If you’ve ever spoken with a British person or visited the United Kingdom, you’ve probably noticed that, although we’re speaking the same language, there are some pretty significant differences between American English and British English. The British colonization of America in the 17th century brought the English language to North America, although the language has since evolved into two separate dialects – American English and British English. When looking at these two dialects, you’ll see some significant differences in how they spell their words, the pronunciation that is used, and variances of grammar between them.
Apart from these differences, you’ll also find that some words have totally different meanings between the two versions of English. There are some words that one dialect may use that the other may not – for example, what Americans call an “apartment,” a British citizen would call a “flat.” Noah Webster set out to highlight these differences and prove that the United States spoke a different language than the British, resulting in what is now known as the American Directory. Although American English and British English share many similarities, you may find yourself confused by the difference in the meanings of some of the words.
The following is a list of common American English to British English translations (courtesy of the Georgia State University website):
American British Argument Row Baby carriage Pram Band-aid Plaster Bathroom Loo or WC Can Tin Chopped beef Mince Cookie Biscuit Corn Maize Diaper Nappy Elevator Lift Eraser Rubber Flashlight Torch Fries Chips Gas Petrol Guy Bloke or chap Highway Motorway Hood (car) Bonnet Jello Jelly Jelly Jam Kerosene Paraffin Lawyer Solicitor License plate Number plate Line Queue Mail Post Motor home Caravan Movie theater Cinema Muffler Silencer Napkin Serviette Nothing Nought Overpass Flyover Pacifier Dummy Pant Trouser Parking lot Car park Period Full stop Pharmacist Chemist Potato chips Crisps Sausage Banger Sidewalk Pavement Soccer Football Sweater Jumper Trash can Bin Truck Lorry Trunk (car) Boot Vacation Holiday Vest Waistcoat Windshield (car) Windscreen Zip code Postal code
In addition to these differences in vocabulary, there are several changes to grammatical rules as well. In British English, collective nouns can take either singular or plural verb forms, while this is not the case in American English. In American English, collective nouns are used in singular verb form using plural pronouns at times for agreement. For example, in British English, the irregular form of a verb is commonly used as in the words “learnt and spoilt”, while in American English, irregular verb forms are generally not used.
If you’re planning a trip to the United Kingdom in the near future, you might find it helpful to study some of these differences before leaving. Even if you aren’t familiar with British English, you’ll still be able to make yourself understood speaking American English – unlike traveling to a country that speaks Spanish or another foreign language. However, knowing these differences will help to minimize confusion while abroad, leading to a much more enjoyable travel experience.