British English vs American English

How much British English do you know?

Sweets is the British English word for Candy (American English)

Sweets or Candy?

There are several differences between British English and American English but a good place to start is the most common differences in vocabulary. Sometimes the differences are small and you can often guess what the American version of the word is but sometimes the word is completely different and you need help. Don’t worry, often native British or American speakers have difficulty with this so you are not alone! Here are some examples of useful British words with the American version as well as some definitions and examples to help you remember what they mean and how they are used correctly:

Here are 10 British English words. Can you match the American English version?

(The first British English word ‘bill’ = ‘check’ in American English)

British English (Br) American English (Am)
bill (restaurant) rubber boots / rain boots
boot (car) French fries
pocket money check
chips pants
dummy (for a baby) trunk
dustbin pacifier
trousers candy
wellington boots / wellies subway
sweets garbage can / trash can
underground allowance

Answers and definitions:

(Br) = British English (Am) = American English

  1. Bill (Br) vs Check (Am). ‘Can I have the bill please?’ or simply ‘Check please’ is used in a restaurant when you want to pay for your food. You ask the waiter and he/she brings you the bill with how much your meal costs.
  2. Boot (Br) vs Trunk (Am)

    Boot (Br) vs Trunk (Am). When you get a taxi, you can put your bags in the boot, which is at the back of the car. *Watch out!* A boot can also describe a shoe and a trunk can also describe an elephant’s nose!

  3. Pocket money (Br) vs Allowance (Am). This is a small amount of money usually given to children each week by their parents to spend on small items like sweets or toys.
  4. Chips (Br) vs French Fries (Am). A typical British takeaway meal is fish ‘n’ chips and a typical American takeaway meal is hamburger and fries. *Watch out!* In American English, ‘chips’ is used instead of ‘crisps’ in British English. For example, Pringles are a type of crisps (Br) or chips (Am). Confusing I know…!
  5. Dummy (Br) vs Pacifier (Am). A small plastic or rubber item that a baby sucks. *Watch out!* If you say ‘you’re a dummy’ to someone in Britain, it’s like saying you’re stupid! Not very nice.
  6. Dustbin or Bin (Br) vs Garbage can or Trash can (Am). A container that you use for putting rubbish in. A dustbin is usually kept outside the house and a bin is used inside.
  7. Trousers (Br) vs Pants (Am). *Watch out!* This one can be embarrassing if you get it wrong. Trousers (Br) and Pants (Am) describe a piece of clothing that you wear on your legs from the waist to the feet. However, the word ‘Pants’ in British English means underpants in American English (the item of clothing you wear under your trousers). Be careful when saying ‘I like your pants’ when in Britain!
  8. Wellies (Br) vs Rain boots (Am). It rains quite a lot in England so you might need a pair of wellies (also called wellington boots) to stop your feet from getting wet. The American version of the word helps you to remember what these rubber or plastic boots are used for.
  9. Sweets (Br) vs Candy (Am). Sweets are food made with sugar and are not very good for your teeth. A chocolate bar (Br) like Mars is described as a candy bar in American English.
  10. Underground (Br) vs Subway (Am). This is a system of trains that travel in tunnels below a city. The American English version of this word is Subway, which is also a popular fast food restaurant selling sandwiches.

Example sentences using the British English words:

Bin (Br) vs Trash Can (Am)

  1. Shall we split the bill? (share the bill equally)
  2. There’s not enough room in the boot for all your shopping!
  3. How much pocket money did you get as a child?
  4. Do you want salt and vinegar on your chips?
  5. My baby stops crying when I give her a dummy.
  6. The bin needs emptying because it’s full.
  7. Try a pair of trousers on in the shop.
  8. You need wellies when going to a music festival in England!
  9. I always buy a bag of sweets when I go to the cinema.
  10. The Underground (also called the Tube) is a good way to travel in London.

Tips and hints to help you remember new words:

Did you find the matching task difficult? Was it easier to understand the words with a definition or when they were written in a sentence? Learning new words in context helps you to understand and remember them more easily. Words can also have different meanings depending on how they are used in a sentence so it is helpful to read the whole sentence if you don’t understand the meaning of a new word.

Using a dictionary is useful to find the definition of a new word but try to use an English to English dictionary because translating words into your own language too much can result in wrong definitions.

When you learn a new word, write it in a notebook or on your computer but don’t just write the individual word. Write a sentence using the new word that means something to you. For example, the word ‘bill’ has more than one meaning. In a restaurant, you pay the bill so don’t just write ‘bill’, instead, write:

‘I went to Pizza Express with John and I paid the bill’.

This will help you remember something personal you did and the meaning of the word ‘bill’ in a restaurant (as well as the expression ‘to pay the bill’.)

Conclusion

  1. Learn new words in context (not just individual words)
  2. Read the whole sentence to understand the meaning of a new word
  3. Use an English to English dictionary (Macmillan has a good online dictionary) http://www.macmillandictionary.com/
  4. Write new words in a sentence that is personal to you

Follow these simple tips and you should be able to remember new words more easily, improve your understanding of how words are used correctly in full sentences and speak English more naturally.