pronunciation are in the table after this one.
Accent-based differences are ignored. For example, Moscow is RP /'mɒskəʊ/ and GAm
/'mɑskaʊ/, but only the /əʊ/-/aʊ/ difference is highlighted here, since the /ɒ/-/ɑ/
difference is predictable from the accent. Also, tiara is listed with AmE /æ/; the marry-
merry-Mary merger changes this vowel for many Americans. Some AmE types are listed
as /ɒ/ where GAm merges to /ɑ/.
BrE AmE Words
annato, Bangladesh , Caracas, chiantiA2, Galapagos, GdańskA2,
grappaA2, gulagA2, HanoiA2, JanA2 (male name, e.g. Jan Palach),
KantA2, kebab, Las (placenames, e.g. Las Vegas), Mafia,
mishmashA2, MombasaA2, Natasha, Nissan, Pablo, pasta, PicassoA2,
ralentando, SanA2 (names outside USA; e.g. San Juan), SlovakA2,
Sri LankaA2, Vivaldi, wigwamA2, YasserA2 (and A in many other
foreign names and loanwords)
/iː/ /ɛ/ aesthete, anaesthetize, breveA2, catenaryA2, Daedalus,
devolutionA2,B2, ecumenicalB2, epochA2, evolutionA2,B2, febrileA2,
Hephaestus, KenyaB2, leverA2, methane, OedipusA2, (o)estrus,
penalizeA2, predecessorA2, pyrethrinA2, senileA2, hygienic
/ɒ/ /oʊ/ Aeroflot, compost, homosexualB2, Interpol, Lod, pogrom, polkaB2,
produce (noun), Rosh Hashanah, sconeA2,B2, shone, sojourn, trollB2,
/ɑː/ /æ/ (Excluding trap-bath split words) banana, javaA2, khakiA2, morale,
NevadaA2, scenarioA2, sopranoA2, tiaraA2, Pakistani
/ɛ/ /i/ CecilA2,B2, crematoriumA2, cretin, depot, inherentA2,B2, leisureA2,
medievalA2, reconnoitreA2, zebraB2, zenithA2,B2
/æ/ /eɪ/ compatriot, patriotB2, patronise, phalanx, plait, repatriate, Sabine,
satrapA2, satyrA2, basilA2 (plant)
/ɪ/ /aɪ/ dynasty, housewifery, idyll, livelongA2, long-livedA2, privacyB2,
simultaneous, vitamin. Also the suffix -ization.
/z/ /s/ AussieA2, blouse, complaisantA2, crescent, erase, GlasgowA2, parse,
valise, trans-A2,B2 (in some words)
/ɑː/ /eɪ/ amenA2, charadeB2, cicada, galaA2, promenadeA2, pro rata, tomato,
/əʊ/ /ɒ/ codify, goffer, ogleA2, phonetician, processor, progress (noun),
slothA2,B2, wont A2, wroth
/ʌ/ /ɒ/ accomplice, accomplish, colanderB2, constableB2, Lombardy,
/ɒ/ /ʌ/ hovelA2,B2, hover. Also the strong forms of these function words:
anybodyA2 (likewise every-, some-, and no-), becauseA2,B2 (and
clipping 'cos/'cause), ofA2, fromA2, wasA2, whatA2
(sounded) (silent) chthonic, herbA2 (plant), KnossosB2, phthisicB2, salve, solder
/ɑː/ /ɚ/ Berkeley, Berkshire, clerk, Derby, Hertford. (The only AmE word
with <er> = [ɑr] is sergeant).
/aɪ/ /i/ eitherA2,B2, neitherA2,B2, Pleiades.
/iː/ /aɪ/ albino, migraineB2. Also the prefixes anti-A2, multi-A2, semi-A2 in
loose compounds (e.g. in anti-establishment, but not in antibody).
/ə/ /ɒ/ hexagon, octagon, paragon, pentagon, phenomenon.
/iː/ /eɪ/ eta, beta, quayA2, theta, zeta
/aɪ/ /ɪ/ butylB2, diverge, minorityA2,B2, primer (schoolbook).
/ɛ/ /eɪ/ ateB2 ("et" is nonstandard in America), mêlée, chaise longue
/ɜːz/ /us/ Betelgeuse, chanteuse, chartreuseA2, masseuse
/eɪ/ /æ/ apricotA2, dahlia, digitalis, patentA2,B2, comrade
(silent) (sounded) medicineB2.
/ɒ/ /ə/ Amos, condom, Enoch
/ʃ/ /ʒ/ AsiaB2, PersiaB2, versionB2
/ə/ /oʊ/ borough, thorough
/ɪr/ /ɚ/ chirrupA2, stirrupA2, sirupA2, squirrel
/siː/ /ʃ/ cassia, CassiusA2, hessian
/tiː/ /ʃ/ consortium
/uː/ /ju/ couponA2, fuchsine, HoustonB2
/uː/ /ʊ/ boulevard, snooker, woofA2 (weaving)
/ɜː(r)/ /ʊr/ connoisseurA2, entrepreneurA2
/ɜː/ /oʊ/ föhnB2, MöbiusB2
/ə/ /eɪ/ DraconianA2, hurricaneB2
/eɪ/ /i/ deityA2,B2, Helene
/juː/ /w/ jaguar, Nicaragua
/ɔː/ /ɑ/ launch, saltB2
/ɔː(r)/ /ɚ/ record (noun), stridorA2,B2
/ziː/ /ʒ/ Frasier, Parisian, Malaysia
/æ/ /ɒ/ twatB2
/ɒ/ /æ/ wrath
/ɑː/ /ət/ nougat
/ɑː/ /ɔ/ Utah
/ɑː/ /ɔr/ quarkA2,B2
/æ/ /ɛ/ femme fataleA2
/aɪ/ /eɪ/ Isaiah
/aʊ/ /u/ nousA2
/ð/ /θ/ booth
/diː/ /dʒi/ cordiality
/dʒ/ /gdʒ/ suggestA2
/eɪ/ /ə/ template
/eɪ/ /ət/ tourniquet
/ə(r)/ /ɑr/ MadagascarA2
/ə(r)/ /jɚ/ figureA2 for the verb
/ɛ/ /ɑ/ envelopeA2,B2
/ɛ/ /ə/ Kentucky
/ə/ /æ/ trapeze
/ɜː(r)/ /ɛr/ errA2
/əʊ/ /ɒt/ Huguenot
/əʊ/ /aʊ/ MoscowA2
/əʊ/ /u/ broochA2
/ɪ/ /i/ pi(t)taB2
/iː/ /ɪ/ beenB2
/iːʃ/ /ɪtʃ/ nicheA2,B2
/jɜː/ /ju/ milieu
/juː/ /u/ barracuda
/ɔː/ /æ/ falconA2
/s/ /z/ asthma
/ʃ/ /sk/ scheduleB2
/t/ /θ/ AnthonyA2,B2
/ts/ /z/ piazzaA2
/ʊ/ /ɪ/ kümmel
/ʊ/ /ʌ/ brusque
/uː/ /aʊ/ routeA2
/uː/ /oʊ/ cantaloup(e)
/ʌ/ /oʊ/ covertA2,B2
/z/ /ʃ/ Dionysius
/ziː/ /ʃ/ transientA2, nausea
The slashes normally used to enclose IPA phonemic transcriptions have been omitted
from the following table to improve legibility.
Spelling BrE IPA AmE IPA Notes
barrage ˌbær. ːʒ
ɑ (1) bəˌr ʒ
ɑ The AmE pronunciations are
for distinct senses (1)
(2) ˌbær. dʒ
ɪ "sustained weapon-fire" vs (2)
"dam, barrier" (Compare
boehmite (1) ˌbɜːmaɪt (1) ˌbeɪmaɪt The first pronunciations
approximate German [ø]
(2) ˌbəʊmaɪt (2) ˌboʊmaɪt
(spelled <ö> or <oe>) ; the
second ones are anglicized.
bouquet 'buːkeɪ (1) boʊˌkeɪ
boyar (1) ˌbɔɪ.ɑː (1) boʊˌj r
(2) bəʊˌj ː
ɑ (2) ˌbɔɪ.jɚ
buoy ˌbɔɪ i
ˌbu. The U.S. pronunciation would
be unrecognised in the UK. The
British pronunciation occurs in
America, more commonly for
the verb than the noun, still
more in derivatives buoyant,
(1) ˌkæd.ə(r i
(2) ˌkæd.r (2) ˌkɑd.ri
(3) ˌkæd.re ɪ
canton kænˌtuːn (1) kænˌt n
ɑ difference is only in military
sense "to quarter soldiers"
dɪləˌtænt (1) ˌdɪləˌt nt
ɑ BrE reflects the word's Italian
origin; AmE approximates
(2) ˌd ɑ
ɪləˌt nt more to French.
enquiry/inquiry ɪŋˌkwaɪ.(ə)ri (1) ˌɪŋ.kwə.ri BrE uses two spellings and one
pronunciation. In AmE the
(2) ɪŋˌkwaɪ.(ə)ri word is usually spelled inquiry.
febrile 'fiːb.raɪl (1) ˌf b.ril
ɛ The BrE pronunciation occurs
(2) ˌf b.rəl
fracas ˌfrækɑː (1) 'freɪkəs The BrE plural is French fracas
/ˌfræk ɑːz/; the AmE plural
is anglicized fracases
garage (1) ˌgær dʒ
ɪ gəˌr (d)ʒ
ɑ The AmE reflects French stress
(2) ˌgær ːʒ
ɑ difference. The two BrE
pronunciations may represent
distinct meanings for some
speakers; for example, "a
subterranean garage for a car"
(1) vs "a petrol garage" (2).
(Compare barrage above.)
(1) ˌglæsi ˌgleɪʃɚ
jalousie (1) ʒælʊˌziː ˌdʒæləsi
lapsang ˌlæpsæŋ ˌl psɑŋ ˌsu
lasso ləˌsuː ˌlæsoʊ The BrE pronunciation is
common in AmE
lieutenant (1) lɛfˌt nənt
ɛ luˌt nənt
ɛ The 2nd British pronunciation
is restricted to the Royal Navy.
(2) ləˌt nənt
ɛ Standard Canadian
pronunciation is the same as the
lychee ˌla ʃiː
ɪˌt ˌlit i
ʃ Spelling litchi has
pronunciation /ˌl tʃi(ː)/
Molière ˌmɒl.i.ɛə moʊlˌj r
oblique əbˌli k
ː əbˌlaɪk AmE is as BrE except in
military sense "advance at an
penchant pãˌʃã ˌpɛntʃənt The AmE pronunciation is
anglicized; the BrE is French.
penult pɛˌnʌlt (1) ˌpinʌlt
premier (1) ˌpr mjə
ɛ (1) ˌprimɪr
(2) ˌpr mɪə
ɛ (2) prɪmˌɪr
première ˌpr mɪɛə
ɛ (1) prɪmˌɪr
(2) prɪmˌj r
provost ˌpr vəst
ɒ (1) ˌproʊvoʊst The BrE pronunciation also
occurs in AmE
quinine ˌkwɪniːn (1) ˌkwaɪnaɪn
resource (1) rɪˌz
respite ˌr spaɪt
ɛ (1) ˌr spət
ː ˌr vəli
slough slaʊ slu sense "bog"; in metaphorical
sense "gloom", the BrE
pronunciation is common in
AmE. Homograph "cast off
skin" is /slʌf/ everywhere.
Tunisia tjuːˌnɪziə (1) tuˌni ə
(2) tuˌni ə
untoward ˌʌn.tʊˌwɔːd (1) ʌnˌt rd
vase vɑːz (1) veɪs The BrE pronunciation also
occurs in AmE
z (the letter) zɛd ziː The spelling of this letter as a
word corresponds to the
usually, Canada) zed and U.S.
(and, occasionally, Canada)