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UK English and US English: What's the Difference?

Updated on December 15, 2009

"Good morning. Could I possibly see your freshest buns, please?"

Spelling

" -ise or -ize? "

In terms of orthography, a lot of words with the ending -ise in Britain have been Americanised (or Americanized!) to end in -ize. eg. compromise (British) / compromize (American), standardise / standardize, and so on.

" -our or -or? "

In England, we tend to add a "u" into words such as "colour" and "humour", whereas Americans leave it out ("color" and "humor"). So you can easily tell whether a text was written by a Brit or an American just from the way they spell such words!

Vocab

Then there's the actual lexis itself; that's to say, the words we use. In the following list, the words we use in Britain are on the left and their American equivalents are on the right. This list could potentially be endless, so I'll just list a few!

  • Mobile phone = Cell phone
  • Rubbish = Trash / Garbage
  • Bum = Buns
  • Buns = Bread rolls (So you can imagine the comedy when a Brit asks for some buns...!)
  • Nappy = Diaper
  • Trainers = Sneakers
  • Trousers = Pants
  • Pants = Underwear (Again, best not to get muddled up here!)
  • Lift = Elevator
  • Pavement = Side walk
  • Chips = Fries
  • Crisps = Chips (Confusing!)
  • Jelly = Jell-O
  • Jam = Jelly (Again, confusing!)
  • Pram = Stroller
  • Toilets = Restrooms
  • Nice = Neat
  • Neat = Tidy
  • Cool = Awesome
  • Holiday = Vacation

The list goes on and on and on. And on. So moving swiftly on...

Pronunciation

Alright, so Americans all have this image of us Brits being posh because of the way we talk. I admit, we do speak rather...articulately, shall we say, but our accents differ significantly throughout the country. As do American accents. In Britain, there's Cockney (in the London area down south), Geordie (from Northumbria in the North East), Yorkshire (from Yorkshire, where we say things like "Put wood in't 'ole" for "Shut the door"!) and many more. The main difference between the American and British accent is the pronunciation of the letter "R". The Americans tend to pronounce the Rs in words, such as "car", whereas we 'posh' English people say "caaa".

The stress we place on words and our vowel pronunciations also differ with some words. When speaking about vowels, there is, of course, the classic "We say tomato you say tomato" and "We say yoghurt, you say yoghurt". Spelling-wise, there's no difference, but the pronunciation is something else! When putting the stress on words, it always makes me giggle when I hear an American pronounce the word "aluminium" (as I'm sure they giggle when we pronounce it our way!) as their stress is on the "u" at the start - alUminium - whereas our stress is on the "i" in the middle - alumInium.

By Daniella Wood

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    • profile image

      eric dean 6 years ago

      You ask why do we want Engish uk. It is an insult not to include it. Why! We made it gave it to you and what a hash you made of it !

    • aballantyne profile image

      aballantyne 7 years ago from U.S.

      Great hub Daniella! I sometimes wonder how long it will be before UK and US English become mutually unintelligable.

    • DaniellaWood profile image
      Author

      DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England

      Thanks for the feedback, AdsenseStrategies - I love the Monty Python quote!

      Lamalipmim, thanks for the comment. I always felt that UK English would be clearer for a non-native speaker of English to understand, but I recently met a German who had come to England to learn English and she said that my UK accent was so much harder to understand than that of Americans! So I guess which you prefer depends on your native language and which sounds fall closest to your own language.

    • lamalipmim profile image

      lamalipmim 7 years ago from Malaysia

      interesting comparison between the two variations of English. As an ESL speaker, UK English is more appealing, and that is the reason why I always try to follow the UK English spelling as much as I can. However I cannot imitate the British or American accent.

    • AdsenseStrategies profile image

      AdsenseStrategies 7 years ago from CONTACT ME at Adsensibilities@gmail.com

      I'm not sure, but I'm fairly sure I've heard Canadians use "bum" -- can't speak for Americans.

      Often North Americans know British slang via pop culture, even if they don't actually use it (and vice versa, of course). So, in that case, I imagine the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that went: "What's he going to do; nibble your bum?" might have been instructive :)

    • DaniellaWood profile image
      Author

      DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England

      Thank you both very much for your inputs. And thank you for correcting me AdsenseStrategies, I'll be sure to remember that in future! haha Oh that's really interesting to know - I guess you've seen all the differences in lifestyle as well as language then?

      Yes, I remember hearing about the whole braces / suspenders confusion a while back, 2patricias, and I find it really funny!

      Thanks again, Daniella :)

    • AdsenseStrategies profile image

      AdsenseStrategies 7 years ago from CONTACT ME at Adsensibilities@gmail.com

      Just a small correction -- bum = buns

      In other words, the British equivalent of "buns" is not "bums" :D.

      I won't get into the other word that Americans/Canadians use for backside, as that gets very complicated anatomically when compared to British English......

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Here's another funny clothes one:

      English - braces = American suspenders

      English - suspenders = American garters.

      Plenty of room for confusion here!

      Thanks for an interesting and entertaining hub.

    • AdsenseStrategies profile image

      AdsenseStrategies 7 years ago from CONTACT ME at Adsensibilities@gmail.com

      It's funny you should bring up "judgement" because I just heard a friend complaining about this the other day (I live in Canada, where you can use British or American standards -- but you are not allowed to mix them together :) ).

      Anyway, she claimed her supervisor said that there exist two words: judgment, and judgement; one is what a judge does, and one is what the rest of us do...

      In any event, I have lived 18 years in England and 20 in North America, so I'm bilingual ;) (though 7 of those were in French Canada, so maybe I should say "trilingual"... :) )

    • DaniellaWood profile image
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      DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England

      Yes, TINA V, you're right - there are many other differences I haven't mentioned here. Enquiries and Judgement are the UK versions - we usually stick 'e's and other vowels where ever we can fit them! haha

      Attitude is indeed important. My friend is English but has an American father and tends to pronounce and spell certain words the American way.

      Thank you for your comment.

    • TINA V profile image

      TINA V 7 years ago

      Even if there would be differences in the UK and US English, what matters most is the attitude of a person.

      I also notice some words spelled differently such as enquiries v.s. inquiries and judgement v.s. judgment. I use the latter spelling but I am not sure if the first one is under UK.

      This is a good information to all hubbers.

    • DaniellaWood profile image
      Author

      DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England

      Keira, no problem, any time! :)

      Weblog, thank you for giving me a great question to make this hub out of!

    • weblog profile image

      weblog 7 years ago from 1India

      DaniellaWood, Thanks for answering my hub request and it's really a nice hub.

    • profile image

      Keira 7 7 years ago

      Oh! thanks my dear friend. Some stupid mistakes, really.:) Je te remercie ma chere Daniella.:D

    • DaniellaWood profile image
      Author

      DaniellaWood 7 years ago from England

      Pas de probleme! Et merci pour ton annontation - je le trouve interessant aussi :) And I would be more than happy to help you Keira! There weren't a lot of mistakes in what you said - just 'correct' is with 2 Rs and we say 'you guys', not 'your guys'. Mais c'est tout! Well done :D

    • keira7 profile image

      keira7 7 years ago

      Merci pour ta reponse en Francais.:) Je n`avais pas vue que tu m'avais repondu. Merci encore de me proposer de l'aide. Mais je veux pas t'embeter. Si tu peux juste me corriger quand tu vois que je fais des fautes, c'est deja beaucoup. Merci pour tout Daniella.:)

    • keira7 profile image

      keira7 7 years ago

      Everything to do with English I am interested. Great hub my dear. I didn`t know that the Americain says sneakers for trainers.:) Well thanks for all this info. Sorry if I make mistakes in writing. Feel free to corect me. I will be happy if you do.:) I know your guys are not on here to give me grammar lessons. But I really need to improve.