American English & British English

Spelling Differences: British or American?

Spelling Differences: British or American English?

Section A

Standard Spellings

There are several sets of regular spelling difference that exist between British and American varieties of English.  Some are due to American innovations or to overt attempts at spelling regularisation (especially by Noah Webster in his 1086 dictionary).

Below is a list showing the major spelling difference.  This list, like any other list of words, is not complete and not every word that falls under the particular group is included.  We are advised to go on adding new sets of words as we continue learning.

British — American


…our —  …or…

colour  —  color

favour  —  favor

honour  —  honor

humour  —  humor

labour  —  labor

neighbour  —  neighbor

odour  —  odor

rumour  —  rumor

vapour  —  vapour

vigour  —  vigor

Exception: The words ending in ‘…or’ representing persons, e.g. emperor, governor, etc. are the same in both varieties.


ou…  —  …o

mould  —  mold

moult  —  molt

smoulder  —  smolder

Exception: the word ‘boulder’, a large stone or rock, is the same in both varieties.


…ae…/…oe…  —  …e…

aegis  —  egis (*aegis)

aesthetic  —  esthetic

anaesthetic  —  anesthetic

encyclopaedia  —  encyclopedia

haemoglobin  —  hemoglobin

haemorrhage  —  hemorrhage

mediaeval  —  medieval

amoeba  —  ameba

foetus  —  fetus

manoeuvre  —  maneuver

oesophagus  —  esophagus


en…  —  in…

encase  —  incase

enclose  —  inclose

endorse  —  indorse

enquire  —  inquire

ensure  —  insure

enure  —  inure

Exception: Words like, ‘envelope’, ‘incur’, etc. are used with the same spelling in both varieties. We are advised to be careful with words like ‘incase’ {consult a good dictionary, until the right pronunciation audio feature is added to this course material}.


…dgement  —  …dgment

abridgement  —  abridgment

acknowledgement  —  acknowledgment

judgement  —  judgment

British spelling is also possible in American English


…re  —  …er

centre —  center

fibre —  fiber

litre —  liter

metre —  meter

spectre —  specter

theatre —  theater

Exception: The word ‘meter’ is used with the same spelling in British English also for a device that measures and records amount of electricity, gas, water, etc.


…ce  —  …se

defence —  defense

licence (noun)  —  license (noun & verb)

offence —  offense

practice (noun)  —  practise or practice (noun)

pretence —  pretense

*prophecy —  prophesy


…ise  —  …ize

apologise —  apologize

capitalise —  capitalize

dramatise —  dramatize

glamorise —  glamorize

naturalise —  naturalize

satirise —  satirize

Note: For quite some time, the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’, the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’.  ‘The Times’ and the ‘Cambridge University Press’ which use British English have been treating the suffix ‘…ize’ as an accepted form.  The Americans have long settled for ‘ize’.  In British English, however, a number of quite important words must take the ‘ise’ ending, for example, advertise, demise, enterprise, precise, chastise, despise, exercise, supervise, comprise, improvise, surmise, compromise, incise, surprise, enfranchise, disguise, etc.


…xion  —  …ction

connexion —  connection

deflexion —  deflection

inflexion —  inflection

retroflexion —  retroflection

The American spelling is also possible in British English; and the words ‘inspection’ and ‘complexion’ are used with the same spelling in both varieties.


doubled consonant  —  single consonant

counsellor  —  counselor

kidnapper  —  kidnaper

levelled  —  leveled

libellous  —  libelous

quarrelling  —  quarreling

travelled  —  traveled

worshipping  —  worshiping

The British spelling is also used in American English.


single ‘l’  —  double ‘l’

fulfil  —  fulfill

fulfilment  —  fulfillment

instalment  —  installment

skilful  —  skillful

enrol  —  enroll

enrolment  —  enrollment

enthral  —  enthrall

instil  —  instill

wilful  —  willful


…ogue  —  …og

catalogue  —  catalog

analogue  —  analog


…gg…  —  …g…

faggot  —  fagot


…st  —  no ‘…st’ ending

amidst  —  amid

amongst  —  among

whilst  —  while

This set is restricted to a few words and the American spelling is also used quite often in British English these days.


French diacritics are used  —  French diacritics are not used

(diacritic = a small mark on a letter in a word to show a different pronunciation of that word)

café  —  cafe

élite  —  elite or élite

féte  —  fete

fiancée  —  fiancee

matinée —  matinee



This set is a long one; and as it is arranged in alphabetical order, some of the words given in the sets above may be found in this set, too.  This alphabetical arrangement helps us to find any word we wish to look up in a hurry easily, and to add new words to the list whenever we come across them.  This list, like every other list, is not complete.  We are advised to refer to a good dictionary for more and deeper information on words.

British  —  American  —  meaning in simple

accommodation  —  accommodations

= some place to live or stay, with food and other facilities

adviser  —  advisor

= a person who advises

adze —  adz

=a heavy carpentry tool

aeroplane  —  airplane

= a vehicle that flies in the air

aetiology  —  etiology

=the scientific study of the cause of diseases

afterwards —  afterward

aide-de-camp (singular)  —  aid-de-camp

= an officer who stays with a state dignitary such as a president or governor

aides-de-camp (plural)  —  aids-de-camp

all round  —  all around

althaea  —  althea

= a kind of ornamental plant

aluminium  —  aluminum

= a kind of light metal

amoeba  —  ameba

= tiny single-celled living thing

amphitheatre —  amphitheater

= a round open building, a stadium without a roof in Roman times

ampoule  —  ampule/ampoule

= a small narrow-nicked bottle to keep liquids, such as perfume, medicine, etc; & an electric bulb

anaemia  —  anemia

= not having enough red cells in a person’s blood

analyse —  analyze

= to examine something by taking it into separate parts in order to understand better

annexe —  annex

= to take control of a country or a region by force; to add a part of a building to the adjoining bigger building

any more (with a space)  —  anymore (without a space)

apnoea  —  apnea

= a kind of breathing problem with sleeplessness

apologise —  apologize

= to say sorry to someone

appal —  appall

= to shock, surprise or upset somebody very much

archaeology  —  archeology

= the study of the history, cultures of the people of very, very past by digging out the evidence in the ground

armour  —  armor

= a special metal covering for protection of soldiers

axe —  ax

= a tool for cutting down trees or chopping wood; or used in battles in olden days

barmy  —  balmy

= (of a person) slightly crazy, mad

barrelled/barrelling  —  barreled/barreling

bath  —  bathtub

= a large container used by people to wash and clean themselves

bedevilled/bedevilling  —  bedeviled/bedeveling

= to cause problems

beetroot  —  beet(s)

= a kind of root vegetable

behaviour  —  behavior

= the way a person moves with others

bread bin  —  bread box

= a container for keeping bread

breeches  —  britches

= a pair of short trousers tied just below the knees

brent goose  —  brant goose

= a kind of goose (a duck-like water bird)

brunette —  brunet

= a white skinned woman with red hair

bum —  bun/butt

= the back part of a person on which one sits; a lazy and jobless person

*bumper  —  fender

= a metal guard on a motor vehicle (a car)

bus (singular) buses (plural)  —  bus (singular) busses (plural)

= a large motor vehicle to carry people

by-road  —  back-road

= small road that are not used much

caecum  —  cecum

= the end of the small intestines and the first region of the large intestines

caesarean/caesarean section  —  cesarean

= an operation where a woman is cut open to take out her baby because she cannot give birth to the baby on her own (in the natural way)

caesium  —  cesium

= a kind of silver white chemical element

calliper(s)  —  calliper

= an instrument with two long thin finger-like extensions joined at one end, used for measuring tubes, round objects, etc.

candour  —  candor

= the quality of saying what you think openly and honestly

cannot  —  can not

(the verb word ‘can’ takes its negative without a space in British English)

capitalise —  capitalize

carat  —  karat

= a unit of measuring the purity of gold; 22 carat gold/24 carat gold, etc.

caravanserai —  caravansary

= a public building used for sheltering caravans and other travellers

carburettor  —  carburetor

= an important part in a motor vehicle engine

cargoes —  cargos

= the goods (things) carried on a ship or aeroplane

catalogue —  catalog

= a complete list of items

catalyse —  catalyze

= to make a chemical reaction happen faster

cater for —  cater to

= to provide food and drinks for a social event

centilitre —  centiliter

= a unit of measurement of liquids

centimetre —  centimeter

= a unit of measurement of distance

centre —  center

= the middle point of something, e.g. centre of a circle

channelled/channelling  —  channeled/channeling

cheque  —  check

= a printed bank form on which we write out the amount of money you promise to pay

chilli  —  chili

= a very hot green or red fruit of pepper plant, used in food preparation – a vegetable

chiselled  —  chiseled

= to cut something in wood or stone with a carpenter’s tool called a chisel

civil defence —  civil defense

= an organisation training ordinary people to protect themselves from enemy or natural disasters

clamour  —  clamor

= to shout loudly; to demand loudly

cloud-cuckoo-land  —  cloud-land/la la land

= a situation where people think great of a bad situation (think that the situation is very good)

coeliac  —  celiac

= a digestive disease (stomach problem)

cold bag/freezer bag  —  cooler bag

= a bag or container to keep things cool

colour  —  color

*corn  —  maize

= any of the cereals – wheat, barley, oats, etc.

cosy  —  cozy

= warm, comfortable and safe

councillor  —  councilor

= a member of a council (a group of people selected or elected for certain purpose)

counsellor  —  counselor

= an expert who can advise others

counter pane/bedspread  —  bed spread

= a large sheet of cloth spread on a bed

covering letter  —  cover letter

= a letter containing extra information sent with something else, such as bio-data, photos, etc.

cramp  —  cramps/Charley’s horse

= a sudden pain in the muscles in a particular part of the body; tightened muscles with pain

defence  —  defense

= to protect something from attack

demeanour  —  demeanor

= the way somebody looks or behaves

dialogue —  dialog

= the discussion between two persons or groups; the conversation in a book, story, film, etc.

diarrhoea  —  diarrhea

= a kind of disease (passing motion/stools – need to go to the toilet – several times)

different from/to —  different than

disc —  disk

= any round saucer-shaped metal object

dolour  —  dolor

= great sadness

draining board/drainer  —  drain board

= a slanting place or a big plate-like metal container/board placed next to a kitchen sink where the washed cups, bowls, etc. are kept for drying

dramatise  —  dramatize

= to make something look like a play (drama)

driving licence  —  driver’s license

= an official permit for a person to drive a motor vehicle

endeavour  —  endeavor

= to try very hard to do something

epilogue —  epilog

= a speech or comment at the end of a book or play

faggot  —  fagot

= a bundle of sticks; & (in American English: a slang word for a ‘homosexual’)

favour  —  favor

= something done to help or to be kind to others

favourite  —  favortie

= something or someone that is liked by very much by others

fervour  —  fervor

= very strong feeling or belief

focussing   —  focusing

= paying great attention to something or someone; & to make a beam of light fall on something directly

foetus  —  fetus

= a baby or young animal in its mother’s womb (a bag-like skin fold in a woman’s abdomen) before it is born

fibre —  fiber

= a piece of plant that you eat but cannot digest because the cell structure or the tissue is very tough; the very structure of something

(not necessarily the plant)

fillet  —  filet

= a piece of meat or fish without bones; to remove bones from fish or meat before cooking

flavour  —  flavor

= the particular taste of food or drink; the quality of being good, of good and drink

fuelled  —  fueled

= to add a substance that burns easily,  such as coal, gas, oil, etc., to produce heat or energy

fulfil/fulfilment  —  fulfill/fulfillment

furore —  furor

= a sudden expression of anger by many people

gaiety  —  gayety

= cheerful and fun; very happy event

gauge  —  gage

= an instrument for measuring something, such as gas, speed of a vehicle, etc.; to measure something

goitre —  goiter

= a disease of the throat due to thyroid deficiency

grey  —  gray

= the ash colour – the colour that is between black and white

gruelling  —  grueling

= very difficult and tiring

haemophilia  —  hemophilia

= a serious disease in which the blood of a person does not get thick and so does not stop coming out (bleed) when that person gets a cut or  wound

haemoglobin  —  hemoglobin

= the red substance in the blood that carries oxygen to the other parts of the body

haemorrhage  —  hemorrhage

= a serious disease in which a person bleeds (loses blood) often within the body

haemorrhoid  —  hemorrhoid

= a painfully swollen blood vessel near a person’s anus, sometimes bleeding a lot

harbour (noun)  —  horbor (noun)

= an area of after next to land where it is safe to keep boats or ships

haulier  —  hauler

= a company that carries goods (things) in trucks to other places (or companies)

honour  —  honor

= the respect and pride a person gets from others

hum  —  hem

= (in this context) to sing a tune continuously with one’s lips closed – when a person is in good or happy mood

humour  —  humor

= the ability to make a situation look funny; to be easy and funny

instalment  —  installment

= each of the small (amount) parts paid over a period of time to pay some large amount of money

instil —  instill

= to keep telling somebody repeatedly to do something over a period of time

inwards —  inward

jelly  —  jell-O

= a sweet soft food item; any soft, smooth substance

jeweller  —  jeweler

= a person who makes jewellery

jewellery  —  jewelry

= small things, usually of gold, silver, etc., a person wears for decoration

kilometre —  kilometer

= a unit of measurement of distance

labelled  —  labeled

= to attach (paste) a piece of paper on a thing with information needed

levelled  —  leveled

= to make something even and/or smooth

libellous  —  libelous

= (of something) containing untrue written statements that make someone unpopular (bad)

licence (noun) license (verb)  —  licence (noun & verb)

= an official document giving a person permission to own or do something

litre —  liter

= a unit of measurement of liquids

loofah —  luffa

= a kind of vegetable

lustre —  luster

= attractive and shiny to look at

madam  —  ma’am

= a formal word used to addressing a woman with respect

manoeuvre  —  maneuver

= a skilful movement one makes to get or avoid something harmful or dangerous

maths —  math

= mathematics – one of the science subjects

mat/matt —  matte

= dull or not shiny – of colour of something or a photograph

meagre —  meager

= (of something) too small or much less than what is needed

medallist   —  medalist

= a person who wins a medal (a prize)

metre —  meter

= a unit of measurement of distance in metric system

mollusc —  mollusk

= any of small sea or land animals with a soft body and a hard covering (shell)

mould  —  mold

= a layer of grey or green thing that grows on old bread; a hollow container that we pour and fill with a liquid or soft substance so that when the liquid dries it takes the shape of the container, (verb) to make a shape in this way

moult  —  molt

= (of birds & animals) the act of losing feathers or hair so that new feathers or hair can grow when the seasons change or when the animal grows larger, also called ‘shedding’; insects also lose their outer hard covering and grow new cover

[For the act removing or losing skin, hair, feathers or the outer covering, we use the words ‘moult’, ‘shed’, and ‘slough’, but for snakes only ‘slough’ and ‘shed’ are more commonly used.]

moustache  —  mustache

= the hair that grows on the upper lip of a man

mth/mths  —  mo/mos

= a short form for ‘month & months’

mum/mummy  —  mom/mommy

= (apart from other meanings) short form for ‘mother’

naturalise —  naturalize

= to make something or someone seem natural

neighbour  —  neighbor

= a person living in the next or near-by house to another person’s

nitre —  niter

= a group of naturally found inorganic compounds

oesophagus  —  esophagus

= the tube through which food passes from mouth to stomach

offence  —  offense

= a small crime; any act that is against the law

omelette —  omelet

= eggs mixed together and cooked in butter or oil on a frying pan

onwards —  onward

outwards —  outward

paralyse  —  paralyze

= to make something (a part of the body or a part of an organisation) lose the ability to move or work properly

parlour  —  parlor

= a shop that gives a particular service, such as a ‘beauty parlour’, ‘ice-cream parlour’, etc.; and a room in a house where chairs or sofas are arranged and guests or visitors are received

pedlar  —  peddler

= a person who sells illegal drugs

philosophise —  philosophize

= to talk about serious subjects in detail, for a long time, usually about life, religion, politics, etc.

pickaxe —  pickax

= a large tool for breaking up the ground

plough —  plow

= a farm tool used for turning up the ground

polythene  —  polyethylene

= strong light plastic used for making bags

practice (noun) practise (verb)  —  practice (noun & verb)

pretence  —  pretense/pretence

= a way of behaviour to cheat others

programme —  program

= a series of plans to do something; planned or fixed activities

[The American spelling ‘program’ is used in British English to refer to a ‘computer program’; and a ‘programmer’ or ‘programer’ to a  person who prepares a ‘program’ for a computer.]

prologue —  prolog

= the introduction to a play (drama) or a long speech

prophecy  —  prophesy

= the act saying that something will happen in the future; the ability to say about the future

pyjamas   —  pajamas

= a pair of soft trousers with a shirt-like top that is put on in bed (while sleeping)

quarrelling  —  quarreling

= having some angry argument or disagreement

quin  —  quint

= quintuplet = one of the five babies born to one mother at the same time

racialist/racialism  —  racist/racism

= the person and the act of treating somebody or a group of people differently on the basis of the people’s origin of birth, colour of skin, etc.

rancour  —  rancor

= a feeling of hatred (too much dislike) towards someone who harmed you before

realise —  realize

= to begin to understand

recognise —  recognize

= to come to know or identify something or someone because of previous knowledge or experience; to accept something or someone as true

rowing boat  —  row-boat

= a small boat with oars (poles to move the boat on water)

rumour  —  rumor

= information or a story passed from one person to another, which may or may not be true or real

sabre —  saber

= a heavy sword with curved blade used in the past; a pointed sword with one sharp edge

saltpetre —  saltpetre

= a substance used in gunpowder and matches that explodes easily

satirise —  satirize

= to make something or someone look or seem funny in order to show them their faults

saviour  —  savior

= someone who saves others from difficult or dangerous situation

sceptre —  scepter

= a decorated stick (usually of gold) carried by kings and queens at ceremonies

self-centred  —  self-centered

sorbet  —  sherbet

= a cool drink of fruit juice, sugar, etc.

signaller/signalman  —  signaler

= a person whose job is to give signals to the trains at junction points; a military officer who is trained to send and receive coded signals

sceptical (‘c’ with a ‘k’ sound)  —  skeptical

= having the quality of disagreeing with others or doubting the activities of others

skilful  —  skillful

= being good at something that needs a lot of ability

smoulder  —  smolder

= to burn wood or coal slowly without flame

sombre —  somber

= sad and serious; dull and without any brightness

sparking plug/spark plug  —  spark plug

= a small but important part in the engine of a motor car or bike that starts small electric fire to burn fuel

speciality  —  specialty

= a subject or job a person has a lot of experience and/or knowledge; a special food item a restaurant is famous for

spectre —  specter

= something that people are afraid of because it might effect them badly

splendour  —  splendor

= grand impressive beauty of a thing

storey/storey —  story/storied

= (apart from other meaning) a level in a building of many levels

succour  —  succor

= help and sympathy (kind feeling or words) given to somebody

sunburn  —  a sunburn

sulphate  —  sulfate

= a kind of chemical – the salt produced by sulphuric acid

sulphide  —  sulfide

sulphur  —  sulfer

sulphuric  —  sulfuric

sulphurous  —  sulfurous

theatre —  theater

= a place or building with a stage where plays (dramas) and other functions are shown; and also the entire activity of making and showing plays

thraldom  —  thralldom

= slavery

through  —  thru

titbit  —  tidbit

= a small but interesting piece of information

toffee/toffy  —  taffy

= a brown sweet (sweet food item) that is sticky – mostly children like to eat it

transport  —  transportation

= a system or method of moving things (goods) and people from one place to another, usually using vehicles

*trapezium —  trapezoid

= a shape with four sides, of which only two sides are parallel

*trapezoid —  trapezium

= a shape with four sides, of which none are parallel

traveller/travelled  —  traveler/traveled

= a person who is going/went from one place to another, and to have gone from one place to another

tsar/czar  —  czar

= a male ruler (king) of Russia before 1917

tumour  —  tumor

= a mass of spoiled or sick cells in a living body; extra growth of unwanted cells, some are harmful and some are harmless

tyre  —  tire

= (apart from the other meaning) a strong rubber covering on the wheels of a vehicle

V.  —  Vs.

= short for ‘versus’ which means ‘against’

valour  —  valor

= great courage in fighting

vapour  —  vapor

= the smoke-like thing which is the small drops of a liquid when it is heated

vigour  —  vigor

= the physical or mental determination

vice  —  vise

= a mechanical tool

…wards  —  …ward

waggon/wagon (old usage)  —  wagon

= a large vehicle for carrying heavy loads, usually pulled by horses

whilst/while  —  while

{a conjunction/preposition}

whirr —  whir

= a quiet regular sound that the wings of birds or insects make when they are flying

whisky —  whiskey

= a strong alcohol drink

wilful  —  willful

= disrespect; continue to do something a person is told to stop or even after knowing that it is wrong to do, out of disrespect

woollen  —  woolen

= (something, usually clothes) made of wool; related to wool

worshipper/worshipping  —  worshiper/worshiping

= a person and the act of praising God or any person; to keep somebody in great esteem (respect)


This list is not complete and some of the words of one variant of this list may have been accepted by the other, and vice versa; and some words may be considered old-fashioned or may have gone out of use.  However, there are several occasions on which we come across in our reading passages or in books about old history those words which we do not commonly use these days.  That is the reason why some uncommon and old-fashioned words are also added to this list.  The learners are advised to keep adding new words to this list as they continue the process of learning.

[Some of these variations may be considered ‘synonyms’ – giving the same meaning, in both varieties in the present fast growing changes!]

The next section, section B, is about the different words used in these two varieties – British & American – for one particular thing or purpose.  There are again two categories in this section B: one is a different word in each variety for the same meaning, and the other is the same word in each variety with a different meaning or purpose.  We are given the difference by dividing the section into two sub-categories: Section B1 for different words for the same definition, and Section B2 for one word with different definitions.

After having learnt all these rules, we are bound to get a couple of questions, such as…

1.  Which spelling system do I use: British English or American English?

And the answer given by many an expert in this field is:

If you are going to write to Americans or to take an examination in any American Institution, learn or use American English, and if there is anything to do with the British use British English!

2.  Which will be the most useful to me as an English language learner – American English or British English?

And the answer given by many an expert in this field is:

If you are going to speak mostly to Americans then standard American English will be more useful.  If you are going to speak to British people then standard British English will be more useful.  Certainly at present, speakers of standard British English and speakers of standard American English have no real problems communicating with each other.  The important thing to remember is that they are not two separate languages, they are one language with some differences.  If you speak one form quite well then you will not have problems understanding the other.

But the most important thing is not to mix the two varieties; use one or the other, not mixed!

Next… SECTION B1 for Different words: British & American English!

English: American or British?

more at SPELLING DIFFERENCES – section A

English: American or British?





English is spoken all over the world: it is the official language of about forty-five countries; used in the administrative and business transactions in several countries; the second language in some more countries; the ‘lingua franca’ of hundreds of thousands of establishments and households; and is learnt, studied, and used in everyday affairs by millions of people all over the world!

(According to the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, there are currently about two billion people learning, teaching or using English worldwide; while there are about 350 million speak English in India and 300 million in China! in the year 2010)

Therefore, it’s no wonder it has a number of variations.  Most of the variations are regional, religious, and mother-tongue-oriented.  There are however some variations that may be very confusing to the learners of English, especially those at the basics.

There are again several ‘Englishes’: English spoken by the British; English spoken by the Americans; English spoken by the Canadians; English spoken by the Australians; English used by the Africans and Asians, particularly by the people of the sub-continent; and English spoken and written by the educated and spoken by the uneducated native people; English used by non-native speakers living in countries where English is the mother tongue; English used in literary circles – native and non-native; English used by technicians and scientists and scholars; English used by the educated when they are at their professions and at their casual social get-together; and finally, English used by the uneducated street children who work for the tourists! And the list can go on and on!!

Furthermore, English used in America has different variations within the USA and is different from the one used in Australia; English used in Canada has different variations depending on the region, and is different from the one used in Britain; and English used in England has, in itself, different variations within the country and is different from the one used in any other part of the world!!!

The differences are found mostly in the pronunciation (accent), choice of words in some particular expressions and, to certain extent, spellings, and the collocation.(collocation = the way in which some words are often used together to express certain ideas)

In this course material we limit ourselves to the differences between British English and American English only because the English language most people around the world use is under the influence of either of these  variations.  Even in the Commonwealth countries, where British English has been used for years, American English is making inroads with the advent of the computers because the computer software is under the influence of the American IT industry, and consequently, some differences are bound to come up, and the learners and the users may find it difficult to follow them unless they have some awareness of the ongoing changes in the English language they are using.

The main purpose of this course material is to point out those differences to make the learners become aware of the differences and learn them and use them when and where they are needed.

Before going to analyse the minor and the major differences between British and American English, let’s have a look at how the people of the USA and the UK feel about the English language the other people use on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The following excerpt is taken from a prestigious English daily newspaper:

“Translating English into English


Scene in a hotel in Surrey:


“Do you have any cookies, please?” asks an elderly Englishman over the breakfast table as a young waitress pours him some tea.


“Pardon?” the waitress queries.  “Do you have any cookies, please?” the guest repeats pronouncing ‘cookies’ slowly.


“Oh! You mean you want to know who the COOK IS,” the waitress replies brightly.


“No, what he means is cookies –- ‘biscuits’,” explains an Indian guest who had (sic) been watching the exchange.


The English guest nods his head, the girl beams, and the Indian is left wondering if there could be greater irony than a foreigner helping the two English compatriots communicate with each other in their own mother tongue.”

A funny excerpt taken from a book with a special section ‘How the Americans talk English’:

“… there can be similar misunderstandings over the word ‘pants’, though most English people know that Americans call trousers ‘pants’.

American girl: I never wear pants.  They don’t suit me.

English girl   : Really?  Couldn’t that be a bit embarrassing?

American girl: Embarrassing?  Why?

English girl  : Well – that short skirt you’re wearing…

American girl: Oh, my!  But I wear panties!

In British English, ‘pants’ are undergarments.  However, young people in Britain do sometimes say ‘pants’ for ‘trousers’.  Serious English authors, without knowing it, use many phrases of American origin, e.g. a way of life; teenager; boyfriend and girlfriend; babysitter; TV; after ten years he visited his home town; he is a commuter, going up to his London office every day; he beat up the prisoner.”


Another funny excerpt from the same book:

American policeman meets English motorist

{The readers are asked to fill in the gaps with the phrases given below.}

“I’m afraid I don’t understand”/ “just repeat what you said, please”/“Could you say that again, please?”/“Yes, but please explain what you mean by ‘trunk’”/ “Oh, is that what you call it?”

Use the phrases above to fill in the gaps in the following dialogue:


American policeman: I want to see inside your trunk.

English woman: ………..

American policeman: Lady, you heard me!  Open your trunk.

English woman: ………..

American policeman: Cut it out, lady!  You understand English.

English woman: ………..

American policeman: No funny business.  Just open your trunk.

English woman: Are you trying to be funny?

American policeman: (goes to the back of the car) Just give me your trunk key.

English woman:       Oh.  In England we call it the “boot”.

*One meaning for ‘trunk’ in British English and also in American English is ‘a large case for carrying things when travelling’.


A serious piece of writing by an English author on how the Americans speak English – taken from “Proficiency Plus” by Michael MaCarthy, Alistair Maclean, and Patric O’ Malley, published by Basil Blackwell Limited … pages 175, 178 & 180.

{This is a long piece of writing with about 250 lines, but is abridged for our convenience, and so, if any of the readers find it difficult to follow, it is best to leave it for the time being and come back to it when they are thorough with the rules and important points given in this part.}

I Say Tomahto,

You Say Tomayto

By Keith Waterhouse

[‘tomato’   a vegetable]

Linguistically tolerant though  I am, I don’t mind them saying “tomayto” when we say “tomahto”… It is all right by me if they want to call the elevator where I would summon the lift, or if their womenfolk wear pantyhose where ours wear tights… I might twitch an eyebrow if I didn’t happen to know that what they call suspenders we call braces… Not only is American different from English – it’s getting longer. I felt as proud of myself if I’d just had a conversation in fluent Mandarin… But then, when you have been trapped in a New York traffic jam with the cab driver making such observations as,“I guess transportation in this city is reaching totality,”… It will pass, I hope (or do I mean “hopefully”?), this tendency to stretch out the language like bubble-gum.  One day, when they want to say “now”, the Americans will go back to using two simple little words like “right now”.  One day, all that absurd moon-speak (which is largely what it is: that one step for mankind was, I’m afraid, a gigantic, jaw-breaking step for pseudo-technological jargon) will return to speaking as they used to before they talked themselves into this viable-meaningful-situation.  That is to say colourfully – but incomprehensibly… For never forget that, even in its saner moments, American is a foreign tongue. … Take – to pluck a widely misunderstood expression out of the pit of embarrassment into which it has so often fallen – the phrase “knocked up”.  If the Americans had had the grace to print the Ks backwards and N upside down, it would have gone some way to warning English-speaking strangers that in the United States a lady who has been knocked up is not one who has been called from her bed – rather, in fact, the reverse…{And this jibing continues for some two hundred more lines!} High Life (British Airways in-flight magazine)

This excerpt, a subtle one, is from Practical English by Michael Swan, English Language Book Society, Oxford University Press…

These two varieties of English have both changed a good deal in the last three hundred years or so, and naturally they have not developed in exactly the same way.  However, the differences between them are not very great.  Most British and American speakers can understand each other quite easily (though pronunciation can cause a few problems), and the written language is very similar indeed in the two countries.  The main differences are as follows:



(a)  Americans (US) use a simple past tense in some cases where British (GB) use present perfect tense.


US: He just went home.


GB: He’s just gone home.                 (He has just gone home.)”

Now let’s get to the serious business of knowing the differences between American and British English. First and the foremost is the pronunciation – the way how we say a word, which we are going to add to this course material soon; for the time being, however, we make do with the written-spellings.

more at SPELLING DIFFERENCES – section A