English is English, isn’t it? The answer is no. Although for the most part the English language is universal in English-speaking countries, there some subtle (and not so subtle) ways in which they differ. This is especially true for the English spoken in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as Australia. Although this article is a direct comparison between the US and the UK, the English spoken in Australia is somewhat valid to the topic seeing as UK English and Australian English are very closely related. (Though there are some differences to note, especially when it comes to slang terms.)
One of the main differences between US and UK English that is well-known to the majority of people in both countries is the specific wordings. Some words mean the same thing but are spelled differently, while some words are spelled exactly the same in both places, yet have different meanings. Take the word football for instance. In the US it is spelled the same way as it is in the UK. However, it if fairly common knowledge that when someone in the US says football they mean a game with a pigskin ball, while in the UK it is a game of soccer. In fact, the US is the only country that recognizes soccer as soccer instead of football. But what are some less commonly known differences?
- Toilet– In the US, this is a porcelain piece for using the bathroom. However, in the UK it can also mean a room that houses a porcelain object; usually something artistic.
- Moot– In the US, when something is declared a moot point, it means that the discussion is pointless. In the UK, a moot point is something that is still open for discussion.
- Quite– For someone in the US, saying quite generally means very. “I am quite pleased.” In the UK, quite is a word that means so-so or somewhat. “The food was quite good”, as in you may want to look for somewhere else to eat!
- Pants– In the US we know pants as the clothing we put both of our legs into and leave the house. However, in the UK, pants are called trousers and the actual meaning of the word pants is underwear. (Hopefully this will help you from making an embarrassing mistake if you travel to the UK!)
- Fag– To an American who has only heard this word in a derogatory way, may be shocked to hear it used so loosely in the UK. However, in this country it can mean a few things. One is a cigarette. Another definition in the UK is bothersome. “Going to work in the rain can be such a fag”. This is also the name of a beef dish.
US vs. UK Spelling
As stated above, some words which mean the same thing are spelled differently in these two English-speaking countries. In US English, words that end in “or” generally end in our in UK English. Some examples of this include:
- US-Humor/UK Humour
US words that end in “ize” generally end in “ise” in the UK. Some examples of this include:
When it comes to past participles, there are also differences to be found. For instance, in the US a person would say they had a dream, while in the UK a person would say that they dreamt. The same goes for burned and burnt, spelled and spelt, and spoiled and spoilt. Prepositions are also used differently in the US and the UK. For example, an American would say “we will get to that on the weekend” while a Brit would say “we will get to that at the weekend”. In the US you are on a team, while in the UK you are in a team.
Finally, vocabulary is a bit different between these two English-speaking nations as well. Here are a few good examples of this:
Although both forms are English are similar in many ways, as you can see, there are differences. The biggest difference is pronunciation and vocabulary choices. If you are traveling to either place, keep a guide on you to help you know the right (and wrong) things to say!
For more examples of how US and UK language differs, take a look at Writing Skills