In the United Kingdom, United States and most of their former territories, English is the main language or at least one of the official languages. However, there are some significant differences in spelling, grammar, formatting, word usage and even abbreviations among the British influenced varieties (also called Commonwealth English) and US English. This article primarily discusses some of these differences that may be useful for travellers to know and is not written in US English. This article also give some tips that may be found useful if you intend to contribute here on Wikitravel.
In all countries where English is used there are variations in vocabulary and usage that are peculiar both to that country and to regions within it. It's also common that countries which predominantly use Commonwealth English may adopt a few words from US English or vice versa.
This is the variety of choice in more than a hundred countries.
Commonwealth English is the most important language variety in Australia, Anguilla, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the Cook Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey, Ireland, Jamaica, Isle of Man, Jersey, Malta, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United Kingdom.
It is widely used, especially by the educated elite and is an officially used language in Botswana, Cameroon, Eritrea, Fiji, the Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Samoa, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, South Africa, Southern Sudan, the Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tokelau, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Commonwealth English is not an official language, nor the most important language, but is the variety widely used by the educated elite in Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burma, Chile, Cyprus, French Guiana, Jordan, Malaysia, Mozambique, Northern Cyprus, Oman and Surinam.
English is only one of the 24 official languages of the European Union (EU) but it is the one most commonly used in EU institutions and all "112" emergency centres within the EU are legally required to be capable of connecting you to an English speaking operator. Commonwealth English spelling such as used in Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom is the official standard of the European Union and it is usually the variety of English that tends to be taught in European schools. A widespread and high degree of English fluency has been achieved in the Flanders region of Belgium and such countries as Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark (including the Faroe Islands and Greenland), Finland, Germany (particularly areas formerly occupied by British and French troops), Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland - especially in those under 60. However, the strong influence of US media has increased the use of US English in these countries in the last 25 years. Moreover US spell checkers, being the default English variety selected for word processing, have also had a deleterious effect leading to a somewhat confused situation.
dominates in the United States of America, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Philippines.
It is not an official language, nor the most important language, but when used by the educated elite, US spelling predominates in Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, parts of Berlin previously occupied by US forces and much of Latin America.
uses a mixture of British English rules for spelling and US English for vocabulary and many idioms. An exception to this rule is for terms related to motor vehicles, in which US English terminology and spelling are exclusively used ("tire" instead of "tyre", "gas" or "gasoline" instead of "petrol", "truck" instead of "lorry", etc.).
The International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry, which controls the naming of elements, prefers "aluminium" but accepts "aluminum". The US and Canada use "aluminum"; most other countries use "aluminium".
analog - analogue
armor - armour
center - centre
check - cheque
color - colour
dispatch - despatch
e.g. - eg (from the Latin exempli gratia, for example)
gram - gramme
The use of "Gram", however, is still used in British English.
gray - grey
Canada uses Grey instead of Gray. In addition, Greyhound was never Grayhound. "Grey" and "Gray" are still proper names for the English-speaking world.
i.e. - ie (from the Latin id es, that is)
inquire - enquire
license - licence
liter - litre
meter - metre
Although US English generally uses "meter", American scientific publications often use "metre" for the unit of measurement and "meter" to describe measuring devices. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) however uses "meter" instead of "metre" for the unit of measurement in order to comply with the US Government Printing Office Style Manual.
offense - offence
practice - practise
program - programme (TV/radio)
All varieties of English use the word program to refer to something that is run on a computer
theater - theatre
It's very common to have any theater's name end with "theatre" in New York City since "theatre" is actually an place stage performance takes place, but not film screening in British English. Most Cinemas or Movie Theaters continue to use the word "theatre" although in AmE, "theater" is an place were both stage performances and film screenings take place.
Momentarily means the event will take place in a few moments time in US English. In most other varieties, it means that the event whenever it occurs, even in the far and distant future, will be of a short and fleeting duration.
US English often is more longwinded. eg: Burglarize rather than Burgle a house; Public Transportation rather than Public Transport.
US English speakers often use the present perfect tense (have/has + past participle) far less than speakers of other varieties.
eg: US: Are they going to the show tonight? No. They already saw it.
Many Commonwealth English varieties: Are they going to the show tonight? No. They've already seen it.
In common speech, some 4,000 words are used differently from the US. World Wide Words is a mine of information if you wish to know more.
Where there is a real risk of complete misunderstanding, the US word has been underlined.
US - Commonwealth
US and Canada: Four-wheel drive pickup truck
UK: Four-wheel-drive vehicle, fully enclosed and usable either for passengers or large cargo (North America: "SUV", for "sport utility vehicle")
Australia and New Zealand: Similar to the UK, except that the term is reserved for vehicles capable of off-road use. A vehicle driven by all four wheels but not necessarily designed for off-road use is called an "AWD" (all-wheel drive).
anesthesiologist – anaesthetist
In US English, "anesthetist" often refers to a nurse who is specially trained to administer anesthesia under a doctor's supervision.
apartment – flat
The word "apartment" is used in Commonwealth English, but specifically for rented luxury housing units in larger or historic buildings
In US government usage, "Asian American" includes East Asia and South Asia, but excludes West Asia. In the popular US vernacular, "Asian" by itself usually refers specifically to East Asians, with South Asians referred to by their specific ethnicity (Indian, Pakistani, etc.) or as "South Asians".
Australian and Canadian English – Refers to all people with origins on the continent of Asia
British English – When used by itself, "Asian" refers exclusively to South Asians. East Asians are usually called "East Asians" and sometimes "Orientals", or are described by their specific ethnicity.
ass/buttocks/fanny - Bum/bottom/arse
US: Generic term for sport. By extension, "athlete" refers to any sportsperson
British: Sport consisting of track and field, cross country running, road running, and race walking. An "athlete" is a person who participates in this specific sport
ATM - Cash point/cash machine/Hole-in-the-wall
ATM is also used in most "commonwealth English" countries, except the UK
attorney/lawyer - barrister (or advocate in Scotland)/solicitor (UK-wide)
The US English terms "attorney" and "lawyer" are interchangeable, but the corresponding Commonwealth English terms are not. The legal professions in the US and UK are fundamentally different. In the UK, clients generally deal directly with solicitors, who provide legal advice and can represent their clients in lower courts. Barristers, titled advocates in Scotland, are specifically trained in trial advocacy, and are usually hired by solicitors to appear in higher courts, draft pleadings, and provide more specific advice on a given case. Historically, only barristers/advocates could appear before all courts; today, solicitors who receive additional special training can appear in the same courts as solicitor advocates. By contrast, the US has a "fused" legal profession; the functions that are divided between two different classes of professionals in the UK are all part of a single profession in the US. Other countries that use Commonwealth English generally follow the UK terminology; however, in Canada (apart from Quebec), New Zealand and some Australian states, the legal profession is fused.
bangs (hair arrangement) – fringe
bill (money) - bank note
biweekly - fortnightly (a fortnight is a period of two weeks)
( ) – parentheses (US), brackets or parentheses (Commonwealth)
"Caribou" is the most common term in both the US and Canada for this animal, except in the context of Christmas stories. "Reindeer" is universally used in Commonwealth English.
carry-on bag - hand luggage
cash register - till
cell phone - mobile phone
in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, the word handphone is informally used though mobile phone is what is formally accepted
check (in a restaurant) - bill
chips (snack food) - crisps
In US and Canadian English, a circus pertains exclusively to a group of performers that do amazing stunts, often with animals
In Commonwealth English, this word has the same meaning, but may also refer to an intersection in the shape of a circular road in a city (US English: "traffic circle")
closet - cupboard (room)
construction zone or Road Work(road) – roadworks
cookies - biscuits
US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – maize
England – (usually) wheat
Ireland, Scotland – (usually) oats
Outside of countries where "corn" unequivocally refers to maize, the unmodified word typically refers to the most common staple cereal grain in that area.
However, even in those countries, "corn" is often used in combination with some other word to refer to maize in a culinary context. For example, "sweet corn", "popcorn" and "corn flakes", all referring to maize, are common throughout the English-speaking world.
cot – camp bed
counter-clockwise - anti-clockwise
crib (infant bed) – cot
day care – crèche
In US English, "crèche" refers to a nativity scene (ie relating to the birth of Jesus)
denied (immigration benefits) - refused
Example, in the US one will say "the application for a visa has been denied" while in the UK one will say "the application for a visa has been refused"
diaper - nappy
driver's license - driving licence
drug store - pharmacy/chemist ("pharmacy" is also widely used in US English. This was because the term "Drugstore" was removed during the "War on Drugs" during the 1980s although some people refer Pharmacies as Drugstores.)
drunk driving – drink driving
The associated legal terms are also different — US English DUI/DWI (driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated); Commonwealth English DIC (drunk in charge of a motor vehicle) or "driving with excess alcohol". Canadian English uses DUI as an umbrella term for two offences in its criminal code.
eggplant - aubergine (India/Singapore: brinjal)
elevator - lift
North America: Very large deer similar to the red deer of Europe and Asia; sometimes also known by a Native American name, "wapiti"
Britain, Ireland, and non-native speakers in Europe: Even larger deer with flattened antlers (males only), known in North America as the "moose"
emergency room (ER) - accident and emergency department (A&E)
expressway or freeway - motorway
fall (season) - autumn
fanny pack – bum bag
In Commonwealth English, "fanny" is obscene slang for the vagina
fender (of a car) - wing
field (sports) – pitch
first name - first name/given name/Christian name (now rarely used in Commonwealth English)
flashlight - torch
football - gridiron football (not soccer)
In some English-speaking countries outside of the US and UK, "football" may refer to yet another code of football
Australia – Australian rules football (in most of the country) or rugby league (in the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland)
Canada – Similar to the US, but with its own unique usage. Canada has its own code of gridiron football, formally known as Canadian football. American football is also widely popular, but mostly as a televised sport. "Football", by itself, can refer to either the Canadian or American game; when the context does not make it clear which game is referred to, "Canadian" or "American" will be added.
Ireland – Gaelic football, especially among Irish nationalists
New Zealand – Historically, "football" referred to rugby union, or sometimes rugby league. However, since roughly 2005, "football" has seen increasing use for association football.
South Africa – Rugby union, mostly among whites. All cultural groups in the country generally use "soccer" for association football when speaking English.
fries - chips
garter – suspenders
gas (intestinal) – wind
gas/gasoline - petrol
in British English, "gas" is used to refer to energy used to power buildings and other infrastructure (US and Canadian English: "natural gas" when necessary to distinguish from "gas" as a short term for gasoline)
US and Canada: ice hockey; Commonwealth: field hockey
Among non-native speakers, "hockey" will usually refer to the sport most common in the speaker's country—usually ice hockey in the Nordic countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the former Soviet Union; and field hockey elsewhere.
However, some people with personal connections to one of these two sports will call that sport "hockey", regardless of their country of origin.
hood (of a car) – bonnet
In Commonwealth English, "hood" as an automotive term refers to the top of a convertible
(public) holiday – same and also bank holiday
See also "vacation".
In US English, "the holidays" (or holiday season) is often used to describe the entire period between Thanksgiving (late November) and New Year's Day
In US English, a holiday is used to refer to a day declared by local or national governments to commemorate a particular event. Technically, it may or may not include actual time-off from work, depending on the nature of the holiday.
In US English, an immigrant is an alien who plans to settle in the US permanently. Aliens who are admitted into the US for a limited time only regardless of their purpose are said to have non-immigrant status. Likewise, an alien who applies for a visit, student or temporary working visa is said to be applying for a non-immigrant visa.
In Commonwealth English, an immigrant is an alien who plans to travel into the host country for the medium to long-term, to either work or study. Their visa may allow them to remain only for a limited or an indefinite amount of time.
Jell-O - jelly
jelly - jam
US and Canadian English: non-carbonated drink made from lemon juice, sugar, and water (UK: "traditional lemonade")
line (where you wait your turn to be served) - queue
In the New York City area, one waits "on line". In the rest of the US, one waits "in line".
liquor store - off licence/off sales
mail - post
ironically, the central postal authorities in the US and UK use the terms of their counterparts in their names; ie US: United States Postal Service; UK: Royal Mail.
median (road) – central reservation
Note that in the New Orleans area, this feature is called "neutral ground".
mom(my) – mum(my)
Canadians write "Mom" and say "Mum" often although both "Mom" and "Mum" is used.
movie - film
movie theater (or theatre) - cinema
The US live theatrical community generally uses "theatre" on its own to describe its art form and it's very common in New York City.
muffler (of a motor vehicle) – silencer
In US English, "silencer" typically refers to a firearm accessory, also known as a suppressor.
napkin - serviette (now largely obsolete in Commonwealth English; "napkin" has always been used by the British upper classes and speaking of a serviette marks one as lower class)
overpass – flyover
pacifier - dummy
pants - trousers
in most dialects of Commonwealth English, "pants" refers to underwear. However, many dialects in Northern England agree with the US English usage for "pants".
pass gas – break wind (the slang term "fart" is standard across all major varieties of English)
pavement - road surface
pay as you go (in mobile telephony)
In US English, pay as you go is a scheme where the user/subscriber has not availed of any bundles or packages. Hence, the user is charged at standard rates each time he makes a call, text or uses mobile internet data. This is usually availed in prepaid plans but may also be available in postpaid.
In Commonwealth English, particularly in the UK, pay as you go is another term for prepaid mobile subscription where the user has to top-up credit before using his phone.
period (punctuation) – full stop (Canadians uses "Period" instead of "Full Stop")
phone booth - phone box
In this instance, Canadian English follows US usage.
physician – doctor/medical practitioner
In the UK, a "physician" is a specialist in internal medicine or one of its many sub-specialities. The term specifically excludes surgeons of all types.
"Doctor" is also widely used in US English as a generic term for medical practitioners of all types.
pump (women's shoe) - court shoe
Some Americans use "court shoe" as a catch-all term for athletic shoes designed for indoor court sports.
push cart - trolley
ramp (highway exit) – slip road
In US English, a "slip road" is a term for a street alongside a main highway to allow access to local businesses, sometimes also called a "frontage road" or, in both US English and Commonwealth English, a "service road".
restroom/bathroom - toilet/loo/WC
in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong, the singular form (toilet) is used to refer to the individual cubicles/units found in the room while in Singapore, the singular form refers to the entire room
However, people from the US also use 'toilet paper' to refer to the exclusively British term 'loo roll'.
in Philippine English, the term comfort room (or CR) may alternatively be used.
in Commonwealth English, a bathroom is where you take a bath or shower. A restroom is a place for office staff to take breaks (US English: "break room").
in US English, a lavatory is used to refer to a restroom in a form of transportation; British English still uses the term toilet(s) in this context.
round-trip (ticket) - return
whenever the phrase "return ticket" or "return trip" is used in US English, it refers to the return leg/segment of the journey itself
Roundabout, as a noun, when used in parts of the US (other parts use "circle" or "traffic circle" exclusively), refers only to a circular intersection in which entering traffic must yield to vehicles already in the circle. (A circular intersection in which entering traffic is controlled by traffic signals or stop signs, or has no formal control, is called a "traffic circle") - Commonwealth English has the identical meaning but also refers to a circular fairground device offering rides for entertainment.
sedan (car) – saloon
shot (inoculation) – jab
sidewalk - pavement
sneakers/athletic shoes - trainers
soccer - (association) football
The term "soccer" originated in British English, but is now often incorrectly viewed in the UK as an Americanism.
The dichotomy between "football" and "soccer" is not strictly a US/Commonwealth split. It instead depends on whether football codes other than association football enjoy large popularity in a given country.
"Soccer" is the most common term for association football in Australia, Canada, Ireland and South Africa, as well as the US. "Soccer" still sees some use in New Zealand, but since roughly 2005 that term has been steadily giving way to "football".
soda/pop/Coke - soft drink/pop
US English has no universal term for this type of beverage. Each of the listed terms is standard in at least some regions, with the most widely used terms being "soda" and "pop". "Coke" is the generic term for carbonated beverages in the Southeastern US.
US: primarily refers to employees in a non-managerial/supporting/clerical role in an office
Commonwealth: primarily refers to any employee of a particular organisation (use of the phrase "member/s of staff" is also common)
station wagon – estate car
stroller - pushchair (for babies)
subway - underground train / tube (colloquially)
subdivision – housing estate
suspenders – braces
"Braces" is used in all forms of English to refer to orthopedic or dental supports.
sweater – jumper
Metric Ton - Tonne
The "Ton" in American English is referred to the Short ton. However, in British English, it also refers to the Long ton as well although the "Tonne" refers to an . In addition, saying "Ton" and "Tonne" is almost the same, however, most Americans refer the "Tonne" as the "Metric Ton".
(electrical) tower - pylon
In the electrical power industry, "transmission tower" is the standard term throughout the English-speaking world. However, "pylon" is the standard term in colloquial British English.
Canadian English generally follows American usage, but in provinces where most electric power is hydroelectric, the term "hydro tower" is common.
In American and Canadian English, "pylon" is never used for electric towers; the most common usage of the word is for traffic cones.
trash/garbage - rubbish/litter
In US English, "litter", as a noun, refers specifically to pieces of refuse discarded in plain sight (i.e., not in a trash can). The word is even more often used as a verb (or in the gerund form "littering"), referring to the act of dumping refuse in public (generally illegal, though enforcement varies).
Transportation - Transport
"Transport" in American English is an verb except in a reference to certain objects. "Transportation" in British English is traditionally meant to deport criminals to an Overseas Penal Colony.
truck - lorry
Australians uses the word "Truck" instead of "Lorry".
trunk (of a car) - boot
tube top – boob tube
In US English, "boob tube" is a slang term for a television.
US English – money paid to receive an education at any educational institution (Commonwealth English: "tuition fees")
Commonwealth English – educational content transferred from teacher to student at a university
(pedestrian) underpass - subway
vacation – holiday
wrench (tool) – spanner
In Commonwealth English, "wrench" in this sense is usually used in combination, such as "torque wrench".