Never Get Mixed Up With Your US and UK English

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Don't Mix Up Your English

Are US and UK English the same language?

By Lisa Brown

 Moving between countries can leave anyone confused with how different languages are.

What happens when you move from the USA to the UK or vice versa?

You would soon realise that there are a lot of differences, even though both countries have English as an official language.

There are of course some differences in how the language is spoken in both countries.

It can be confusing at some points, so it is essential to pay attention and not get mixed up.

There is no right or wrong between these countries when it comes to English. It is just better to know the differences if you were to relocate. It’s like trying to convert m4a to text online. One is not necessarily better than the other but instead used when needed.

It is also important to pay attention to the differences between UK and US English when writing. Never mix the two, unless you know what you are doing, or you are perhaps playing with character differences.

Mixing UK and US English in a novel, short story or a blog post is not a good mix, so be careful and decide on which version of English you plan to use.

 

Here are some common differences between US English and UK English.

 

Quite

When Americans say ‘quite’ they mean in an exasperated manner. With the British, however, it is more of the middle ground. British refer to ‘quite’ when they want to say rather or ‘somewhat’.

 

Pants

Pants is a funny one, but it needs to be mentioned. To Americans, pants are what you wear on your bottom half, but to the Brits, the word ‘pants’ or ‘panties’ can mean underpants. British people will refer to ‘pants’ as ‘trousers’, but trousers are for men and pants for a woman.

Pants is also a slang term in the UK, which means bad. Confused yet?

 

Subway

British people travel by subway, undergrounds or tube, often. These, of course, refers to underground trains. If you were to tell an American to meet you at Subway, I guarantee you there will be lots of bread and pickles involved. Subway is a very popular fast food joint in the USA.

 

Restaurant bill

Although Brits refer to a restaurant invoice as a ‘bill’, Americans are more likely to ask for the check. It is just a difference in words, but if you go to the UK and ask the waiter for the check, he might look at you with confusion because Brits go to the bank to cash a ‘cheque’, but not a ‘check’.

 

Biscuit

What is a biscuit? Well, in the UK it means the same as an American cookie. A biscuit is just a cookie, and that’s it. Using an audio to text converter online might help you come up with a guide to take on your next trip.

 

Chips

When a Brit refers to ‘chips’, they are talking about ‘fries’. On the flip side, when they say they want some crisps, they just want some chips, which can be crisps too. It can be very confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will adjust to the vagaries of English potato vocabulary quite quickly.

 

Chemist

If you tell a Brit that you are going to the drug store, don’t be surprised if they stare at you with a unpleasant glare. The Brits refer to the American version of a drugstore as a ‘chemist’. You could also try ‘pharmacy’, as it will work too. At the end of the day, they are just words, but they can mean something completely different if you do not know the language differences.

 

Aubergine

This one is so different from what Americans call it, that it almost does not make sense. An aubergine is the same as an eggplant. These words do not resemble each other at all but do in fact mean the same thing. An interesting point is that in some parts of the world, it is referred to as a brinjal. It is still an appetizing vegetable by all the different names.

 

Current Account

No, it is not an account that you are only currently allowed to use. It is the same as a checking account, which honestly makes more sense. The Brits refer to a checking account, as a cheque account or as a current account. There is no difference, except for the name. Oh, and the spelling.

 

Flat

I am not referring to a flat tyre here. Brits say flat, and Americans say apartment. There are also some places in the UK where they would refer to a block of apartments, as a block of flats. Then again, a condo in UK English is an apartment. I suggest, instead of becoming anxious about the language difference, embrace it.

 

Footpath or pavement?

A footpath or pavement, as referred to in the UK and other forms of English, are the same as a sidewalk. I suppose if you think about it, you do use your feet on it to find your way. It is impossible to decide which word I like better, as long as it is somewhere I cannot be knocked, or in the UK, knocked down, by a car, I’m good.

 

Hen Night

There will be no chickens involved or present at this party, but rather a bachelorette and some of her friends and family members. Yes, you have guessed it right. A hen night is the same as a bachelorette party. Either way, it is going to be a fun night, so it does not really matter what they call it.

 

Jumper

If you were to tell an American that you saw a jumper, they would probably call the police to assist or think of an Olympic athlete. People in the UK says ‘jumper’ or pullover, where Americans say ‘sweater’. Who would have known? It’s not converting an m4a to text, but it is definitely not easy learning all the differences.

 

Maize

When referring to maize in the UK, they are talking about corn. Also, a lot of their corn crisps could also be called maize chips. It’s a whole new world, once you get it.

 

Check your Cell

Did you know that almost no one in the UK will know what your ‘cell’ is? Try calling them on your ‘mobile’ instead. But everyone knows the word iPhone, so perhaps go with that word.

 

Past versus Present Perfect

Very often, when US English uses the Past Simple, UK English uses the Present Perfect tense as in these few examples.

Also, notice the difference in punctuation. The period or full stop in UK English is within the quotes.

US: “I ate way too much at the party”.

UK: “I’ve eaten way too much at the party.”

US: “I never went to Portugal”.

UK: “ I have never been to Portugal.”

And then, there are some prepositions that are different.

US: “January through December”.

UK: “January to December.”

US: “Please, write me when you can”.

UK: “Please, write to me when you can.”

 

Spelling differences

USA: Color

UK: Colour

USA: Behavior

UK: Behaviour

USA: Theater

UK: Theatre

USA: Traveled

UK: Travelled

USA: Center

UK: Centre

 

Conclusion

Even though there are a host of differences between US and the UK English, it is also very interesting to learn. Sometimes things might not make sense to you, but don’t be shy to ask if you are unsure.

Take your time researching the differences before you decide to go abroad, or if you decide to write using both forms of English.

The most important point when writing is not to mix up US and UK English. Decide on using one or the other before you start writing. You can check by using Grammarly, which can be set to either US or British English.

It does take some time to get used to, but it’s not impossible to switch between the two. Think of it this way.

It is definitely easier than learning a foreign language from scratch. With the different forms of English, you only have to swap some words for others, but it is still, just English.

 

More reading: US English Has Never Been (Present) Perfect, Has It?

 

Lisa BrownLisa Brown works as a content manager. She is specialized on writing useful articles for writers, students and people who want to improve their writing skills. Her hobby is reading, travelling and blogging. Lisa`s life motto is “Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching”.

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7 thoughts on “Never Get Mixed Up With Your US and UK English

  • August 8, 2018 at 5:58 pm
    Permalink

    My favorite American word is ‘zucchini’ or as we say in England ‘courgette.’
    The other is ‘gesundheit’. We say ‘Bless you’ when we sneeze in the UK.
    ‘Klutz’ is another American word that I am very fond of.
    We say ‘loo’ or ‘toilet’ instead of Bathroom or restroom.
    We say ‘Knickers’ instead of panties.
    But don’t get your knickers in a twist because we know what panties are!

    Reply
  • March 4, 2018 at 7:04 am
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    This article is interesting but unfortunately not entirely accurate.

    Firstly, in the UK we don’t call the underground a subway, although we know very well that is the US usage. A subway in the UK is a pedestrian tunnel under a road. The Subway sandwich chain exists in Britain and is well known. Furthermore, “I’ll meet you at Subway” clearly does not mean the same thing as “I’ll meet you at THE subway,” You don’t refer to “the Subway” any more than you refer to “the McDonalds.” The absence or presence of the definite article resolves any possible ambiguity.

    We know what a drug store is. We say apartment as well as flat. Condo is not widely used in the UK but when it is used, it doesn’t mean apartment; it has the same meaning as in the USA. We use sweater just as often as jumper or pullover.

    A pavement is generally located at the side of a road; a footpath not necessarily – it can be a path through the countryside, probably not paved.

    Almost no one in the UK will know what your ‘cell’ is? That’s probably going a bit far. It’s not British usage but don’t you think we ever watch American TV? The term ‘cellphone’ is not widely used in the UK but it is universally understood.

    You’re right about the British use of the present perfect but the examples are not quite right. “I’ve eaten way too much at the party” sounds unnatural. You’d almost certainly say: “I’ve eaten way too much at THIS party.” And you can only say it while you’re still at the party; once you’ve left, you’d have to say: “I ate way too much …” “I never went to Portugal” is possible in UK English but it refers to a period of time that is finished. “All those years I was living in Spain, I never went to Portugal.”

    And when did anyone last cash a cheque? Or a check for that matter? There’s a saying that over 30s don’t know where their chequebook is and under 30s don’t know what a chequebook is. Anyway, I hope your writing brings you lots of big fat cheques to cash.

    Reply
  • February 13, 2018 at 3:06 pm
    Permalink

    This article makes out as though all us Brits are a bit thick. We do watch a lot of US shows/ read US books, we can differentiate between the two.

    “Did you know that almost no one in the UK will know what your ‘cell’ is? Try calling them on your ‘mobile’ instead. But everyone knows the word iPhone, so perhaps go with that word.”

    We know what a cell phone is.

    “When referring to maize in the UK, they are talking about corn. Also, a lot of their corn crisps could also be called maize chips. It’s a whole new world, once you get it.”

    We don’t call corn crisps ‘Maize chips’. They’re usually called Doritos or Tortilla chips.

    “If you tell a Brit that you are going to the drug store, don’t be surprised if they stare at you with a unpleasant glare.”

    No unpleasant glare, we know what a drug store is.

    A lot of American’s write British regency romance novels, which are good, don’t get me wrong. But they do put in a few wrong terms which a few seconds on google would rectify. For example…a ‘Cream Tea’ is not a cup of tea with cream in it. We do not measure street distances in blocks. We do not have raccoons and gophers here. And we don’t have a tendency to say “Oh, sure!” a lot. Saying that, we still know what these all are/mean even though they don’t fit in with the books narrative.

    Reply
    • March 4, 2018 at 10:44 am
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      apostrophe in American’s shows poor standard fo Brit educashun.

      Reply
    • April 10, 2018 at 2:44 am
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      Heh, I was thinking the same thing as I read through! Here in Australia we use a mix of words (like jumper, chemist, mobile BUT also eggplant, truck, etc.) but we certainly know what all the different words mean. I don’t see why Brits would be any different – you have all the same exposure to US media that we do.

      Reply
      • November 18, 2018 at 6:43 am
        Permalink

        In Canada we use both British and American English. I noticed a number of people “got their knickers in a knot” in the comments section. (See what I did there? In Canada we would probably say “gotch”instead of knickers).

        Reply

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